Although the term “Heritage” seem to have gained an international understanding through the UNESCO conventions of World Cultural Heritage (1972) and Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), the interpretation and implementation of the concept in relation to dance differs greatly among countries. The following notes are drawn upon observations I have made on the topic during a year spent in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
As in many other European countries, the folk dance revival project is found in France as well, especially in Brittany and Provence regions where the dance repertoire is revived and practiced today (Guilcher: 1998). In the dance domain a direct discourse on the notion of “heritage” doesn’t seem to be highly audible. Instead, there are manifestations that can be indirectly linked to the notions of revival and safeguarding of dance that usually accompany the intangible cultural heritage discourse. One of these manifestations could be observed in Frères Champion's work. Frères Champion are Bourrée (A traditional dance of the Auvergne region) dancers and musicians conducting performances and workshops in the region, which could evoke the idea of dance revival encountered in other European contexts. Nonetheless, the brothers Champion collaborated in 2011 with Sidi Graoui, a contemporary dancer and choreographer, in an exploratory contemporary piece entitled ‘Trois, un, deux, le labyrinthe des origines’. The collaboration revolved around the body's capacities, musicality, dialogue and expression.
Another example could be noticed with “Fêtes Galantes”, a French dance company and their long-time performance “Que ma joie demeure”, where again ‘history’ in its royal and un-rural Baroque form meets contemporary dance. When the company performed in Clermont-Ferrand, a conference entitled ‘Louis XIV, Roi Danseur’ was held the evening prior to the performance and a baroque dance workshop by the company’s performers was conducted afterwards.
A third performance that carries the concept of ‘heritage’ was that of Jérôme Bel’s entitled “Cedric Andrieux”. “Cedric Andrieux” is the third performance of a series of Jérôme Bel that started in 2004 with a "core de ballet" dancer of Paris Opera, Véronique Doisneau. The series consist on individual dancers drawing on stage a retrospective of their dance careers. The work aims primarily to touch upon the personal legacy of individual dancers but highlights as well schools of dance, choreographers, choreographic pieces, and spaces the performer encountered during her/his career, while at the same time reflecting or rethinking their importance and significance. The concept of ‘history’ in relation to the individual, the collective and the dance is highly educed in the piece. When featured in Clermont-Ferrand, the performance was followed by a discussion session with the Andrieux and two days of intensive workshop of Cunningham technique, since Andrieux was a dancer in Cunningham Company for ten years.
An event I consider significant in relation to dance history and the concept of heritage is a workshop given by former Principal Dancer at the Paris Opera, Jean-Christophe Paré. The afternoon session of the workshop intended to “transmit” a part of “Density 21.5” a solo choreographed and performed by Carolyn Carlson in 1973. Carlson is an American dancer and choreographer who had been working and living in France since 1974. She is considered to be an influential figure in the contemporary dance scene in France. Carlson adapted and passed her choreography to Paré and has been added to his repertoire in 1978. During this session, Paré used three levels of transmission: a verbal theoretical introduction to Carolyn Carlson to position her in the lineage of contemporary dance history, a bodily exercise accompanied by verbal description of Carlson’s physical attitude as a person and as choreographer, while the last level aimed to teach the beginning of Carlson’ Choreography. Once more, although the term ‘heritage’ was not evoked as such, the contemporary dance history and the choreographer's personal legacy were highly present in the process of Carlson’s choreographic piece transmission.
Thus, Three aspects are highly noticeable in the French context when it comes to discussing dance as an intangible cultural heritage: First, the non-verbal usage of the term ‘héritage’ or ‘patrimoine’ in relation to dance. Second, the supremacy of contemporary dance over other diverse dance practices; practitioners of traditional, ethnic or classical dance forms seem to seek an exchange with contemporary dance at one point or another of their vocation. Third, the abundance of dance schools, classes, workshops, performance in all regions of the country, despite their distance from the center, Paris.
Quick Reflection: French Decentralisation of the Cultural Sector & the Cultural Interventions in 1960s and 1980s
The decentralization of the cultural sector in France started in 1945 but was proliferated in the 1960s while the writer André Malraux was minister of Culture (Gore et al., 2000). That also coincides with the establishment of ‘CCN (Centres Chorégraphiques Nationaux) [when] the state, for the first time, funded theatrical activity outside the élitiste flagship institutions, the national theatres, with the aim of promulgating art to a broader public’ (Gore et al., 2000:29). The joined forces between the students and the workers during the events of May 1968 in France could be seen as another release of tension between social classes. In the 1980s, ‘under Jack Lang and the socialist Mitterrand government, the Ministry of Culture rewrote its mission statement, shifting its vision from a ‘mission civilatrice’ (civilizing mission) to a policy of promoting cultural pluralism through ‘métissage culturel’ (Cultural miscegenation) (Wilcox, 2005:119). As a result the contemporary dance practice became the dance of everyone in the diverse regions of France, bridging the gap between social classes, and racial differences. In another word, easing the tension of national and colonial discourses and opening up the dance practice and theory to bodily and somatic investigations. Therefore, the concept of “heritage” tends to be interpreted in terms of the “history of dance” in France rather than a discourse of an embodied representation of the “nation's history”.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in all posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the association or the MA program.