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10 Minutes with Mathieu Geffré (in lockdown)

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Mathieu Geffré is a performer, maker, founder and Artistic Director of Rendez-Vous Dance - a company created to express values of inclusivity, diversity and harmony. His ambition is to offer authentic artistic experiences to fight social isolation and is working with a community cast in Greenwich to create a new dance-for-camera piece entirely in lockdown - due for https://greenwichdance.org.uk/blog/when-to-watch-up-my-street-online: release as part of our series Up My Street on our website in June.

Tell us – what has lockdown been like for you so far (the highs and lows?)

Lockdown has obviously been a very challenging and frustrating time for me as it happened exactly at the moment when I was supposed to create my first full length production “What songs may do…” supported by Greenwich Dance among other organisations. Not being able to be in the studio with my artistic collaborators after spending so long to plan made this period quite bitter to accept.

I have to admit that the reality of the crisis also made this period of time pretty challenging financially forcing me to take a temporary job in a supermarket.
As I am a pretty positive person, I have then considered to take this period of time as a precious chance to re-centre and reflect on my practice. Not being able to be in the studio meant that I had the space to test new ways to engage people with dance. I have developed a programme of free virtual dance classes and workshops for dancers with or without experience. This was a great way to make new connections around the globe as well as keeping connected with artists who used to practice with me. I am still very curious to find new creative ways to express myself. Even if I very much am in a hurry to get out of my house and continue life in a more social way, I somehow appreciate the time I currently have to do things I usually do not have/take time to do. I ticked many boxes on my to watch/to cook/to do lists…and the list is still long.

Tell us a little about your vision for the piece you are creating?

For the piece I am going to create I will be working with two dear collaborators (Tommaso Petrolo and and Paolo Pisarra) and a group of community members exceptionally recruited for this opportunity. In response to the situation in which we are all finding ourselves I have been interested in knowing a bit more about our daily dances. I come from a training background at the Paris Conservatoire where we were taught that all expression of motion through the body was to be considered as a dance in itself. I also think that our physical state varies in response to the geographical, historical and emotional context in which one we all find ourselves (a teacher of mine used to say: “you can’t describe your physical state similarly if you compare it to when you are in your bedroom or at the supermarket”). The lockdown appeared to become a very inspiring situation taking into consideration the exceptional dimension of this event. I became very curious to know about people’s ways to articulate their time and that is why working with a group of people experiencing the lockdown in their own ways was in itself a huge source of inspiration.

The dances I am curious to develop appear in many different ways according to who I am working with: from the dance that we allow ourselves to perform under the shower or in the kitchen to the dance that manifests itself through a physical state in response to an emotional experience. Each participant will be given the freedom to reveal whatever will describe best their experience of this time. This project is for me about drawing the portrait of our community and maybe in the future, remember this time so we can embrace the joy of what it means to be free.

What are you most excited about regarding this project?

I am very excited to meet all the participants and getting to know them all. I want to discover their stories and know a bit more about their experience of the lockdown. I hope our collaboration will allow them to find a sense of physical freedom through the practice of dance that can break the walls inside of which ones they are keeping themselves safe. I don’t mean to say that the practice will put them in a vulnerable place but maybe it will allow them to not be confronted so much to the spatial limitations imposed by the situation.

I am also very excited to design work for the camera. This will be my first video-dance. This is something that I have always wanted to explore due to my fascination for the art of cinema but I never took the time to delve into it. I am very excited to discover how my choreographic voice can be manipulated and revealed through the lens of the camera. The camera is a great tool for me work in details, it allows the infinitely small to happen and be visible. I think the camera work is also a way for me to reveal a bit more about my interest as a choreographer as I am completely able to direct the eye of the viewer in a more radical way than when the work happens on stage.

Will there be any challenges?

The main challenge to me is that I am not sharing the space with my collaborators. I work from an emotional perspective, when I make work I am researching for an emotional experience which I hope will communicates with audiences once the work is performed. This is a state I am accessing by feeling the work from a sensitive perspective. I need the shivers to believe in something! It is very difficult to me to access those emotions and sensations when the dance happens behind a computer screen.

Additionally, the spatial limitations imposed by the camera frame whilst working makes it hard for me to direct the artists and communicate in a clear way. The beauty of dance as a collaborative process is that sometimes the communication happens through the observation and sharing of a physical experience: working virtually forces me to have to find words to describe what I am looking for in terms of intention and movements with my collaborators. Words can’t say it all in my opinion.

Finally the last challenge is that I will not be able to hold the camera. This is a great exercise of trust! All collaborators are fantastic in allowing me in their private spaces and I have to say there is an amazing availability for me to be able to ask for what I want. So I think beyond the challenging aspect of that I would like to use this opportunity to thank them for their trust and for their investment.

Have you got any tips for audiences at home as to how to keep energised, creative and physical whilst they await the release of Up My Street ONLINE?

Well, I think this is a fantastic time to re-centre and listen to what we want to do. I do not believe there should be any pressure to achieve things because we suddenly have some time. I have to admit, Internet is an incredible source of information and you can find anything you want whether you want to learn how to knit, which book to read or take a yoga class.

I have to admit there has been an emergence of improvised dance teachers during this lockdown who do not necessarily have the experience and skills to teach especially from afar. So for the people who do want to be physical at home I would recommend to follow a few people such as David Kam for their yoga practice or the Gaga online website (movement practice created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin). Greenwich Dance is also providing wonderful classes to be found on their website.

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