Boris Charmatz: 10000 gestures

with Or Avishay, Régis Badel, Jayson Batut, Nadia Beugré, Alina Bilokon, Nuno Bizarro, Eli Cohen, Olga Dukhovnaya, Sidonie Duret, Bryana Fritz, Julien Gallée-Ferré, Kerem Gelebek, Alexis Hedouin, Rémy Héritier, Pierrick Jacquart, Noémie Langevin, Samuel Lefeuvre, Johanna Elisa Lemke, François Malbranque, Noé Pellencin, Mathilde Plateau, Samuel Planas, Solène Wachter, Frank Willens
choreographic assistant Magali Caillet Gajan
lights Yves Godin
costumes Jean-Paul Lespagnard
vocal work Dalila Khatir
general stage manager Fabrice Le Fur
stage manager Max Potiron
sound technician Olivier Renouf
light technician Samuel Dosière
dresser Marion Regnier
deputy director [terrain] Hélène Joly
direction of productions Lucas Chardon, Martina Hochmuth
production managers Jessica Crasnier, Briac Geffrault
sound material Requiem in D minor K.626 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan and recorded at the Wiener Musikverein in 1986 (1987 Polydor International GmbH, Hamburg); field recordings by Mathieu Morel in Mayfield, Manchester
duration 1h

production / distribution terrain
A production Musée de la danse / Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne (2017)

coproduction Volksbühne Berlin, Manchester International Festival (MIF), Théâtre National de Bretagne-Rennes, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Chaillot – Théâtre national de la Danse (Paris), Wiener Festwochen, Sadler’s Wells (Londres), Taipei Performing Arts Center.

thanks to Djino Alolo Sabin, Salka Ardal Rosengren, Mathieu Burner, Ashley Chen, Dimitri Chamblas, Amélie-Anne Chapelain, Julie Cunningham, Konan Dayot, Tatiana Julien, Maud Le Pladec, Mani Mungai, Jolie Ngemi, Sandra Neuveut, Marlène Saldana, Le Triangle – cité de la danse, Charleroi Danses - Centre chorégraphique de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, P.A.R.T.S., Archivio Alighiero Boetti and Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti; Chiara Oliveri Bertola / Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea

10000 gestes premiered on September Thursday 14, 2017 at Volksbühne, Tempelhof, Berlin, Germany

Image: Ursula Kaufmann

Artist’s statement

For 10000 gestes, I envision a choreographic forest in which no dancer ever repeats any of the gestures, each of which will be shown only once and will vanish as soon as it has been executed, like an ode to the impermanence of the art of dance. This shower of movements, which could have been a data project generated by lists of digital parameters, will be instead generated in an artisanal way, using the very bodies of the performers, in an absolutely subjective way. The visual hypnosis exerted by the explosion of movements will have a corresponding meditative, or even melancholic, aspect: the “gift” of movements doomed to symbolic disappearance.

This idea came to me as I was watching the “permanent” version of Levée des conflits, danced at MoMA: in Levée des conflits, we construct a sculpture that aims at immobility, but which is animated by a crowd of dancers who ensure a permanent presence of movement maintained through its indefinite transmission. In 10000 gestes, by contrast, it

is the ephemeral taken to the extreme that engenders the gaze and the thought of the spectator. The chaos of expenditure is so perfect that it vergers on immobility.

In line with other projects of the Musée de la danse, 10000 gestes constitutes a choreographic anti-museum aiming to explore the means of escaping the instinct and the strategies of preservation at work in the activity of a dancer… It will be matter of exploring the possibility that one gesture is never completed by another, and that, if 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 24 dancers come in contact, each still executes a gesture distinguished from those of others through the exclusion of any symmetrical movement: in this piece, it is impossible to shake someone’s hand. The collection thus constituted is also an anti-collection, since no choreographer worthy of the name would risk incorporating 10000 gestes in his or her score, and this totality cannot be comprehended other than by the idea that generated it.

Image: Gianmarco Bresadola

Interview with Boris Charmatz
by Gilles Amalvi, September 27, 2016.

