Philippe Decouflé b. 1961
is a conjuring trick, eighty minutes of magic with Decouflé the
magician, but he was not the sole creator he told me in conversation in
a bar near his Paris home. It was the result of team-work.
result was Marguerite which became Abracadabra, a 37
minute video", he said, "the basis for Shazam!, the
first choreography we co-signed collectively. It was created on stage at
La Rochelle in 1998."
"It's a show I really like
because it combines my love for dance, cinema and music", Decouflé
continued. "We present a ballet and a video and then film the
ballet in such a way that the audience sees what we're doing and can
watch the images while the film is actually being made. It gives three
different ways of looking at the same thing, and then when we introduce
a sequence with mirrors, there is so much going on that you don't know
what's real anymore. We hide nothing so the spectator can see we're
playing with reflections, yet the magic is there."
Shazam!, which evolved over a period of twelve to eighteen
months, is also full of sequences of pure dance to original music by Sébastien
Libolt and La Trabant. It surpasses simple movement alone, merging
several different art forms to produce another form of entertainment,
beautiful, poetical, and often extremely funny. Decouflé's work
is always well thought out and exceptionally well-constructed. He makes
normal what isn't normal at all and his company brings a breathe of
fresh air to dance in Europe.
Nothing seemed to predestine the
lively boy to a career in the ballet world. Born in 1961 in Neuilly, a
residential suburb so close to Paris that the tree-lined avenues
virtually touch the Arc de Triumph, Decouflé travelled a lot with
his family, living and attending many different schools in Morocco and
An early ambition was to become a designer, but
after discovering movement and dance on the television, he went to the
Ecole du Cirque at fifteen, studied mime (Marceau), and began
contemporary dance training with Alwin Nikolais, who also taught him the
importance of lighting and decor. He credits Cunningham for his
So much seemed to be happening on the
French contemporary dance scene twenty years ago with Bagouet, Gallotta,
Maguy Marin, and Régine Chopinot, that he decided to create his
own company, D.C.A. in Bagnolet in 1983.
beginning, I wrote everything", Decouflé told me. "I
demonstrated the steps to the dancers, eight or nine of them, but as
time goes on, I write less and less, and it has become an exchange of
ideas. I throw ideas around in the air and see what comes back. I give
the shape, and the dancers bring in their own gestures."
differentiates me from other choreographers is possibly my sense of the
overall show, because I'm not working to further contemporary dance, but
to entertain people. I'm merely a saltimbanque and all I care
about is that the public enjoys itself! I'm just fulfilling my dreams
and making them come alive. It's just lucky that so many others share my
fantasies." Fantasies which brought him popular fame when he
organised the ceremonies for the Olympic games in Albertville in
Philippe Decouflé's boundless imagination
is touched by everything around him, sounds, smells, movements, people
or the Museum of Natural History in Paris which he loves. Codex
(1986), was sparked off by an illustrated encyclopaedia depicting
imaginary plants, animate vegetables and fantasy animals, while Decodex
(1995) carried the idea even further. "I wrote these pieces for my
children" (aged 6 and 11), Decouflé laughs, "but Triton
(1990), a highly improbable ballet based on the circus, seen through the
eyes of children is accessible even to new-born babies!"
new version of Triton, Triton 2ter, (1998) in which he
lets his imagination run riot will be at Chateauvallon in June, and at
the International Festival of Montpellier in July.
countless projects for the next few years, including an idea based on
Les Ballets Russes, inspired by the drawings of Bakst and Picasso, a
musical, a cartoon, and a serious film about a legless, deaf and dumb
person ,but whatever he does, it will be with his team of dancers.
have been made for him to create something for the Paris Opéra,
maybe for 2001, but Decouflé is worried that their ways of
working are incompatible with his own. "When I start rehearsing",
he told me, "I lose all notion of time and they have many other
commitments. Preliminary to collaborating with the Opéra dancers,
I would prefer D.C.A. to make a guest appearance there."
he is working on a film with his company of 18 dancers. "Several
aren't even dancers at all", he said. "I met Christophe
Salengro many years ago at a party. He was an architect, but we got on
so well that I asked him to join me ......he didn't begin training until
he was in his thirties!"
Proof that to be part of Decouflé's
troupe, musicality, an agile mind, a double dose of intelligence, a
sense of fun, and a joy of dance are the first imperatives.
he anxious that his productions might date and become unfashionable? A
disarming smile crossed his face as he replied, "Oh, you mean like
one can date Picasso? That's the most flattering compliment I've ever
had!" -- By Patricia Boccadoro, Culture Kiosk, 1999