(LA)HORDE = (La)Revolte

Revolutionaries from below: Arthur Harel, Jonathan Debrouwer and Marine Brutti

Tom de Peyret

Here it is, the first monograph on (LA)HORDE. Three young guns, Marine, Arthur, and Jonathan, rock Europe’s dance scene and determine the fate of France’s Ballet National de Marseille. The collective’s name, (LA)HORDE, is a perfect fit. They stage hordes of all kinds and ages: young jumpstyle dancers, seniors, blind people or a Georgian folk dance ensemble. The three are pioneers on the trail of youthful energy and rebellion – and currently the most prolific think tank on the dance scene.

Dance journalist in Paris

Who are they

What is a horde? How many individuals does it take to call yourselves that? One hundred? Fifty? Twenty? Ten? Three? It’s like asking how many grains of sand make up a heap: according to the paradox of the heap, which could also be a paradox of the horde, no one can ever prove that a quantity usually considered a heap or horde, reduced from 100 to 99, from 10 to 9, from 4 to 3, would no longer be a horde, a heap… This is exactly what happened to (LA)HORDE, when founding member Céline Signoret left the heap in 2016. “We are four authors coming together in connection with a work,” she said, implying that as authors, they have only one collective signature. “Each work situates itself within the circle of our discussions. At the end of the process, it doesn’t belong to any one of us.” A shared, communal authorship. Everyone speaks for everyone here. That is also why they do not want to be quoted individually, even if they cannot always attend a press event together.

As they sit opposite me in the confines of the Paris studio of Radio Libertaire during a live broadcast in January 2015, the spirit of the collective becomes apparent. They complete each other’s sentences, do not interrupt each other, but rather demonstrate how much they also pull together intellectually. They do not speak in chorus, of course, but disagreements seem to be non-existent. This is not a given when individuals from such different artistic backgrounds come together. Céline Signoret, who co-founded the collective but soon left it, was the quietest of the bunch even then.

(La)Horde: Always hungry for new experiences and foreign communities

Stephane Perche

The remaining three have stuck together to this day. There is Marine Bruni – elegant, usually tense-looking, her voice somewhat strained as she speaks – alongside Jonathan Debrouwer, who has a habit of squinting his left eye, and not only when he looks at dapper Arthur Harel, who always appears neat as a pin. Harel studied acting at the Paris Conservatory, while Marine Brutti and Jonathan Debrouwer pursued fine and visual arts studies at Strasbourg’s Haute École des Arts du Rhin, formerly the École des arts décoratifs, and focus primarily on installations and videos. “It’s not the same relationship to space” as is usual in theater, but they certainly have common points of reference as a trio. The shows “Westworld” or “The Leftovers,” for example. The stage works of Romeo Castellucci, which fall somewhere between dance and art, or the films of Christopher Nolan and David Cronenberg. And many other things for which they share a mutual enthusiasm.

They like to visit clubs like La Java in Paris, work with communities that they either seek out or establish themselves. This allows them to constantly have new experiences and to grow from them. Within a community, they are not interested in the aesthetics of dance or the body, but in the process of getting to know each other and working together. What is important to them is that they bring a new spirit to the dance landscape while continuing along a path they embarked on when they were far from even dreaming of one day leading an institution. The fact that they do not emulate the trend of starting from club dances and misusing them as inspiration, but rather strive to thematize the community as such and work with authentic members of the respective scene to make its dances the destination of an artistic journey is just one of their strengths.

The Ballet national de Marseille

The Ballet National building is located in a park in the western part of Marseille and is almost reminiscent of a spaceship. Completed in 1992, this futuristic building was designed by French architect Roland Simounet, whose work has its roots in 1950s Algeria. In addition to numerous other projects, Simounet was also responsible for redesigning the Picasso Museum in Paris. For the ballet and its school in Marseille, he imagined a “white kasbah,” an architectural structure somewhere between Brutalism and Orientalism in its inspiration. The complex consists of the rehearsal studios, the performance hall, and the student apartments; its address – Boulevard de Gabès – takes its name from a desert and port town in Tunisia. During their lunch break, the dancers bask on the sun-drenched roofs of the brutalist medina-like structure, which boasts a wide panorama that showcases all that makes Marseille special. The beautiful official photos taken at the opening of the building no longer quite reflect the current state of things. The paint is peeling, but there is really no shame in that after thirty years. But who will ever say: “Let’s renovate the facades”?