There is something “programmatic” about the title 10000 gestes, as well as a hint of “maximalism” which has haunted your work for some time. What are the stages of this process, from the idea of producing a “profusion of gestures” to giving it shape as a performance?

I recall that when I saw the version of Levée des conflits at MoMA, I experienced a sort of a flash. It was a “continuous” version which comprised the solos, then the whole piece, performed twice—in total, it lasted 4 or 5 hours. At that time, I was brainstorming the idea of a choreographic piece for 100 dancers—the present project, 10000 gestes, finally led me elsewhere—and it may well be that a piece for 100 dancers will remain outside the realm of possibility… What spurred me at first was a reaction I often heard à propos de Levée des conflits, namely that it is a repetitive piece. For me, Levée des conflits has little to do with repetition, in the sense that every gesture is constantly undergoing transformation. What I was aiming for was rather immobility. In fact, one could say that gestures do repeat—there are only 25—but that was not the point that interested me, but rather the impression of immobility that it produced, like a kind of choreographic sculpture. How could one set in motion a group of dancers so that their gestures would, paradoxically, create an impression of immobility, rather than a dramaturgical evolution over time? How might one invent a static object while the dancers never stop moving, dancing, sweating?

It was this reaction to Levée des conflits that gave rise to the idea of never repeating a single gesture. This is really at the heart of 10000 gestes: a piece free of repetition. Of course, from the start, it was a choreographically impossible idea simply because it would involve too many gestures. And then again, how does one define a “gesture”? Where does a gesture begin, where does it end? How can one verify that no gesture is identical to—or derived from—another gesture? Like Levée des conflits, 10000 gestes stems from a pure idea, opening onto a larger series of questions and a choreographic investigation. Pieces such as enfant or manger originated in a much wider spectrum where multiple ideas—whether aesthetic or political—come into friction. By contrast, the principle behind 10000 gestes is contained in its title. This is about nothing other than designing the choreography for 10000 gestes.

This project is effectively very choreographic insofar as from the very start it raises the question of the “limits of the gesture.” What allows you to define a choreographic gesture—not in the absolute terms, but within the scope of this specific piece?

I think that we will confront this question, and reformulate it, throughout the rehearsals. It is then that we will need to determine which gestures to choose, which to eliminate, how to compose them, at what speed. How much time does a gesture need in order to be registered? In Levée des conflits, there are 25 gestures, but after all one could say that there is but a single gesture—or rather a single phrase—broken up into 25 steps, as points of reference, but which do not represent entities separate from one another. It is not so much that each gesture, taken separately, matters, but the way in which each bounces off from the other, or how one gesture is hidden within the next one… In 10000 gestes, the big question will be to figure out how to go from one gesture to the next. The more gestures there are, the more precise they need to be, the more clearly separated from one another, the clearer their contours, their boundaries. When there are just three gestures, they get repeated pretty quickly. But when there are 10,000? You can no longer see them, or read them. Suddenly, the bulk of your task—besides producing the gestures—will be to delimit them, to isolate them; to work out how to set them against one another—simply in order to make them visible! Otherwise, it’s just a blur, a mass of movements…

Where does the number 10.000 come from? Is it a bit like 1001 in 1001 Nights, an image of the infinite, a number that tends towards infinity?

For me, it’s a question of an actual number obtained through calculation. There will be 25 dancers. If we decide there will be 10,000 gestures, this means that each dancer will make 400 gestures. In fact, I feel that 400 gestures is a minimum. If you make about a gesture per second, the performance would be only 400 seconds long, since we all dance together. A gesture per second seems very fast—perhaps too fast for each gesture to register. And it is possible that not all gestures register systematically at the same speed; that some are quicker and others slower. On the whole, however, I would like to have the gestures executed rather rapidly. I envisionrain, an uninterrupted torrent of gestures. I have just completed danse de nuit, a piece in which speed is also an important parameter that brings the different elements together.

