Philippe Jamet talks dancing portraits

Ten years ago choreographer Philippe Jamet decided he wanted to escape the confines of the theatre and learn about the universal language of movement. He travelled all over the world, recording dance portraits of the people he met along the way that he turned into a show Dancing Portraits. Now he is presenting a new production Tubes! that combines a whole new set of portraits with his own choreographic twist. As Tubes! opens at Théâtre National de Chaillot in Paris he talks to IAM about the two projects.

How many countries did you visit on your journey?

The project Dancing Portraits started in France and expanded abroad in several steps with a total of nine countries: France, Italy, Germany, Burkina Faso, Morroco, Brasil, USA, Vietnam, Japan and finally New Caledonia. The aim was to cover the five continents.

How many portraits did you collect in total?

350! We filmed an average of 20 portraits in each city we visited (Bretigny-sur-Orge, Marseille, Calais, Nantes, Dieppe, Belfort, Paris, Ouagadougou, Marrakech, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Recklinghausen, New York, Rome, Nouméa).
I also filmed dancing portraits of children from all over the world. And the very last part of the project was made of portraits of 12 choreographers (Carolyn Carlson, Olivier Dubois, Roser Montlló Guberna, Jean-Claude Gallotta, Marion Levy, Philippe Decouflé, Nacera Belaza, Seydou Boro, Odile Duboc, Mourad Merzouki, Carlotta Sagna, Kader Belarbi).

After filming portraits of the inhabitants of the world, from all ages and cultures, asking them about their feelings and the way they expressed them through their own body, I was eager to ask the choreographers that make today’s contemporary dance what their feelings and gestures were.

Through these last portraits, I wanted to go back to what had built me: I wanted to show the diversity of the choreographic languages and the universal strength of this language – how it is accessible and understandable for all.

What inspired you to start this project, and how did it lead you on to Tubes!?

I wanted to get out of the theatre and experience life with real people. I wanted to bring art to them, and I wanted them to be the art. There is of course an ideal of democratisation behind it.

The language of movement and gesture is understood everywhere – or so they say. It may seem possible to make oneself clear through such means in simple everyday situations, but emotions such as love or fear may be conveyed through very different gestures in Paris, Tokyo, or Ouagadougou. I found that the dancing alphabet varied widely with every culture, every religion, every climate. On the other hand, some gestures are practically the same in each and every country.

The first step of my creative process is ‘artistic investigation,’ which is what the dancing portraits were. For Tubes! I met people and asked them to share their feelings on a song that is important to them. They describe it in words, in movements, in feelings. The theme of songs in Tubes! is an excuse to talk about life.

Do any stand out as being particularly unusual or memorable for you?

With Dancing Portraits, I have met people I would have never met in my everyday life. All these meetings were very unique and intense. They all trusted me. There were some I wanted to be like, some I fell in love with. They very often cried, there was a lot of an emotion when they spoke but the tears would burst out when they were dancing.

How does Tubes! Differ from Dancing Portraits, and what you like to do next with this project?

The form of the choreographic performance is quite different in Tubes! than it was in Dancing Portraits. In Dancing Portraits, the spectators were evolving in different zones where the portraits were grouped depending on both their city and their theme (happiness and unhappiness, fear, hope, love). An intimate space was created where choreographies inspired by the themes and gestures of every visited country were interpreted by professional dancers.

Tubes! is different because the portraits are presented before and after the performance in another area. On stage, the show performed by the eight professional dancers is inspired by the feelings or the movements expressed in the portraits, by a key word in the song, by a melody.

Tubes! is on at Théâtre National de Chaillot until 29 May. You can see a preview here.