Feature: Jérôme Bel & Cédric Andrieux - story of a dancer

Wednesday 28 September 2011

The autumn feast of Dance Umbrella 2011 starts this weekend (Merce Circus 1 & 2 Oct, Stratford Circus))!
Donald Hutera (dance critic for The Times and contributor to many other publications) talks to choreographer/‘realiser’ Jérôme Bel and dancer Cédric Andrieux, the performer in – and subject of – Bel’s most recent collaboration: Cédric Andrieux…

Cedric AndrieuxPhoto: Herman Sorgeloos Few professional dancers become household names. Sure, there are the Darcey Bussells and Michael Flatleys of this world, the anointed ones whom the media – ideally along with some innate special talent – help turn into superstars. Not many dancers, however, can claim such instant name-brand recognition. All too often – unless they’re someone like, heaven help us, Ann Widdecombe, thrust into the spotlight by *Strictly Come Dancing* – the work they do tends to be all too easily overlooked.

Perhaps this is what motivated the unfailingly clever and sometimes controversial French choreographer (or, to use the description he prefers, ‘realiser’) Jérôme Bel to initiate a series of biographical solo shows, each named after the artist with whom it was created. First up in 2004 was Véronique Doisneau, who was then on the verge of retiring from her long-held position as a member of the corps de ballet at the Paris Opéra. During the performance this unsung ballerina talked in a frank and unadorned manner about her life and career (including the excruciatingly dull tasks involved in being one of the many bird-ladies in *Swan Lake*, which she also demonstrated.) The result was empathetically funny and revealing.

The same can be said about Bel’s most recent collaboration with Cédric Andrieux, even if in this case pointe shoes were traded for bare feet. Sharp-eyed fans of contemporary dance just might recognise Andrieux’s name. Born in the French city of Brest in 1977, this tall, muscular and soft-spoken fellow was for eight years a member of the renowned Merce Cunningham Dance Company. In that guise he made frequent appearances on London’s dance stages, and always under the auspices of Dance Umbrella. This is the same groundbreaking organisation that is bringing Andrieux back to the Big Smoke this autumn as part of its festival of the best international new dance.

In Cédric Andrieux the show’s eponymous star unassumingly traces his journey from child to adult, illuminating en route the aspirations, struggles and rewards that a life dedicated to dance entails. Clad in a simple track suit he stands on a bare stage and, in effect, bares his soul.

It was seeing Fame on television that first ignited Andrieux’s desire to make movement his metier. As a boy he claims he was “not naturally gifted”, but he worked hard and by the tender age of 14 was determined to go pro. What ensues as he retrospectively examines his life onstage is a charting of progress that takes him from Europe to New York and, eventually, on tour round the world.

It might sound glamorous and exciting, but most insiders would agree the reality of a dance career is also something else. One of Bel’s underlying points in these solos is to demystify an art form while offering a different slant on it. “I’m interested in the knowledge and the expertise of performers,” he says. “Usually we know what critics and choreographers think about dance, but the dancers themselves are not so visible. And yet they are the ones who are closest to the dance. They have a knowledge which is specific.”

It is this specificity that anchors the show called Cedric Andrieux. Its subject speaks about himself and his work with a dead-pan sweetness and humour, but the show isn’t all talk. Interspersed among the autobiographical details are extracts of various dances. These range from the rather endearingly naïve piece with which Andrieux nabbed first prize in a graduation competition to Cunningham’s masterly *Biped* _and _Suite for 5 and Trisha Brown’s Newark. (Andrieux danced the latter during the three years he spent post-Cunningham as a member of Lyon Opéra Ballet.)

According to Bel the association with Andrieux happened “by chance. I don’t select people or consider why somebody would be “better” than anyone else. I met Cedric on the train and thought about making a piece with him. I was very interested to know more about his experience with Merce Cunningham.”

Cedric AndrieuxPhoto: Herman Sorgeloos Andrieux is as modest online as he appears to be onstage. Asked about his and Bel’s working methods he replies: “It was mostly conversations, writing and emailing back and forth. After that it was mostly about staging the performance and finding the most efficient way to convey what we were trying to do.”

But how did he choose what to include about his life and career? “I first wrote something close to 40 pages, so there was a lot of editing. Jerome helped quite a bit with that by asking me questions. We then selected what would be interesting for the audience to learn about it.” What we’re given, he says, is “a narrative that takes you through dance in France in the late 80’s and early 90’s, from me training in a national school, dancing for Merce and going to a rep company in Lyon and then working with Jerome. The central part is about my time with Merce’s company. We tried to find a way to tell that story – my story, but also some of the things that Merce developed and worked on. The main thing was relevance – to make sure that we were not adding unnecessary details.”

Andrieux applied a similar approach to the notion of ‘performing’ himself. Significantly, this was the first time he was speaking onstage. “I do feel somehow exposed, but I tried to not think too much about what I sound or look like. One of the main things is to just try to be in the moment and tell a story the simplest way I know how, without any add-ons.”

Andrieux estimates that he’s performed the piece about 40 times since it premiered in 2009. Feedback from peers, including his Cunningham colleagues, has been supportive and the audience response warm. “Of course, I only get the good feedback,” he jokes. “The people who hate it don’t talk to me afterwards.” More seriously he adds: “I like the idea that people may want to go watch Merce’s work after seeing this, or dance in general, and with a different perspective.”

Cédric Andrieux, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, Mon 3 & Tues 4 October 2011

The final London shows of Merce Cunningham Dance Company will be at the Barbican Theatre, Wed 5 – Sat 8 October, as part of Dance Umbrella 2011.

Tickets on sale on 15 June: **”www.danceumbrella.co.uk“:http://www.danceumbrella.co.uk

This article will also appear on the Dance Umbrella website.

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