In addition, I did a workshop around 10000 gestes: I asked the dancers to choose 20 gestures each and interpret them. They worked in pairs, so as to verify there are no overlapping gestures. During our first attempts, I didn’t see the desired effect of profusion emerge: I just saw dancers moving about. So I asked them to accelerate, to reduce the whole from 4 minutes to 20 seconds. As the speed increased, something came to light: I found myself confronted with a gushing of gestures, a multitude of events succeeding one another so rapidly that my eye was no longer able to follow: it was ensnared, disoriented, attempting to distinguish the gestures and sequences; but then, all of a sudden, the gestures I was able to discern became all the more distinct. Perhaps I managed to perceive less than when the performers danced slowly, but the effect, the impact they produced, was much more powerful. It magnified the electric stimuli received by my eye. But this also means that, had I not been focused and attentive, I might have just as well missed the whole thing; I might have been simply confronted with an indistinct mass. It seems to me this is one of the keys to this piece: to produce, through a riot and a rapidity of gestures, an extreme concentration of the gaze. This is what makes this project concrete. But this is also what makes it difficult, what calls for precision.

Do you plan to borrow certain gestures from existing choreographers, recognizable gestures belonging to the history of dance—as a sort of a collection?

No, the idea is to really create those 10.000 gestures. I am not at all in a referential mode. Unless one considers that every choreographic gesture is already a citation. Gestures always come from somewhere else. But I don’t intend to assemble a collection of historical gestures, as Tino Sehgal did in (untitled) (2000). The approach here is closer to that in danse de nuit, a piece in which we worked on the act of saying whatever comes to our mind and moving in whatever way. Unlike danse de nuit, however, where the vocabulary is more or less the same for all the performers, in 10000 gestes, it is absolutely unique.

The creation of 10000 gestes raises the question of the method of composition. How does one go about inventing so many gestures? Will you define any criteria by which to distinguish them, build a sort of “database”?

From the moment I came up with this idea, I have been wondering how to generate these gestures… And then: how to verify that there is no overlap? The first thing that comes to mind is starting with a series of parameters and creating a computer program to generate them very rapidly. For example, such parameters as amplitude, energy, complexity, virtuosity… I have thought about this again when reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: you can feel this is a novel written in the age of data, of inexhaustible availability of textual sources. And yet it’s a book that is well-crafted using the resources of the human mind. The same is true for 10000 gestes. The results obtained from a computer-generated gestural database would be much less interesting. But I love this very modern idea of “data,” of accessibility, of an ocean of information being processed in an artisanal manner, on stage, in a dance studio, with our bodies and our memory.

I had an opportunity to test the idea of this piece during expo zéro. A visitor was seated in front of me, leaning back on his arms, and asked me: “what is the very first gesture in this piece going to be?” He said it and angled towards me, his palms peeling off the floor. And I said to him: the very first gesture is precisely this one. Unfortunately, I did not jot down the name of this visitor, but I remember his gesture perfectly well, and this will definitely be the first one. This idea fits well with the kind of craftsmanship I have in mind. This gesture is a given in a way; it’s a bit like Tim Etchells who collected gestures from the visitors during the first expo zéro. Many gestures will be provided by the dancers who will themselves generate the gestures they will perform. I already had this idea when preparing Levée des conflits, but it didn’t really work out then. I have a feeling that now it is possible.

As you have said, this is a programmatic piece that lends itself to imaginary projections: it’s almost a “cosa mentale,” a thing of the mind. How do you go from a conceptual exercise, from a mind-game to a real dance performance?

It seems to me that the two keys to unlock this project are not just ideas, but speed, on the one hand, and gift on the other: expenditure of energy and gift. I can sense a tinge of melancholy here. Every gesture would carry a loaded charge because it would be executed only once. This magnifies the ephemeral nature of dance, the fact that it comes about, and immediately thereafter, it’s gone. One could say that we are dealing with a “positive” project, since it involves, above all, an enormous amount of production. But the contrary, the negative of that production, is expenditure, loss, the fact that each gesture occurs and will never return. In a sense, this is a memorial to disappearance. So, to return to the example of Tim Etchells asking the audience to give a gesture, the question that drives 10000 gestes is: “what gesture would you want to give?” However, I do not at all understand the idea of the “gift” in a … dramatic … inspired … sacralized sense. Gift giving is an elementary social operation. The process of production / giving / disappearance roughly defines the framework which I feel can turn this performance into more than just an idea. This is fundamentally also a way of acting, of transforming this fairly commonplace idea of dance as an ephemeral art—whether we understand it in a positive or negative sense.