The plaster is peeling fast on the Mediterranean, also on the Ballet national, but the core is as freshly painted

Thomas Hahn

When they were appointed as heads of the Ballet National de Marseille, the largest of France’s nineteen Centres Chorégraphiques Nationaux, you would have been forgiven for wondering whether (LA)HORDE would have to sacrifice on the altar of success their freshness and ability to turn the dance world upside down. Such a complex structure of relationships with and among various categories of staff, the political environment and the financiers, the history and future of the institution, and, of course, the audience, requires considerable energy and skill and has previously driven some highly talented choreographers to despair, especially in Marseille. “Many people believed we had no business being there,” the members of the collective recall. However, they developed such skill – both artistically and politically – as to now be considered beyond reproach. One of the main accusations levelled by politicians who wish the management would go to hell is always that the institution and its symbol of cultural power are too passive. That is really the last thing that (LA)HORDE could be found guilty of; if anything, they could be accused of the opposite.

Also a “Room with a view”: on the roof of the Ballet national de Marseille

Thomas Hahn

There was also the question of what a trio with a contemporary, future-oriented mindset would do to a school that teaches classical technique. Yet those contradictions also belong in the past. Anyone who masters nothing but classical technique will have a hard time finding engagements in France today. You have to be versatile, and ideally you should also be able to sing. And above all: you must be open to current aesthetics. This is exactly what (LA)HORDE promote by encouraging young dancers to experience dance for themselves: in the basement. This is where the company’s rehearsal studios and those of the affiliated school are located. Founded in 1992 by Roland Petit, France’s star post-war choreographer, the school is currently celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. Today, 40 percent of its students hail from the surrounding region, 45 percent from the remainder of France, and 15 percent from abroad. The company’s rehearsal studios are connected with those of the school via several corridors; there is no physical separation. In the past, there was an institutional barrier between the two – but that was before (LA) HORDE came along. “Students were forbidden from visiting the company’s studios. We put an end to that and encourage the young people to come and watch us rehearse regularly. After all, some of them are the future dancers of the company.”

Other staff are included in a similar manner. First, Marine, Jonathan, and Arthur had to familiarize themselves with the people and processes of the institution. They observed what was going well and identified problem areas. Only then did they focus on their own visions. The goal: Anyone working at the BNM should feel involved and be able to exchange ideas and make connections with the dancers. Appreciation for all: “During our first week, we held an integration workshop for the entire staff in the dance studio. We may do that every year.” After all, it led to an outrageous realization: “By having the staff ask each other very simple questions, it became clear that no group posed a threat to any other group.” That alone is worth its weight in gold in Marseille and can effect a great deal of change. One question was: “Why don’t you just drop by the studio and see what we’re doing?” The response from the non-dancers was: “That’s not usually encouraged. We’re not allowed to.” But now, they are allowed. “We do not want a situation where an accountant or administrative assistant doesn’t feel welcome to drop by the dance studio or ends up feeling that they are using their working hours poorly.”

Team building not only with the dance ensemble but also with the whole ensemble

Thomas Hahn

(LA)HORDE quote Romeo Castellucci, whom they hold in very high esteem, and his dream of starting from scratch, completely ignorant, with every new piece. They define themselves as the same kind of “idiots” in reference to their beginnings in Marseille. Indeed, there is no denying that their institutional innocence has been an asset. Perhaps the committee that gave preference to their project had precisely that in mind: young people who – still innocent and naïve in a positive way – would examine the institution from their perspective. (LA)HORDE are known for their intelligence and willingness to innovate. They have instituted weekly meetings in which each department informs the others about its activities. Team building activities also included shooting a short film together in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Marseille, while it was closed due to the pandemic. The sense of togetherness they have developed has proved instrumental in getting the staff through difficult times, especially during lockdowns that saw the closure of cultural venues and the frustrating cancellation and postponement of all performances. If they weren’t choreographers, (LA)HORDE could also act as management consultants.

Seniors

The ensemble of “Void Island”

