Philippe Decouflé b. 1961
Shazam (2001)
Duration: 1'05"

Shazam! 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.

"The 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."

But 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 the Lebanon.

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 technical formation.

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.

"At the 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."

"What 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 February 1992.

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!"

A 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.

He has 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.

Suggestions 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."

Currently 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.

Was 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