Regarding danse de nuit, you have evoked the idea of making gestures to get rid of them, like in an exorcism. Here, you are replacing exorcism with gift in a way…

In danse de nuit, there is a text that was composed at high speed, Charb est mort, in which the lifespan of caricatures, of humor, and of meaning conveyed by cartoons is compared to that of movement. In a sense, the humor of a cartoon is even more ephemeral than a dance gesture. The cartoon does, certainly, endure, but everything around it, the context that charged it with meaning, is fleeting. Danse de nuit and 10000 gestes are worlds apart, they are based on completely different principles, different affects. However, they share a penchant for speed and disappearance, which makes them resonate.

The creation of this piece is going to be a formidable “manufacture of gestures,” with an almost … industrial … feel to it.

That’s quite right. Except that in a factory, the “assembly line” process consists in manufacturing the same car 10.000 times over. We go back to the distinction between mass production and absolute singularity, automatic generation and artisanal fabrication. Unless we are talking about an industry of the future. The industrialization of singularity; customization, personalization of mass products, 3D printers… Here we touch on a cutting-edge field. One thing is certain: we will need to come up with a way of recording these gestures, of reprising them. How to unite absolute singularity and a form of conservation? For example, how to take into account potential replacements? In a group of dancers, you always need some backup in case a dancer is absent, or injured, etc. So the replacement needs to be taught the material of the dancer whom they are replacing. Here, the roles are very individualized. So I would like each dancer replacing to invent their own gestures, their own score, which would then be grafted onto the others. If someone is absent, then their gestures won’t be performed. Afterwards, it may turn out that some gestures are indispensable and that they must be incorporated, regardless of who is performing them. But I like the idea of a part “made to measure” by the dancers themselves.

To pursue this line of thought, we have evoked the repertory of individual dancers, but how will the relationships between them work? Will they touch, or is every “gesture” isolated, only contiguous to others?

I rather imagine a relationship of permeability and friction. Among the possible gestures, some will involve another body. This is, to some extent, what I’ve done during the workshop: I asked the participants to include a portion of contact gestures in their individual part to see what sort of interactions—and what chance events—were possible. Let’s picture, for example, hair-pulling, carrying or pushing another person. So, the dancer who finds him- or herself next to another dancer whose gesture, at instant T, is to push, will have his or her gesture blocked or complicated by the other’s presence; this will produce uneven results within a scripted structure. Of course, such a piece cannot be improvised, because no gesture must be repeated. Initially, I was afraid that the principle of 10000 gestes may lead to a somewhat solitary project, like Levée des conflits, where every dancer is isolated from the others. But then I realized that a lot of gestures could involve contact with another dancer; however, only on condition that the two dancers are not executing the same gesture—which de facto excludes any symmetrical gestures, such as shaking hands. Asymmetrical gestures, by contrast, may be conducive to grafting, interlocking: within a nested structure, each dancer follows the course and development of their own action. This leads to the question of the composition of the whole: will only individual parts be scripted—the gestures and their unfolding—leaving much to chance in terms of encounters between each of these 25 ongoing sequences? Or should everything be scripted? I imagine an extreme case in which the 25 dancers would all try to catch one another: this seems to me impossible to choreograph. So I am leaning towards the first hypothesis: scripting the sequences of individual dancers, and leaving the encounters between them to chance. I look forward to seeing how chance generates collisions between meteors…

You have brought up the issue of recording, which brings us to the question of memory: how will the performers memorize such a quantity of gestures?

Indeed, this is a true memory project. This is true for both the choreographer, who will never be able to recall all these gestures but must find a way of “taking care” of them, and for the dancers who must successfully memorize a series of 400 gestures, at the minimum… This is not impossible, but it does call for very technically oriented dancers.

