Dancing in gratitude
Serge Bennathan with Erin Drumheller in Monsieur Auburtin, which is at the Dance Centre March 26-28. (photo by Michael Slobodian)
Serge Bennathan’s Monsieur Auburtin is an autobiographical work, which promises to offer “audiences a keyhole through which to rediscover their own childhood dreams, splendidly realized or forgotten through the passage of time.”
Co-presented by the Scotiabank Dance Centre and Chutzpah!Plus March 26-28, Monsieur Auburtin spans Bennathan’s decades-long career, from France to Canada, from student to company artistic director. In addition to being a dancer and choreographer, Bennathan is also a writer and artist. He is known for his collaborations with opera companies, and the projects of the company he founded in Vancouver, Les Productions Figlio, “encompass dance, theatre, music, multi-media, visual art and literary works.”
Among multiple other honors, Bennathan was awarded the 2014 Canada Council Jacqueline Lemieux Prize because of his innumerable “contributions to Canadian dance through his creation work, his performance, his work as a mentor, [and] for his leadership within and beyond his company work. He inspires creativity among those he works with and his impact has been felt in multiple geographical centres and multiple generations.”
JI: Throughout your career, you’ve created personal works, why an autobiographical one at this point?
SB: It came quite organically as a response to a cancer that I was fighting. It made me think about what I love in my life, what made me, the gratitude to be an artist in this world. And how there are a lot of dance works but how we speak rarely about dance with the audience. So, I decided to be a storyteller and talk about how I came to dance and use my life as an artist in dance to talk about other artists that I love and admired. For this, on stage in Monsieur Auburtin, there are with me two dancers, Erin Drumheller and Kim Stevenson, and the composer playing live, Bertrand Chénier.
JI: The last time we spoke was in 2003, about The Invisible Life of Joseph Finch. There, you described your creative process as including up to a year and a half of research before starting to work with the dancers and creative team. How does your process differ, if at all, for a work such as Monsieur Auburtin?
SB: It does not really. It is the same process. I spent a year writing the text for the piece, then another working with the composer Bertrand Chénier. Just talking about life in dance, not talking about choreography but about the essence of dance. Now, here we are, in the studio with two dancers, me and the composer that will be live on stage. The time before is important to create enough stratum, subtext and be able to let go.
JI: From where do you garner the strength/courage to share so much of yourself in your choreography? Does the vulnerability ever scare you? If so, how do you overcome that fear?
SB: We live only once. It is important for me right now to talk to people, and even more important to me in the world we live in, to talk poetically to the audience, through words, movement and music. We all have in us fear, but we also have courage and strength. Doubts are not there to stop us, they are here to make us think deeper. We have to embrace fear to say our truth. And even more when we know that this life is not a dress rehearsal.
JI: [From 1990-2006], you were with Dancemakers in Toronto. What brought you to Vancouver, and how did Les Productions Figlio come to be created?
SB: In 2006, when I stepped down as artistic director of Dancemakers, it was very natural for me to come back to Vancouver. The time that I lived in Vancouver the first time, 1987, ’88, ’89, ’90, defined me as an artist. The people I met at that time became longtime collaborators that continued to work with me through my time at Dancemakers. I loved passionately this community. It is my home in Canada. I created Les Productions Figlio, a production company, to help me create the work I want to create, that is not always dance. I had just come out of 16 years with a dance company and wanted to be lighter as a structure. I create dance, but also theatre and maybe more.
JI: You are also a writer, painter and illustrator. Have you always been interested in these pursuits? What does a typical day or week look like for you, or is there such a thing?
SB: Dance introduced me to these other artistic expressions very organically and I love it. Everything feeds everything. I get up, meditate, write for two hours, paint, continue the day in the studio or the work that I have to do for a creation. Might come back to painting, read, cook, think, dream.