Noëmie Bottiau

One of their first pieces was Void Island. 2015. That is when they started with the hordes and the definition thereof. Initially you always only know that you know what you don’t want. Therefore, “we didn’t seek out a group of old people to do a piece about aging. Rather, we were looking for regular performers – not old people, not amateurs. The topic was Foucault’s utopian body.” The idea was to create a work with people of all kinds. “We advertised for participants and about forty people applied to audition, all of them between 48 and 83 years old. But we had not set any age limits. Even an athlete who retires at 35 may possibly feel like a senior, while someone else is still active in their profession at 80.” It was not about professions, not even about whether someone had ever practiced dance. It was all about presence and bodies. Not about technique. It was about being able to express something about their own energy and life experience. “For example, there was someone who had a harder time walking than the others. We were immediately interested in that.” Everyone’s hair was dyed white as “a type of equalizer because it exaggerates the signs of aging in such a way that you end up forgetting all about it. Ultimately, it was just 22 people existing on stage in their own auras. There was a feeling of a primordial state, of an alien beauty. The body became a utopia. But what gaze do we cast upon it? “For some, the process really allowed them to reappropriate their bodies.” Or as Michel Foucault put it in Le corps utopique: “Really, it was silly of me, before, to believe that the body was never elsewhere, that it was an irremediable here, and that it opposed itself to any utopia.”

Create beauty from the age of the body

Noëmie Bottiau

“It was more of a scenic work than something choreographic. We didn’t think ‘dance’ but ‘bodies’. We were very keen to do something on Foucault’s ‘heterotopias’.” This refers to those places that are outside of all places; non-places like the theater, but also mirrors, cemeteries, prisons, retirement homes – places that only exist in modern society. The seniors bared all in this place of modernity: “We worked with body painting to show that these are different bodies.” That was important. The extensive debates on aesthetic issues, which are rife in France, lurk everywhere. With (LA)HORDE, however, there are no preconceived notions or concepts regarding the question of beauty – neither with respect to gaining a classic understanding of the term nor to breaking it open. They seem to just let things happen and unfold freely. This creates a “heterotopian” aesthetic that is redefined each time based on the subject matter of the piece. “For us, beauty is not a category whose definition excludes other definitions,” they say. “For the performers of Void Island, beauty emanated from their personalities. How do we enhance it, how do we transport it from the here and now? That’s what creates beauty.” That is what it was all about: reappropriating the concept of beauty.

Calm look from sheer experience

François Stemmer

“When a body that has experienced a lot enters the stage, additional movements or actions often become superfluous. We take everything that the person has experienced and been through and what they could tell us. All you need is presence. That is enough to tell us their stories. When we first saw Void Island on stage and in front of an audience, we told ourselves that the piece was no longer ours. Each of us felt the same way. The piece lives on independently from the first performance, without its creators.” This made them want to work again in a similar way with other communities, as a heterotopian “horde.” They would first have to form themselves, develop their own way of functioning, their rules and structures. That is also where the maxim of never giving an interview separately comes from – although those days are now over since they took over the helm in Marseille. Now, Marine must travel to Los Angeles to prepare a project, while Jonathan and Arthur rehearse in Marseille. This is their new normal.

Jumpstyle

The intense encounter between (LA)HORDE and jumpstyle dancers from all over Europe in May 2022 was an important chapter. Their definitively last performances took place at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and even Ukraine jumper Viktor Pershko aka Belir managed to be there despite the war, even though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had banned men of military age from leaving the country just prior. Anyone who can whirl his legs around like this jumper is certainly fit for military service, but the company and the Théâtre de la Ville were able to wrest an exemption from the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture. There have been over ninety performances since 2016. “And yet, from the point of view of the institutions, such dancers – jumpstylers – are not considered legitimate, even though they have invented a new, complex dance.” And it would never have even occurred to the jumpers to worry about legitimacy. That was (LA)HORDE’s idea.

“To da Bone”

Laurent Philippe

Jumpstyle originated in Belgium and the Netherlands a little over twenty years ago, eked out an underground existence and only became a broader movement thanks to YouTube. Young people post their short, explosive video sequences on the Internet and exchange ideas, compare, compete… The videos show solos, consisting of a kind of on-the-spot gallop, of angling thighs, shins, knees, and feet that freeze as quickly as they unfreeze. The viewers’ eyes have no easy time adjusting to the speed; sometimes they succumb to an optical illusion. Many of these youngsters begin in their homes, in their living rooms. “My parents didn’t find it funny at all, because I kept kicking in the doors of my room and the wardrobe,” reports Viktor, the damage unintentional, of course. Their parents’ generation does not understand this kind of dance, and that is precisely what brings the adolescents together. Jumpstyle is one of those youth cultures whose rebellious potential sometimes unfolds almost unconsciously, as an intimate kind of revolt.

Jumpers love the hardcore style of the Gabbers, the culture that translates the perceived trauma of social deprivation or cultural wasteland of the middle-class suburbs and wealthy urban fringes into beats per minute. (LA)HORDE discovered this scene while aimlessly poking around the Internet. They first contacted the jumpers virtually. It was not easy. “In the beginning, they thought we were trolls having fun with them.” It also was not easy for them to face an actual physical audience. On YouTube, they were unassailable stars with admirers all over the world.