We could imagine a very fussy visitor, counting each and every gesture to make sure they add up…

Then they would need to be a real team! On one’s own, that’s impossible. However, he or she could verify that no gesture is repeated… Obviously, this is all very subjective… what does the same gesture even mean? What differentiates one gesture from another? One of the conceptual concerns of this piece is that if we push it too far, the piece will become practically unfeasible… It suffices that we take “placing a foot on the stage” as a complete gesture. So then all of a sudden no one can set their foot down. Or walk. Or lift an arm. We must necessarily get around this obstacle, this formal flaw in the concept. It must be possible to move around. To walk. To run in order to make a gesture. Dancers will crisscross the stage, and we must accept that this activity is excluded from the repertory of gestures. If I wave my arm while walking, the gesture is the wave of my arm. There must be some flexibility, or else the project becomes impossible even before it began…

Most of your choreographic projects resonate with those undertaken by Musée de la danse. The two often intersect. Knowing that the project of Musée de la danse. is slowly drawing to a close, are we to consider 10000 gestes as a sort of dissipation of Musée de la danse.? A bit as if one were to open up the Louvre and put all the works of art outside…?

I believe there are two facets to 10000 gestes: this project is at the same time closely intertwined with Musée de la danse —like Levée des conflits which, to start with, was intended as a sculpture. 10000 gestes is about a collection—albeit impossible, but a collection nevertheless. It is the Louvre, but without the historical aspect: an immediate Louvre. At the same time, this is indeed dissipation, disappearance, an anti-museum. danse de nuit resonates with Fous de danse: with the question of public space, the idea of leaving the stage, of occupying another territory. Perhaps 10000 gestes picks up on the question of what happens after Musée de la danse. What happens to the gestures, to the ideas that the Museum had stirred?

danse de nuit tied in with manger by carrying on the question of orality, of interlinkages between movement, song, and speech. Is 10000 gestes going to take a similar path, or do you feel you have exhausted it in some sense?

In 10000 gestes, I would like to concentrate on movement, explore the possibility of everything happening in silence—without voices, without additional sounds. If on top of everything we started to sing, or if we added a unique soundscape, the same for everyone … I feel that we would loose something of this presentation of singularities. I see it as a human architecture, without any décor, without sound, which generates its own form, its own noise. However, like in danse de nuit, I am interested in the issue of costumes. I imagine we could have a heterogeneous wardrobe of some hundred pieces, and no two outfits would be alike. Each dancer could have some four pieces of clothing or accessories at their disposal. In the end, perhaps this is a performance for 25 dancers, 10 000 gestures, and 300 items of clothing…

Boris Charmatz

Dancer, choreographer, and creator of experimental projects like the ephemeral school Bocal, Musée de la danse or [terrain], future institution without roof and walls, Boris Charmatz subjects dance to formal constraints which redraw the field of its possibilities. The stage is a notepad where to draft concentrated, organic concepts in order to observe the chemical reactions, intensities, and tensions engendered by their encounter.

Following studies at the École de danse de l’Opéra National de Paris and the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Lyon, together with Dimitri Chamblas he creates À bras-le-corps (1993), groundbreaking work they continue to dance and that is part of the repertoire of Paris Opera Ballet since 2017. Pieces like Aatt enen tionon (1996), herses (une lente introduction) (1997), Con forts fleuve (1999) or régi (2006) write history in parallel to his activities as a dancer, performer and improviser (e.g. with Médéric Collignon, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Odile Duboc and Tino Sehgal).

From 2009 until 2018 Boris Charmatz runs the Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne under the label Musée de la danse, paradox creating its dynamics from its own contradictions, an experimental space for thinking and practice, putting upside down any established relationship among audience, art and its physical and imaginary territories. Musée de la danse articulates both, the alive and its meta-level – art and archive, creation and transmission.

