MATHILDE MONNIER: AGING IN DANCE IS A POLITICAL ISSUE
The human body is intelligent and well equipped to create tools, rules and skills to survive various situations! How do we survive (in) the world of art? Two young dancers and choreographers, Valerie Oberleithner and Agnieszka Ryszkiewicz, met two advanced contemporary artists, the Vienna based choreographer Frans Poelstra and the French choreographer and head of the CCN of Montpellier Mathilde Monnier to talk about their personal ways of surviving. Read in the following 1st part about Mathilde Monnier’s survival strategies as she explained them to her interviewer Valerie Oberleithner in Hotel Biedermeier, Vienna.
corpus: Two weeks ago we sent you an email inviting you to talk about survival strategies. If I may ask you one question straight away: what did spontaneously come to your mind when you read about the proposed theme of survival strategies?
Mathilde Monnier: This question of survival raises a lot of contradictions. We undergo the world and in the same time we are pushing to go more forward.
I do believe that we have strategies to survive for a lot of things (in art for example) and in the meantime for some problems we are deprived (démunis in French) of those, we are powerless. I think we have a lot of individual strategies to survive, and very few group strategies. It seems as if we are not fighting anymore in a lot of political and social issues.
Also I have the feeling that the new generation has a completely different relation to time than we had. This generation takes much more time. My generation wanted to succeed very clearly, our strategies were more simple – maybe everything was more simple … In my opinion this generation does not have this idea of succeeding as we had. They are working in a completely different way than we used to. They are not occupied with their own identity. They are working all together. Not trying to defend their own signature as we did. Not appearing in the world of the market as one person but more as one work. The world of dance has completely changed. From my point of view at least, if I compare today to the 1980s.
corpus: You mentioned the word success. How would you define success for your generation and what could be success now?
Monnier: I think it was very clear what we were looking for. This did not only concern me, it was an issue for a whole generation. We wanted our names to be seen. The relation between the work and the author was very clear. This way of working was very traditional. This strategy was easy for the public, for the market and for the critics who could immediately relate the work to the artist.
Nowadays it is more difficult to understand the connection between the working strategies and the appearances on the market. The working strategies are more invisible, underground. Even the producers do not know how the thing works. I would be really interested in knowing whether young artists nowadays have any desire to be recognized and how they imagine recognition could happen?
corpus: This is very interesting that you refer now to young artists because I prepared this interview with a special focus on creating space for young artists to pose you a question.
On the base of a couple of days of research I compiled a text which focused on the part of your biography between 1985 and 1995. I decided for this time because of two reasons: first, at this time you were in a similar age as the three choreographers who through my lips will ask you questions; and second, it was the time when from a freelance dancer and choreographer you became the head of the National Choreographic Center of Montpellier (CCN) at the age of 34.
We are aware of the fact that this compiled text creates a very specific, partly fictitious character called Mathilde Monnier. The source was communicated to every single performer. Yesterday I met these three performers for fifteen minutes. We took five minutes to read the text which I compiled before, another five minutes to think about the questions and eventually five minutes to define the questions.
Here is the question of Satu Herrala, 32 years, performer, choreographer, based in Vienna: “How do you survive as a body in society?” To be more precise: How do you survive as a citizen in a social and political context in a wider sense than just in the artistic context?
Monnier: This question is related to the present. Things are changing every day. Now I am 50. I do not feel that I am getting old but I feel there are maybe just ten more years that I can dance. I guess this is the maximum that I can look forward to. Regarding my personality, I do not know if I wish to go on stage when I am really old and broken. This is a new question and it is a very important one. It is a personal question but it is also a political question: what image do you have in society when you are getting old? Especially on stage? How do you deal with this image?
As we know the image of old people is really not well integrated in our society. Old people are not welcome. I am interested in this question because being a dancer for such a long time I had the opportunity to control my body and my health to a certain extent. I do think this is a question of survival. Relating to Yvonne Rainer who dealt with this question in a political way, it is not just an intimate question, it is a private and public question and a question connected to the image of society.
corpus: In which ways do you communicate this fact of getting older to the outside?
Monnier: I think it is not something you deal easily with. There is no strategy. There is just a way of accepting it. When I feel weak, or when I have doubts about my work I have the strategy to open myself to the others. This was always the best way. Not to close myself but to let it go, to open up. Even to the young generation. To see how they work. This helped me a lot not to get stuck in what I was believing in. This was a personal strategy to survive. To invite people, to open the space, to share the money. This was also a strategy to deal with the market, to deal with the concurrence, to deal with my own ideas and those of other artists.
To listen to the ideas of young artists is a reality. It is not only a strategy to be more contemporary. It is a strategy in terms of a necessity to listen to the new generation; to acknowledge their difficulties and their successes. It is a way to understand the young and by understanding them also trying to understand myself.
corpus: You often choose to work with young people. For example also in the framework of ex.e.r.ce. It seems important for you.
Monnier: Ex.e.r.ce is very important for me. It is a laboratory of observation. With some people of ex.e.r.ce I am very close, they have become my friends. Every year there are new people with new ideas. This is a lot. You have to regenerate your mind each time. It is a very strong experience for me.
corpus: This is the question of Lieve De Pourcq, 28 years, performer, choreographer, based in Vienna and Brussels: “Is there a difference in the artistic approach to your work as a freelancer or as the head of the choreographic center?”
