French Avant-garde Choreographer Boris Charmatz to Illuminate the Connections between Social Justice and Art

Musée de la Danse in performance of Levée des conflits at the Drexel Armory, September 2016. Photo Credit: JJ Tiziou Photography

Known for his innovative exploration of choreographic assembly, internationally acclaimed French choreographer Boris Charmatz will return to Drexel University to continue the momentum of his most recent collaborative project, “Dancing Dialogues” in the fall of 2016. Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design received a grant of $300,000 from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to facilitate Boris Charmatz’ performance project, the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, in partnership with the Barnes Foundation.

Charmatz will return to Philadelphia to co-curate a four-to-six-hour public performance, the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, which will take place at the Barnes Foundation in October 2018. The public performance will include Danse de Nuit, a work for six dancers, that examines the idea of public choreographic assembly as a way to see private and personal responses to political events. The audience will move through the outdoor and indoor performance locations, much as any museum-goer may experience in walking from gallery-to-gallery in a traditional practice. The event will conclude with Charmatz’ new work Danse de Nuit (Dance of the Night) at sunset, a work for six dancers created as a response to the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks, performed in and among the audience.

Boris Charmatz leading community workshop, Pearlman Plaza Drexel University, September 2016. Photo Credit: JJ Tiziou Photography

The concepts of community and public performance are constantly at play in the practice of Charmatz’s choreographic works. Public performance is the place where artists and audience try to revitalize forms of assembling. The Philadelphia Museum of Dance will explore this revitalization in the realms of both art and social action through work performed by professional performers from Philadelphia and New York as well as members of Charmatz’ European company, featuring Charmatz’ Manger and Danse de Nuit.

Manger (French for “to eat”), will be a featured presentation of the 2018 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Two performances of Manger will take place in the FringeArts home theater on Saturday, Sept. 22 and Sunday, Sept. 23. Charmatz will also further explore questions about the nature of public assembly by cultivating and presenting a new work for up to 250 collegiate students from local universities, including Drexel.   

“Drexel positions itself as a citizen university and in this vein the Westphal College sees as part of its mission the promotion of the arts as an essential part of the social fabric of Philadelphia by providing opportunities for complex engagement with challenging and resonant thinkers-artists from the worlds of the performing and visual arts,” said Allen Sabinson, dean of the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.

Charmatz’s Manger and Danse de Nuit are both powerful artistic provocation reflecting on a wide range of social issues. Manger is looking at the private act of eating as a public behavior, rising issues of consumption, hunger and desire. Potentially highlighting the serious social issues surrounding food deprivation, hunger and consumerism. In Danse de Nuit, a nighttime public setting may invoke images of prevalent protest rallies across the word, responding to political tensions brought on by cultural stereotyping, marginalization and the refugee crisis. 

Philadelphia community and professional dancers performing Charmatz’ Levée des conflits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, September 2016. Photo Credit: JJ Tiziou Photography

Charmatz further considers his work to resist conventional definitions of performance by developing large public performance structures that take place outside of a theatrical setting in open spaces such as public squares, which include both professional performers and the audience as participants. He suggests that these community inclusive performance events, often of many hours duration, place the expressive body on exhibition much like visual art exhibitions place objects on display. 

“We are delighted to be the recipients of another generous grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage,” said Miriam Giguere, PhD, Department head of Performing Arts in the Westphal College. “Charmatz’ work is both provocative and inclusive; it challenges our thinking about art and illuminates what it means for a crowd of people to assemble in a meaningful way, a topic of great relevance today. It is a privilege for the Department of Performing Arts in Westphal to host an artist of this stature and we are honored to facilitate this opportunity to support contemporary performance in Philadelphia, especially in collaboration with the Barnes Foundation and FringeArts.”

Drexel’s Westphal College is experienced in presenting a robust calendar of public programming in arts and culture. In the Fall of 2013, the college hosted the first Dance Africa festival in Philadelphia. Similarly, the college hosted the 2014 Philadelphia Flamenco Festival, an event that drew 2,000 people to Drexel’s campus. Drexel has been the venue for several FringeArts productions including the 2015 production of Available Light recreating the seminal work of Lucinda Childs, with a set designed by Frank Gehry, and music by John Adams, which was staged at the Armory. Drexel’s Mandell Theater is home of the annual Dance Program Fall Lecture, which has presented free lectures to the public from such artists as Eiko Otake (2014), Deborah Jowitt (2013), and the Mandell Professionals in Residence Project which has presented such important regional theater companies as Pig Iron Theatre, Inis Nua, New Paradise Laboratories and Commonwealth Theater among others.