When Marine, Jonathan, and Arthur met this community, “we learned as much from them as they learned from us.” Rather than imposing a choreography on the group, they drew inspiration from the jumpers’ techniques and styles. In the end, To da Bone became not jumpstyle hoisted onto the stage, but a reflection on this style of dance and its community. It became a typical (LA)HORDE piece. In To da Bone, the dancers showcase their styles, their shuffles, hakken, tekstyles, hardjumps. And by varying and experimenting with them, they sometimes discover other, gentler facets of their own style – a necessary development given that their sequences only last twenty or thirty seconds. In the theater, they are on stage for an hour. Much like the B-boys in hip hop, jumpers invent their own personal styles and compare those signature moves on the Internet and at battles. They film themselves in profile, so that the virtuosity of the leg movements is shown to its full advantage. They stage themselves at intersections, in parking lots, or in underground garages. It was a crucial step in their development – not just for them, but also for (LA)HORDE.

Like an army of individualists

Laurent Philippe

To da Bone: the title comes from a techno piece that is repeated several times and goes well with this dance, which indeed goes right to the bone. Unisono, there is an almost martial drumming of the feet. But everyone must be ready to subordinate themselves to the collective. For some, this has been a long road. The reflex of wanting to be the best is not easily broken – and this is also evident in the production. They talk to each other insistently in their respective languages – Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, French, German – and act as if they only now realize that they hardly understand each other. Except via dance. They discuss what sets apart a good jumper and their style from a very good one: the power, the technique, the originality? Putting these individualists, almost exclusively young men from eight countries, on a theater stage was as visionary as it was crazy. One of them talks on stage about how he danced alone for eight years. They all knew of each other through YouTube, but had never met.

Also interesting is the fact that the jumper community in Europe is almost exclusively white, male, and heterosexual – unlike its counterparts in the US and Latin America. (LA)HORDE sees this as a reflection of a European deficit in interculturality. The male jumpers in particular are therefore often associated with a right-wing image, and they suffer as a result. It certainly feels much better to be encouraged by (LA)HORDE to meet offline within the community – especially since the community is as diverse as its styles. The dances declare their distrust of gravity just as the grand jeté in ballet tries to do. Many of the pirouettes and step combinations performed together by jumpstylers appear as though they have emerged from a folkloric cultural heritage. One Irish blogger even compared To da Bone to Riverdance.

One could argue, as (LA)HORDE does, that jumpstyle in Eastern Europe is actually influenced by classical ballet. But YouTube plays the more decisive role, just as it has for twerking. When brought to the stage, jumpstyle seems more like a post-Internet dance whose origins resemble a global network of cell phone videos. Ten years ago, when (LA)HORDE discovered jumpstyle, these dancers’ bodies were highly capable. Not all of them would now be able to match that high level of prowess for the finale at the Théâtre de la Ville. Only a few of the group have made a career out of dancing. Far more often, idealists became realists: computer scientists, electricians, technicians, teachers. Viktor, the Ukrainian, managed a pizza restaurant near Kiev. But for the final performances at the Théâtre de la Ville, they had gotten themselves back into shape and mastered the challenge brilliantly. And above the stage, the saying: “Every story has an end” shone unprophetically…

Danse élargie

What transpired between (LA)HORDE and the jumpers also kickstarted the trio’s lightning-fast career, as became evident already at the premiere of To da Bone, which still took the form of a ten-minute performance back then. That was in 2016 at the Danse élargie competition, which took place at the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. They won one of the awards and found co-producers for a 60-minute piece. The three were still a long way from seeing themselves as directors of a Centre Chorégraphique National. “We owe a lot to the competition because Danse élargie put us in the spotlight and brought us a lot of attention.” Not because they won 2nd prize, but because their fresh, open spirit matched that of the competition. Since the 2022 edition, they are now among the organizers of the competition as Ballet National de Marseille and support the young companies participating in the competition by offering them residencies to develop the embryonic forms presented at Danse élargie.

