Our Coryphée François-Eloi Lavignac is currently making a work for bodytorque: atelier, our choreographic workshop - but he's also found time to write us a piece reflecting on his inspirations and processes, and his own experiences on stage. François-Eloi's new work, Flash, will feature our dancers Matthew Bradwell, Sean Kiley and Sophie Morgan.
Dancers experience so much on stage, especially dancers who perform as regularly as we do at The Australian Ballet. Emotions, theories and connections bottle up, and rarely get to be spoken about in an artistic way. This is where bodytorque: atelier comes into play. Sometimes words are not enough to express what a dancer feels on stage. Being given a choreographic voice as a dancer is invaluable. Sometimes there is too much to say, sometimes not enough; nonetheless, it is always beneficial for artists to be given creative power.
I have reflected a great deal on each performance that I have seen and been a part of. On stage, interrogations rise. Personally, I step into this magical place, and instead of becoming someone else, I get to actually be myself for the first time. The great irony is that I feel like I’m putting on a show in life and get to be my honest self on stage (but don’t we all)? That’s one of the reasons I want to choreograph.François-Eloi Lavignac in rehearsals for Flash. Photography Kate Longley
Being your real self on stage not only gives you a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction but also acts like therapy. I have experienced this on stage before, when the performance becomes completely out of my control and all I have to do is let my soul drift through the images that pop into my mind.
Sometimes these images are from the past. I remember dancing the role of Stanislav in John Neumeier’s Nijinsky in 2016, during Callum Linnane’s first show as Vaslav Nijinsky. Suddenly, I saw flashes of my own brother on stage. Now this may sound crazy, but the role triggered forgotten memories. It was the first time I encountered the superpowers of the stage.Sean Kiley and Sophie Morgan rehearsing François-Eloi Lavignac's Flash. Photography Kate Longley
Some performances are very much in the moment, in the ‘now’. The aerial flutters of the Bluebird in David McAllister’s The Sleeping Beauty are one example. I remember finding the dance so ecstatic on stage, I felt like I was in love. It was that same rush, that same urge, completed by the sensation that there was nowhere else one would rather be. It was a complete out-of-body experience.
As a choreographer, I wish these intrinsic discoveries for every single performer and person because, in my opinion, these moments are real turning points. They shape our future as artists and make us sculpt the goals of our dancing careers.
In Flash, I want my dancers to get rid of all superficial mannerism and scrape back to the raw feeling of the movement, where the magic we don’t control may happen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still theatre. But theatre does not mean fake.Sophie Morgan, Matthew Bradwell and Sean Kiley rehearsing François-Eloi Lavignac's Flash. Photography Kate Longley
I completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Professional Practice of the Arts (Dance) in 2017. This degree was a great opportunity to analyse my work as a dancer and as a choreographer. I had the opportunity to organise my thoughts and write it all as part of my research. The final essay dealt with the genesis of a choreographic creative process. My starting point was, in fact, three points: the creative process of Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun (1912), Pina Bausch’s Café Müller (1978) and my own ways of dancing and choreographing.
Three concepts emerged from this research (really, the number three again?) As well as concepts, they are also principles: love, perception and the creation of a work bigger than its creator.
Love and perception were a constant in all my readings and findings. But really, it makes sense; how can you create if you have no love for the world, or are not able to perceive it?
The last concept occurred to me again during Neumeier’s Nijinsky. For the first time, in order to let the work do its thing, I had to let it take me. I had to be numb. Needless to say, that wasn’t easy, proud Virgo that I am. It comes to a point where each individual becomes a bridge from the work to the audience, and vice versa. I became an unconscious doll carrying the messages of loneliness through my own body and memories. This is when I realised how much a work is bigger than the creator who unleashes its powers.Matthew Bradwell and Sean Kiley rehearsing François-Eloi Lavignac's Flash. Photography Kate Longley
All these different facets of my learnings inspired me to create Flash for bodytorque: atelier. I personally dislike giving too much information about a particular piece. I want the audience to take it with them and make it their own. Of course it is about me, of course it is about my dancers but most importantly it’s also about you.
More than academic learnings, I simply like to get inspiration from what I learn in life. As I said before, it’s my therapy, the place where I get to talk about the things that matter to me. I disguise them with the dance. I also want my dancers to talk about themselves through the dance. We can say that Flash is a very expressive dance.François-Eloi Lavignac in rehearsals for Flash. Photography Kate Longley
What I can share with you is the starting point, but promise me you’ll make up your own end. It is a poem by Baudelaire, 'The Mask' (from The Flowers of Evil, 1857). It describes this ethereal, perfect beauty, who is revealed to be, in fact, a monster, who cries. It cries because, it must live, like us. I read this poem at a time where I needed to be reminded that the love I feel for beauty does not take away the fact that beauty is sad, like me, like all of us. I want to be honest as I create this piece and, most importantly, I want my dancers to be honest dancing this piece.Sophie Morgan and Matthew Bradwell rehearsing François-Eloi Lavignac's Flash. Photography Kate Longley
A live orchestra makes all the difference when it comes to performing arts. Whenever we perform in Melbourne, we perform with Orchestra Victoria, under the direction of Nicolette Fraillon. The little extra special thing happening for bodytorque: atelier is that, instead of having the orchestra hidden in their usual pit, they will be on stage with the dancers. I feel honoured that my dancers will be sharing the stage with these artists. A conversation has already started to occur between choreographers, dancers, and musicians. I hope this process will make us understand each other a little bit more.
When it comes to music and musicality, I don’t want choreography to be a mere slave to the music. Being ‘on’ the music does not simply mean being on the beat. In my opinion music serves its own purpose and expresses everything it needs to express, and so does the dance.
Dance does not need to state the obvious in music. I usually choreograph in silence and then play the music, so the two can express their distinct, separate missions at the same time, therefore completing each other. As a dancer, I find it satisfying to be exactly on the music, but I also love the experience of letting the music happen to me, even if I end up a bit behind and just respond to its force.Matthew Bradwell, Sean Kiley and Sophie Morgan rehearsing François-Eloi Lavignac's Flash. Photography Kate Longley
The really interesting part for me, as I am sure it is also for my fellow choreographers, is to see the effort that goes into putting on a show. Behind the scenes, all the departments of The Australian Ballet are working harmoniously, doing their best to put on the best show possible. Everyone’s in it for the art form.
bodytorque: atelier runs 1 - 3 March at VCASS Studios. Seven works will be presented by seven dancers of The Australian Ballet in collaboration with musicians from Orchestra Victoria. Tickets for this season are now sold out.
If you’d like to see The Australian Ballet performing homegrown contemporary dance, try our (Melbourne-only) Verve program.Sean Kiley rehearsing François-Eloi Lavignac's Flash. Photography Kate Longley