As the associate artist of the 2011 Festival d’Avignon, Boris Charmatz proposes Une école d’art and creates enfant for 26 children and 9 dancers at the Cour d’honneur of Palais des Papes, restaged in 2018 with a group of children from Berlin at Volksbühne Berlin.

Invited by MoMA New York in 2013, Boris Charmatz stages Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures, a three-part programme displayed all over the museum over the course of three weeks. Following an invitation in 2012, Boris Charmatz is again guest of Tate Modern London in 2015: If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse? proposes new versions of À bras-le-corps, Levée des conflits, manger, Roman Photo, expo zéro and 20 dancers for the XX century. That same year, Boris Charmatz opens the dance season of Paris Opera with 20 dancers for the XX century and invites 20 dancers from Paris Opera Ballet to perform twentieth-century soli and solo parts in the public spaces of Palais Garnier. In May 2015 he premieres Fous de danse, an invitation to live dance in all its forms from noon until midnight. Further editions of this choreographic assembly bringing together professional dancers and amateurs, take place in Rennes in 2016 and 2018; Brest, Berlin and Paris (Festival d’Automne) follow in 2017.

During 2017-2018 Boris Charmatz is associate artiste of Volksbühne Berlin where he presents danse de nuit (2016), 10000 gestes (2017), A Dancer’s Day (2017) and enfant (2018).

End of 2018 Boris Charmatz quits Musée de la danse / Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne and for the occasion creates La Ruée at Théâtre National de Bretagne, collective performance inspired by Histoire mondiale de la France, collectively written under the direction of Patrick Boucheron.

In January 2019 he launches [terrain], association established in the Region Hauts-de-France and in partnership with the phénix, scène nationale of Valenciennes, Opéra de Lille and Maison de la Culture d’Amiens. Boris Charmatz is also associate artist of Charleroi danse (Belgium).

In the summer of 2019, Zürcher Theater Spektakel gives Boris Charmatz carte blanche to negociate the festival site on the lake: terrain | Boris Charmatz : Un essai à ciel ouvert. Ein Tanzgrund für Zürich becomes the first test of his project [terrain], green choreographic site without roof and walls, an architecture of bodies during three weeks, every day and under the open sky, public warm-ups, workshops for children, amateurs and professional dancers, performances and a symposium.

In 2020, Festival d’Automne à Paris proposes the Portrait Boris Charmatz with works from his repertoire and new projects : La Ruée (2018), (sans titre) (2000) by Tino Sehgal, La Fabrique (2020), Aatt enen tionon (1996), 20 danseurs pour le XXe siècle et plus encore (2012, 2020), boléro 2 (1996) & étrangler le temps (2009) and 10000 gestes (2017). In this framework he creates La Ronde for the closing event of Grand Palais, collective performance of 12 hours and subject of a film and a documentary for France Télévisions.

In August 2022, Boris Charmatz will be the new director of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, to launch, with [terrain], a new project between France and Germany.

Boris Charmatz is the author of: Entretenir/à propos d’une danse contemporaine (Centre national de la danse / Les presses du reel, 2003), co-authored with Isabelle Launay; Je suis une école (Editions les Prairies Ordinaires, 2009), a work that retraces the adventure Bocal; and EMAILS 2009–2010 (Les presses du réel, in partnership with Musée de danse, 2013), co-authored with Jérôme Bel. In 2017, MoMa New York as part of its series Modern Dance, publishes the monography Boris Charmatz, directed by Ana Janevski and with contributions by Gilles Amalvi, Bojana Cvejić, Tim Etchells, Adrian Heathfield, Catherine Wood…

His projects initiate various cinematographic realisations, among them Les Disparates (2000), realisation César Vayssié ; Horace-Bénédict (2001), realisation Dimitri Chamblas and Aldo Lee ; Une lente introduction (2007) realisation Boris Charmatz and Aldo Lee ; Levée (2014) realisation Boris Charmatz and César Vayssié ; Daytime Movements (2016), realisation Boris Charmatz and Aernout Mik ; TANZGRUND (2021), realisation César Vayssié ; étrangler le temps (2021) realisation Boris Charmatz and Aldo Lee.