Danse élargie first took place in 2010. It was conceived by Boris Charmatz, whose Musée de la danse at the Centre Chorégraphique National in Rennes was an attempt at liberating the contemporary dance scene from entrenched thought patterns. He was not understood – at least not immediately. A museum for dance – and a contemporary one at that? A museum as a living place that creates connections between the works presented in it? He came up with the idea of launching this competition because he remembered the significant contribution made by the legendary Concours de Bagnolet to the development and popularity of dance from the 1970s onwards. Somehow, the creativity in contemporary dance no longer seemed as effervescent as it had been in its early days. When she took over the management of the Rencontres chorégraphiques internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis – the successor to the Concours de Bagnolet – in 2002, Anita Mathieu had put an end to the idea of competition. It seemed like it would be reserved for classical ballet forever. Then Boris Charmatz, who is currently taking over the management of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, conceived the idea for this new competition and brought on board Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, who had just taken over the management of the Théâtre de la Ville. Charmatz remembers the initial reactions from the dance scene: “Excuse us? Com-pe-ti-tion? Are you serious?” and had to admit: “We lost friendships. But no one gets upset about film competitions, where you can also discover a lot of talent. Even the Concours de Bagnolethad produced well-known names such as Dominique Bagouet, Philippe Decouflé, Régine Chopinot, Angelin Preljocaj, and Maguy Marin.” Instead of tension, the competitive atmosphere of Danse élargie was to create a sense of community. To participate is a victory in itself.

The hordes of (LA)HORDE

Laurent Philippe

This is what (LA)HORDE love about this competition, this happening: “It was a great feeling, also for us as an audience, to meet so many choreographers there, to spend the whole day in the theater, to go in and out and to appropriate the theater, and to talk with the jury members.” All the dancers turned into a horde, wild and free in front of an audience that was alien to the dance sector, since it consisted exclusively of artists. All discussions took place on an equal footing with artists from all kinds of disciplines, representing the artistic landscape in all its diversity. This, in turn, is entirely in keeping with the spirit of (LA)HORDE. Back in 2016, Lucinda Childs was also already present on the scene, and the three have maintained a special relationship with her ever since. The New York legend sat next to the dazzling South Korean Eun-me Ahn and Thiago Guedes from Porto, the new director of the Maison de la Danse and the Biennale de la Danse in Lyon. Childs accompanied (LA)HORDE in spirit all the way to Marseille. She had already created the piece Tempo Vicino for the Ballet National in 2010, which the newly formed troupe was now rehearsing. In 2022 it formed part of a mixed program entitled Roommates. Childs’ piece Concerto shows young techno and voguing-style dancers that they too can make use of this essentially classical composition for body and space. They used the lockdown periods to enter into an intense virtual exchange with Childs, who was staying in New York, to get to know her sense of humor, and to understand this dance at its core. It is quite certain that without Danse élargie, without jumpers, without the exchange with Lucinda Childs, (LA)HORDE would still be carving out its existence as an independent company today. As partner and co-producer of Danse élargie they now offer finalists in the competition residencies in Marseille. Because there is one thing they have never forgotten, since they themselves have experienced it until very recently: “Our professions are territories full of precarity.” Therefore, Marseille should instead become the model for an institution of solidarity.

The Iveroni Ensemble

Suddenly they were gone. That was in 2018. What was striking was that their absence was noticeable. For an independent company in the thicket of the French dance scene to garner such attention as one of hundreds is remarkable in itself. When (LA)HORDE reported back in 2019, they had in tow a traditional dance ensemble from Georgia. They had formed a close union with dancers from the Iveroni company, who have national status in Georgia and dance with razor-sharp gestures in traditional costumes, while interpreting Georgian customs with dagger and sword in a thoroughly modern fashion. Pounding their heels like flamenco dancers and practically using their legs as weapons, fencing until sparks fly, and jumping like they are looking to expose Nijinsky as an imposter: Marine, Jonathan, and Arthur showed once again that their view of dancing people knows no blind spots and that they are capable of illuminating not only Western European suburbs, but also Caucasian mountain ranges. They staged sixteen Iveroni dancers in an atavistic wedding ritual that ends in the bride revolting as though an earthquake were shaking the Georgian capital. With her sword, she cuts off the head of the equestrian statue of the national hero King Vakhtang Gorgassali, that mythical founder of the city of Tbilisi, and only the patriarch remains. The wedding is canceled, a new era dawns. But the social and political quake also has an element of decibels and beats per minute, which take over the stage.

