In conversation with Damien Jalet, the choreographer collaborating with artists, directors and musicians
In conversation with Ellie Brown, January 11, 2023
Motion — Art, People
The choreographer Damien Jalet is best known for ethereal, earthy - dance performances, such as Vessel (2015) or working on cult films, like Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of Suspiria Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic set in a dance school. But as Jalet tells Present Space over Zoom, it was theatre that he first intended to work in. Born in Belgium, he was studying at the National Institute of Performing Arts in Brussels where he was confronted with a culture barrier that he struggled to overcome. But, he says, “it was the ‘90s and there were a lot of transdisciplinary things happening especially in dance [which] was more open than traditional theatre. I actually started dancing because I was dancing in clubs.” It was this that would see Jalet’s transition into dance and choreography when he was spotted by a choreographer. “It opened up a new world,” he recalls - “it was a space of freedom.”
It’s this route into dance and choreography that, Jalet says, informs the interdisciplinary nature of his work. Vessel, for example, was the first of three collaborative performances with the Japanese artist and sculptor, Kohei Nawa. Ever the transdisciplinary collaborator, Jalet’s work with Nawa became the focus of Vessel / Mist / Planet [wanderer], a book published in May 2022 that aims to “decipher the world of their works.” The pair’s collaborations, which also include Planet [wanderer] and Mist, certainly feels like a world within itself, and as Jalet says, from the start it was never their intention to create something that was just a performance. The bodies of the dancers become something sculptural - and Jalet and Nawa actually created a series of sculptures taken from 3D scans of the dancers, which were exhibited at the Arario Gallery in Seoul, Korea in 2019. The sales of the sculptures, in turn, enabled the collaborators to oversee performances of Vessel on a bigger scale.
There is a lot of layering at play in Jalet’s work, then, where performances are interpreted through different mediums, scales or vantage points. In the case of Les Médusés, a 2013 dance performed at the Louvre in Paris, Jalet’s work would be reinterpreted on a much larger scale, for the camera. Jalet had prepared his dancers for that performance by getting them to watch Argento’s Suspiria. And it was Les Médusés that convinced Guadagnino that Jalet was the choreographer for his Suspiria remake. The film was scored by Thom Yorke, and perhaps in true Damien Jalet style, the choreographer went on to work with Yorke on Anima, the short film that accompanied Yorke’s 2019 album of the same name.
Throughout Jalet’s oeuvre, there’s something visceral and transfixing about the ways in which he morphs and weaves the human form in new ways. This flexible approach to dance and the body extend to the ways in which he also adapts his skill and finesse to work with collaborators from Madonna to Marina Abramović. As Jalet tells Present Space, “collaboration is the motto behind everything. I always try to experiment [with] new forms and new ways of collaborating. Dance [makes it] possible to discuss with other mediums; that’s why I love it, it has the potential for conversing and collaboration.”
In conversation with ELLIE BROWN
Photographer ANDREW FRIENDLY
Creative Direction GALA SLATER
Talent DAMIEN JALET
Stylist SHAOJUN CHEN
Set ROMAIN GOUDINOUX
Grooming KELLY PEACH
Producer NIMA HABIBZADEH
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