NAC Dance: Yoann Bourgeois plays “vertigo games” as he looks for a true tipping point

A scene from He Who Falls by Yoann Bourgeois. Photo: Geraldine Aresteanu

For young boys and girls of a certain inclination, the dream of running away to join a circus seems a very acceptable alternative to humdrum reality. Yoann Bourgeois is one who actually acted on his dreams.

“When I was a young boy,” the French choreographer and ‘movement’ artist, wrote as part of an emailed interview with ARTSFILE, “I was dreaming of running away to a country where I could stay a kid. That country is the circus and I got there.”

The French movement artist was born in that part of France known as the Jura in Grenoble. Early on he attended a school attached to the legendary company Cirque Plume.

It was there that his interest in movement and in what he calls “the games of vertigo” were established. As his interest developed he continued his studies at the National Centre for Circus Arts, a major French circus school in Chalons-en-Champagne east of Paris and at the National Centre for Contemporary Dance in Angers, southwest of the city of lights. He then spent four years with the leading contemporary dance choreographer Maguy Marin.

“The schools taught me how to socialize and to accept answering questions … how to pretend to be an adult.” But clearly they taught him more than that.

All of this was leading up to the creation of his own company in 2014. The work Bourgeois creates blends circus skills and physical dance-theatre always with a twist or a tumble.

“During my dance studies, I became conscious of the notion of repertoire. Such a notion does not exist in circus. I became conscious that the history of circus does not exist. Writing distinguishes the pre-history from history, so I started writing. I wanted to inscribe my practice. It is first a political question that distinguished these two practices.”

The work is almost always placed on a moving platform of some kind. In one well-known example, called La mécanique de l’histoire in the Pantheon in Paris, Bourgeois placed a rotating circular stairway, a trampoline and sent several anonymous dancers up the steps, only to fall onto the trampoline and back onto the stairs again and again.For two nights in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre, his company is presenting He Who Falls, a work that features three men, three women on a revolving, rotating, accelerating, spinning platform. All the motion sends the dancers in motion across the platform. It’s pretty crazy, but the work and other pieces are giving him a worldwide reputation.

These “vertigo games” are intended to “destabilize perception and generate a voluptuous panic.

“I’m not doing anything with gravity, there is nothing to do with gravity. It is there and I am trying to let it be. At the very end of this acceptance, I sometimes catch a glimpse of a suspension point.”

The work, he says, examines the separation that exists between individuals as they try to cope with the moving platform. It is sort of a metaphor for the forces that “pass through our small humanity” in a time of unstable and changing times.

He says that, “the audience will see in front of them women and men who are, like them, trying to keep standing.

“All my movements, as a person and as an artist, are trying to reach out to a suspension point.” He wants “to trick” or even upend dominant relationships.

“I am dedicating my life to this. This pathway is an existential conquest, that takes me to live poetically.”

He’s been compared to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton for the positions his dancers find themselves in. He is described as a nouveau-cirque acrobat and a dramatist of physics. Others say he’s a humorist and a motion philosopher. He seems to be all of these things and more, but at 28, his vision is really only just starting.

Yoann Bourgeois presents He Who Falls
Where: Babs Asper Theatre
When: March 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.