Georgian power bank

Gaëlle Astier-Perret

What attracted the young Parisian trio to this folkloristic troupe enough to prompt them to travel to Tbilisi was, above all, the connection between tradition and the local techno scene, which in turn attracts dancers from all over Europe. What are the deeper origins of Jumpstyle, they wondered. In Tbilisi they met an old-school ballet master named Kakhaber Mchedlidze, who heads the Iveroni Ensemble. He lives by an old legend that Georgian dance is the father of all dances in Europe. “There is no way to verify this, of course,” (LA)HORDE admits: “But the idea alone inspired us to set out and explore the country.” Then there was the matter of Bassiani, Tbilisi’s techno club, which is frequented by the country’s LGBTQ+ community and which is also a hotbed of political opposition, a kind of Caucasian Berghain (translator’s note: an exclusive nightclub in Berlin), that is not exactly met with goodwill by the patriarchal religious guardians of tradition. In 2018, the conflict boiled over, with police raids and techno demos outside the city hall. The dance of Iveroni embodies cultural resistance to old Soviet imperialism and the cry of today’s youth for freedom, led on stage by women usurping the male dance repertoire.

“Marry me in Bassiani”

Anja Beutler, Gaëlle Astier-Perret, Aude Arago

In May 2022, Iveroni appeared once again in Paris, although this time the piece Marry me in Bassiani was not on the program. Instead, Marine, Arthur, and Jonathan staged a performance in a particularly exclusive and highly-protected location: the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Jardin des Tuileries, a symbol of monarchy, revolution, and republic where. Claude Monet’s gigantic water lilies, Les Nymphéas, hang in two oval halls. Dance performances written by famous choreographers take place regularly in the impressionist all-round immersion, but no one has ever been able to spark such magic there as the four Iveroni dancers, led by the master himself, Kakhaber Mchedlidze. Their performance brought the royal building, whose aura appears so contemporary today, back to earlier centuries in an impressive manner.

Room with a view

In March 2020, “Room with a view” premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, which had reopened in September 2019 following extensive renovations. It was the last production to take place before the first lockdown and also the first in which the auditorium’s historic glass dome, now re-energized with LED lighting, was included in the staging. The entire auditorium was transformed into a techno club. The audience was filled with thirty-year-olds who had come specifically to see Rone perform. And what they saw was dust, smoke, and gravel in a controlled collapse of the gigantic stage set. “Room with a view” is set in a marble quarry, or rather a replica of one. It is a dance piece set to techno music, mixed live on stage by international techno and electro star Rone. He plays a role himself: the guru and shepherd who fires up “his” eighteen dancers. Sometimes it rains gravel, sometimes dead fish. Apocalyptic atmosphere meets youthful vitality, to the point of ecstasy. The quarry could also be mistaken for the remains of the Bassiani club in Tbilisi – after a bomb strike or some other form of violence against the LGBTQ+ movement.

Cyril Moreau

Dystopia or a place of hope? Violence mixes with celebration and at the end a kind of street battle ensues against imaginary and real oppression before the crowd scales the marble cliff and disappears behind it. After the cave-in, the stage is hardly danceable and is cleaned by workers in protective suits during an intermission, which can certainly be read as an allusion to the protective measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In truth, it is about the general attitude to life during the apocalypse, of which the current pandemic is only a small, but all the more vivid aspect. With this piece, Brutti, Debrouwer, and Harel welded together the newly-formed troupe of the Ballet National de Marseille. It was their first joint production in Marseille, a demonstration of what the three of them intend to accomplish at their new place of employment: They seek to close ranks with youth cultures and open themselves up to new ways of thinking and working. Accordingly, the dancers almost exclusively represent the Millennial generation. It is not difficult to form them into a community which embodies a dancing techno tribe with absolute authenticity.

“Room with a View”

Andrea Avezzù

The only trouble came from the neighbors. Neighborhood conflicts are a daily occurrence in Paris due to the close proximity in which people live to one another. But the conflict surrounding (LA)HORDE stood out. DJ Rone’s noise level on stage during rehearsals that ended late at night shook the walls and prompted protests from the adjacent Hôtel Victoria, which is located in the same building. Turning down the volume was out of the question. The theater’s artistic director, Ruth Mackenzie, had offered Rone carte blanche. The latter, in turn, did not want to occupy the stage alone and therefore asked (LA) HORDE to join him. So the starting point was the music. Rone composed the tracks that can now be heard on his album Room with a View. The Châtelet was caught in a techno trap because the theater management had set up this techno club, and the stomping of the guests caused the structure to vibrate, with minor but visible effects. In August 2020, the Council of Paris demanded the resignation of artistic director Ruth Mackenzie, as the Châtelet, like the Théâtre de la Ville, is under the care of the city. Even in the summer of 2022 a successor had yet to be found.