Monnier: Yes there is, even if it was not always conscious. When I arrived at the CCN in Montpellier I wanted to do a piece that was a big piece. With a lot of people on stage, with a set, simply to demonstrate that I was a choreographer. I came after Dominique Bagouet who was loved by everyone. I came after him as a woman. So I said to myself: I have to make a good piece!
The piece was well accepted but without taking any risks. It was called “Nuit” (1995). After the premiere my husband at this time told me: if you continue like that, it will be the end of your work. The piece was well received. People liked it. Still, I decided to completely change my way of working: I started to do research in a hospital. Like that I inverted the idea of being the head of an institution. I did exactly the contrary of what was expected of the head of an institution. I was “hiding” in the hospital to work. I was making my own research during four years and I created rather experimental works. I thought I could do this because I was protected by the institution.
I felt much more comfortable like that, at least with my work. The relation with the audience was not easy, but I felt I was in a place where I wanted to be. I thought I could do this because I was paid monthly by the institution, which was incredible. It allowed me to go much further into research.
corpus: But being the head of CCN also means having constraints. How do you deal with those?
Monnier: I do much more than demanded. Not because I think I have to, but because it is my rhythm. I have to give something back to the institution. I feel I am indebted to the institution because it gives me so much. I have to share this money. I do not feel like having to accept the constraints, on the contrary: they are a motor, give me a lot of energy. It is great that with this money coming from an institution it is possible to help artists because one day it might disappear.
corpus: The next question is influenced by Fanni Futterknecht, 31 years, who studied visual art and performance in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Angers, and is based in Vienna: “Do you preserve an intimacy within your creative processes and if yes, how?”
Monnier: It is hard to know where the intimacy starts and where it ends. This is a question because it is not something that you can control. I mean you can control a part of it but I think I do not know what intimacy means exactly and what is public and what is intimate. I am not trying to control my intimacy. I am also never trying to control an image of myself or the image of a choreographer. Sometimes I think I could be perceived as a bit cold but this is because my family comes from the north.
For sure there is a certain degree of intimacy passing into my work but I never took the time to look how this manifests itself. I never tried to put my private life into my work. Neither my biography, nor to work autobiographic except one time: in my work with Christine Angot in “La place du singe”. We worked with our biographies in a very specific way. We focused on the relation between the market of art, the artist and the society. The text was written by her, but we shared a lot of discussion. I like the fact that there is a distance to my history. I am not this kind of person who tells a lot about his/her history.
corpus: When you were talking to Peter Stamer and Silke Bake in the framework of “from dusk till dawn and further” at Impulstanz 2010 you said that you wanted to work with La Ribot because she was a “funny woman”. Then you had this offer to work with her. She is a very strong author. You are collaborating a lot but we do not see you collaborating often with other strong personalities. What is your choice? What drives you? Are there mechanisms? What are the mechanisms of meeting people?
Monnier: To work with Maria was really a choice which I think I made when I met her the first time 10 years ago. It was as if finding a partner for the stage. To have the intuition of having found somebody who you want to share the stage with. One of the main points was also that she was a “funny woman” and a very accomplished artist. I think there are not so many funny female dancers. I think it is something very difficult in dance to be funny. As we are educated in contemporary dance to be funny is not something what we are used to.
corpus: Two days ago you showed “Pavlova 3'23"’” at Vienna’s Akademietheater in the framework of Impulstanz. In the last part of the performance nearly the whole group of dancers was on stage, they were constantly constructing and deconstructing situations from various contexts. Even though there was a lot happening on stage in a quick rhythm, it did not affect me on the level of wanting to impress. The scene was definitely virtuoso but it did not seem to want to impress the spectator on a very basic level. It seemed to contain a differentiated access to virtuosity. How do you deal with virtuosity in your work?
Monnier: My work is a lot about virtuosity, but not necessarily in a technical way. It is an exploration of virtuosity on different levels. I do not place virtuosity on one point. Virtuosity is a strategy to survive; at least for a dancer it has to be. It s an energy, it is a bit of a starting point to work. We have to change the place of virtuosity, it should not be at the same place each time, could be a certain presence, could be a way of acting. In “Pavlova 3'23"’”, in the last part, the virtuosity is related to the idea of fictionalizing the movements. It is like editing many small fictions, one after the other, which creates certain loops. The virtuosity about it is that they are constantly taken by the fiction and in the meantime the body is constantly occupied with a different reality.
corpus: Could you give a short, fictitious goodbye speech for young people who are leaving from a dance school or an art school into the art world? What would be your advice?
Monnier: I will try not to answer as a coach. I think people have to do what they believe in. It could take time to know what you really believe in. It does not have to be only one thing. That is very often the problem. Sometimes we are searching for one way or one belief. We are always allowed to change. Do not be afraid to change your work. Do not get stuck only in one thing. Sometimes the first idea is even not the good one. People tend to put you into categories; they try to fix you on one identity. Sure, they are expecting something. This can be very heavy sometimes. Try to have the capability to really choose things.
corpus: Could you give a warning?
Monnier: Be careful of the producers (laughs)! I don’t have any warning to give besides proposing to be patient, always to remember that Cunningham saw his work being recognized when he was 55 or 60.
To read Frans Poelstra’s comments on survival strategies in his talk with Agnieszka Ryszkiewicz, click here.