Dancer Mathieu Geffré is returning to DanceEast on Friday 9 February with Didy Veldaman’s Umanoove to premiere The Knot. The work explores concepts of marriage in Western society, with the dancers representing a wedding party and the audience the guests. Through scrutiny of wedding traditions, The Knot uniquely examines what a wedding means and how it feels.
Geffré previously performed at the Jerwood DanceHouse in 2016 for the debut of ‘Umanoove’ in sell-out show The Happiness Project. Prior to his work with Veldman, Geffré danced with Dansgroep Amsterdam, Noord Nederlandse Dans, National Dance Company Wales and Theo Clinkard. He is also an emerging choreographer having recently premiered solo work ACT during the opening night of Resolution 2018 at The Place, London.
The Knot is the second production of ‘Umanoove’ and your second with the company following The Happiness Project in 2016. What do you enjoy most about working with Didy Veldman?
Didy is a choreographer with whom I had the chance to develop a special collaboration since we first met. Our partnership goes beyond the simple contract of me embodying her choreographic idea. As an experienced performer I feel I need now to be part of a process that results from a dialogue between the maker and myself as an individual. Didy is a caring maker who knows perfectly the balance between challenging and supporting her dancers. When entering the studio, I know that there is a plan, Didy is always prepared and doesn’t blame the dancers when an idea doesn’t work as planned, all of this contributes towards providing a protected and safe environment to have fun and be creative in response to her initial ideas.
We are so excited to have you and the company in the week leading up to the premiere, what are you most looking forward to when returning to DanceEast?
It is always great to come to DanceEast for the production week. The infrastructure as well as the culture of this organisation provide the best conditions to find the last details for a new work. When I enter the Jerwood DanceHouse, I can really feel the love for dance and for all practitioners. That is a very inspiring thing for us professional artists. As well I have a great memory of the premiere of The Happiness Project and I am sure the audience from Ipswich will once again greet us with a warm welcome for this new production.
Both ‘Umanoove’ works have been premiered here at DanceEast, will the audience be able to see any similarities between the two projects?
I am a strong believer that when we look at the history of choreographies for a maker, the works are correlated. The Knot couldn’t have existed without the exploration and the encounters made during The Happiness Project. The Knot is very different but there is a very recognisable Veldman stamp. Strongly inspired by human emotions through the art of the moving body, both works talk about our current societies and how we relate to rituals, traditions, emotions and behaviours in a particular context (for instance in relation to weddings in The Knot). Didy’s work is made to provoke and tickle the audience at the same time.
The Knot explores notions of marriage and rituals. Has the development process of the project made you reconsider your approach to marriage?
The Knot was a very particular work to take part of as I am going myself through the process of preparing my own wedding. It was very interesting to talk with Didy about what marriage means to me and see how my personal process could feed the choreographic research. What is the perfect table plan for the ceremony? What does it mean to affirm that I found the perfect partner? How will I deal with the fact that my marriage to another man could be challenging for some members of my family? Those are questions that we addressed and explored. I believe strongly in the beauty of marriage and in the promise of eternal love, even if I can also embody some more bitter and funny comments on some aspects of this tradition.
Your career as a dancer has taken you all over Europe, what has been your highlight?
I must pay tribute to one of the men who really contributed in supporting my artistic and professional development by giving me my first contract in a company outside of France: Itzik Galili. The three years spent with him were very inspiring and I am happy to see that some of the works I was lucky to create with him are still being performed 10 years later (SUB still performed very recently by Rambert). I had the huge honour as well to perform a piece that I was dreaming to perform as a young dance student as part of National Dance Company Wales: Noces by Angelin Preljocaj. It is very difficult to pick moments out of a 12-year career but I suppose the main highlight is that choosing to pursue a career in the Dance world offers the wonderful opportunity to meet some amazing friends with who I share a similar passion and with who I had the huge pleasure to collaborate artistically.
You choreograph as well as perform, where does your inspiration come from for your creativity?
The main inspiration of my work is the world we live in. I find my inspiration observing the community I am part of and draw my craft in response to my daily photographic glimpses.
That is why my sources of inspiration as a maker can be very varied and come as random impulses (Cluedo game, creation myths, Baroque era…). I get fascinated with one topic and dedicate my research in finding a way to explore the particularities of the topic, so my initial curiosity finds a more universal resonance. I intend to create honest and thought-provoking works that will take the widest audience possible on an emotional journey. To me the act of creating is an act of generosity. I start from an intimate research to find a universal resonance. I want my work to be accurate, subtle, poetic and accessible.
Do you have any advice for dance performers who want to make the transition into choreographers?
This is a very hard question as I am in the middle of such process and I suppose that the best way to answer is to remain honest with what your motivations are for each type of practice. I get great pleasure in dancing and making however it is very healthy for me and for the maker I am collaborating with to know where the limit of my own creativity is when I am part of someone else’s process. If I am working on another choreographer’s project, it is irrelevant to wonder whether I would have done different choreographic choices or not, I am in the studio to serve another vision. But as a dancer I am still free to challenge ideas when they don’t feel right on a performative level. This is a very thin edge that is not always easy to monitor, and I do understand when some artists must make radical decisions to focus their energy entirely to one or the other activity.
The Knot premieres at the Jerwood DanceHouse Friday 9 February – book tickets here.