The return of stage design

The spectacular scenographies of Marry me in Bassiani, followed by Room with a viewand a new piece that will premiere in 2023 are all the work of set designer Julien Peissel. He tells us, “The (LA)HORDE three like the avant-garde work of French theater director Vincent Macaigne. And I have been his scenographer since his first piece. They called me even though I’m really hard to reach. I don’t have a website, nor am I on social media.” In the piece with the Ensemble Iveroni, a kind of bomb blast first brought the party to an end and then the façade of a palace, the town hall, was rolled across the stage, virtually crushing the wedding party. “Room with a view” by the Ballet National de Marseille is set in a marble quarry, a dystopian no man’s land made of faux marble.

Artful theater debris

Thomas Hahn

Clearly then, the stage designs scenographer Julien Peissel creates for (LA)HORDE are so monumental that they must appear almost anachronistic in contemporary dance – which is increasingly using digital projections – and take you back to the times of Pina Bausch and Peter Pabst. However, Peissel is not an estate administrator, but a scenographer who has been working with a number of important directors on the French scene for twenty years. The physical set design is simply a must at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, the Théâtre de la Ville, the Théâtre de la Colline, etc., while in dance it rather restricts the freedom of movement. Which is why dance naturally tends to be more intangible.

Theatrical dance in ruins

Thomas Hahn

Is the monumental still justified in dance? Those times seemed to be gone for good. But (LA)HORDE question everything – with success. Peissel also wants to justify the monumental in dance and uses his structures in such a way that they lend great force and conciseness to the themes addressed by (LA)HORDE. In Marry me in Bassiani, the palace and statue illustrate the longing for stability as a yearning carved in stone and show how it gives rise to the oppression of youth. The marble quarry in Room with a View resumes the lithoidal theme.

Controlled collapsing theater buildings

Thomas Hahn

A milling machine used to cut blocks from the marble during the day hovers over the nightly rave party. The back section of the marble cliff descends spectacularly down the back of the stage, obscured by the front part of the quarry. The moment of “collapse,” employing much fog and noise, and generous amounts of granulate falling from the sky, suggests that a kind of crater is opening up in the ground to engulf the cliff. Brutti, Harel, and Debrouwer are currently fine-tuning their third collaborative piece with Peissel, which is scheduled to premiere in the summer of 2023. “Once again, it will be about chaos,” says Peissel and promises: “The stage design will be even more spectacular!”

The dance landscape

Lasseindra Ninja, Queen of the Paris Voguing Scene

Theo Giacometti

The cat-and-mouse game with tradition also leads (LA)HORDE onto a terrain that arises from the tradition of the Ballet National itself: the conception of multi-part pieces created by different choreographers. A mixed evening with pieces by Balanchine, Hans von Manen, and perhaps Cunningham or Marco Goecke can be found in the seasonal program of every classical-modern company. In Marseille, however, nothing like this has ever been done before. Brutti, Debrouwer, and Harel are changing that, too. They have already put together two such programs, one called Roommates. This should make clear what the three of them are up to: They are putting together different eras and dances in an exhibition or a community. Only who would have thought that this exercise in style could include a piece by Lasseindra Ninja? The queen of the Parisian voguing scene has understood very well what the new troupe from Marseille is made of and ignites the performers like fireworks. Not one of voguing, but a creation in the spirit of openness to the pleasure of the body. (LA)HORDE believe that dance must be fun and want to show that they are open to all styles. And so they began their exploration of the dance landscape together with Lucinda Childs. In 2009, Childs had written a piece called Tempo Vicino specifically for the ensemble – at that time under the direction of Frédéric Flamand. But the bodies are different today, as is the spirit, and back then, things did not click between the troupe and Childs. Even given the precise mechanics and rhythmics of the piece, the dancers in 2009 still seemed a bit like naughty children stuffed into their Sunday suits for church.

During the lockdown, they met regularly with Childs via Zoom and soon found that they understood her style much better. The result of this improved understanding was showcased in Roommates, their second mixed evening, which they presented in May 2022. Childs was very generous, opening to them the complete treasure trove of her 60-year career as a choreographer: “Pick what you like!” They chose Concerto, a piece now almost thirty years old, set to pounding spinet rhythms by Henryk Gorecki. Usually it becomes a purist exercise in a state of consciousness floating somewhere in higher, abstract realms. The miracle of Marseille was that a kind of twilight of the gods was conjured up here, a furor from the underworld, where bodies and souls surge and roar, and where pure drill turns into a battle between body and soul: essentially Gorecki’s intention with his concert of rage and rebellion. In Marseille, they embody this without losing the precision or concentration intended by Lucinda Childs. which has to do with the fact that Childs’ Concerto is seen here as a Roommate, that is a roommate in a shared apartment in the history of dance, which must have not only surprised Childs herself, but also likely enraptured her. Presented with it, for example, is the duo Les Indomptés by French choreographers Claude Brumachon and Benjamin Lamarche, which was created a year prior to Concerto. It is a hot-blooded plea for love between men who seem to plunge into some kind of abyss with every movement. With these two works, (LA)HORDE also showcases the pieces that shaped them as a dance audience in their youth.

They also make clear who they consider to be a permanent fixture on today’s scene: Oona Doherty, for example, who hails from Belfast in Northern Ireland and, through her streetlife appeal, exudes some of the authenticity of socially disadvantaged neighborhoods and their longing for gentleness and hope – like a Ken Loach film, some say. Her solo Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus was turned into a unisono for the entire ensemble – a feat that Doherty never thought possible. Thus, (LA)HORDE have repeatedly shown that no mental block stands a chance with them. They even help to remove mental blocks in others. “Right after we were nominated, we asked Oona if she would like to work with the troupe,” they say – and were rebuffed: “I don’t do classical dance!” The word ballet shocked Oona, but there was a happy ending: “She finally came to our office; then we arranged a meeting with the dancers, almost against her will – and were able to convince her to spend an afternoon in the studio with the troupe. At the end she had tears in her eyes and said, I want to do Lazarus, with the whole company.”

Fighting + sex = new dance

Rehearsals for “Age of content”

Thomas Hahn

The buildings of the Ballet National de Marseille look like an urban adventure playground, like an invitation to do some freerunning on the roofs and the facades, on terraces and in the corridors. Perhaps that is why Brutti, Debrouwer, and Harel came up with the idea of hiring two pioneers of the art of parkour, that urban version of freerunning across rooftops, facades, and passages that was invented in France’s banlieues. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that they have used the buildings several times for rooftop performances, including a performative version of Room with a View, where Rone played his music live. Those who wished to could lie comfortably on their backs on the park lawn and look up towards the rooftops. Even the mayor of Marseille honored the event with this presence. The new piece is to be performed indoors. In February, they rehearsed various martial arts techniques with the company in the basement studios under the guidance of two experienced experts. It seems that the new piece promises something of a continuation of certain scenes and elements of Room with a View, where bodies are swung and twirled through the air, and where sexual desire and also violence are addressed.

Age of content (AOC) was the working title of this creation in February 2022, to be presented in the fall of 2023. AOC is also a well-known certification of authenticity for wine: Appelation d’origine contrôlée. Parts of the rehearsals were led by two cascadeurs (stuntment) from Campus Univers Cascade, France’s largest school for this art of skillful leaps. They also instructed the dancers in fight choreography. And Malik Diouf, co-founder of the legendary parkour troupe Yamakasi, is teaching them the discipline of parkour, which he helped develop. “Before that, I ran a company in Brighton for twelve years where we mixed parkour, contemporary dance, breakdance and capoeira.” His younger colleague Jonathan Bernard has been a cascadeur since 2012, working for various cinema and TV productions. He practices parkour and acrobatics, choreographs fights, falls, and “human torches.” Both greatly appreciate the receptiveness of the dancers in Marseille: “It’s unbelievable how well they know their bodies and how quickly you can work out sequences with them!” Kicks and punches rain down with no difference between the sexes. They dance and fight together.

Backstage

Thomas Hahn

While part of the troupe was rehearsing combat moves with Diouf and Bernard, things were completely different in the neighboring studio. There was clinging and almost kissing. The current signature of (LA)HORDE has a second pole that is even more radical and really rather sexy. “Duo sexy crab” is written on one of the sheets that Harel lays out on the floor during rehearsals for the new piece. The beginnings of what this new dance might look like already shone through in Room with a View, where bodies are whirled through the air and the group, carried by Rone’s bass, gets stuck into the street fight. Things get more concrete in Weather is sweet, a short piece they created themselves for the Roommates program, which can safely be considered a trial run for their new creation, still in the making. Weather is sweet includes martial arts as well as quite different games, which rather refer to physical love orgies. A dance of pelvises and (butt) cheeks rubbing against each other. Again and again, they bounce and jump the hips of their colleagues and twerk them like basketballs. Body control and combinations say we are still in the realm of art. The rides on or under each other’s hips are a chorographic trick that continues to unleash the full force of subversion and rebellion throughout the erotic rodeo. (LA)HORDE know what they stand for and what they like. They themselves are an appelation d’origine contrôlée.