Elephant in the Black Box Makes Their US Debut at Dance Salad
A Conversation with Jean Philippe Dury
By Michael Wade Simpson
Jean-Philippe Dury began his career in the corps of the Paris Opera Ballet, and then moved to Spain as a principal dancer with Nacho Duato’s, Compañía Nacional de Danza de España. His own company, Elephant in the Black Box, is based in Madrid. They will perform CEL Black Days, a piece by Dury, on April 18 & 19 at Dance Salad. Remanso, by Nacho Duato, will open the festival on April 17, and appear with Dury’s piece on the Saturday night bill. Dance Source Houston writer Michael Wade Simpson visited with
Jean-Philippe Dury about his work, life and the Dance Salad visit.
Dance Source Houston: How did you come up with the name for your dance company, “Elephant in the Black Box”?
Jean-Philippe Dury: The name “Elephant in the Black Box” is strongly influenced by my time in Bangkok. In Asian culture the god of art is Ganesh, who is revealed in the form of an elephant. The Elephant is renowned as one of the most sacred animals and became part of my transition into creating this company. The black box represents the stage and the space where an artist can separate himself from the outside world in order to explore.
DSH: How many dancers are you bringing with you from Madrid? Will you be dancing?
JD: We are bringing seven dancers from the company in Madrid to perform including myself.
DSH: You are bringing two dances to the Festival: CEL Black Days, which you choreographed, and Remanso by Nacho Duato. Why these two pieces? What are they like?
JD: The two pieces we are bringing, CEL Black Days and Remanso, are two of the most meaningful pieces that we have in our repertoire. CEL Black Days was my premiere within the company, and has already been purchased by international companies, and Remanso is a renowned piece by Nacho Duato, my friend and mentor.
DSH: You were raised as a dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet, and were a member of the Corps there before moving to Spain to become a principal dancer with Nacho Duato’s Campania Nacional de Dance de Madrid. What were the differences between the experience in Paris and in Madrid? What is the difference between the two companies? What did you learn in Paris compared to what you learned in Madrid?
JD: With Paris Opera we changed our repertory every month and we were always working on something new, whereas with CND we had a strong focus with Nacho Duato. It was an honor to be a part of his process and really become a part of his pieces.
DSH: Your piece at the festival is CEL Black Days. What does that mean?
JD: CEL Black Days represents the days where there is no light, when you are trapped within your mind. You have become both the cell and the prisoner. Living in this cell, all colors are turned to shades of gray. How can you escape when you are both the cell and the human inside? It is these days when we refuse to search for the light, when we relinquish ourselves to suffering, that our soul will age. CEL Black Days is about the fight you face when you find yourself trapped within your mind.
DSH: In the notes for your piece, CEL Black Days, you write, “We don’t get old/For having lived a certain amount of years/We get old/ Because we have deserted our ideal.” What do you mean by that?
JD: I don’t believe age lies in the number of times the world has circled the sun but in how you have protected the desires of your soul. By living according to your own standards you protect your soul and integrity. Aging is the decay of a human but why judge a human on the number of wrinkles rather than the purity of soul?
DSH: Please describe the piece by Nacho Duato—Remanso. Why did you pick it for this tour?
JD: Remanso is a trio of three men, it is about partnership and desire. Duato’s musicality and innovative choreography makes it a pleasure to watch and perform. Remanso is one of my favorite ballets from Nacho Duato, and it has been an incredible experience getting to perform it again. I thank him for allowing our company access to one of his great works.
DSH: Are you still dancing?
JD: I am still dancing with the company now, but plan on stopping within the next two years. I feel that to really give all of myself to the company I cannot continue dancing. I would like to commit as much of my time as possible to the company.
DSH: Describe the process of becoming a choreographer.
JD: I have always loved creating. Ever since I was young, I spent time choreographing my own pieces and making my own shows for my family. Although of course, it is a different standard now it is still an exploration and is something I will always have a passion for.
DSH: What do you miss about being simply a dancer, and not a choreographer?
JD: It is very different to be a dancer and a choreographer but with my company I like to keep the lines a little more blurred. I want the dancers to truly feel a part of a creation, not a prop for a prop master. Choreography is my passion but it is true that being a dancer only is a bit less stressful.
DSH: What were the decisions you made when you formed “Elephant in the Black Box” based on your experience with the Paris Opera Ballet and Compania Nacional de Danze?
JD: Every decision is based on previous experiences and of course my time at both the Paris Opera and CND has effected how I run my company. Although I feel more strongly connected with CND and Nacho Duato because it was there when I feel I grew into my true self as a dancer.
DSH: What are you working on now?
JD: Right now we are working on a new creation, Four Seasons. We have a new dancer Wody Santana joining us from Brazil and it has been an amazing process so far. The piece will feature four dancers, Emma Tilson, Begoña Quiñones, Wody Santana and myself. We will also be working with dancers from around Spain giving them a chance to experience company life and to work with us on this new creation. I am very excited for our premiere next month.
DSH: What do you think of Houston?
JD: I have been to Houston many times with CND and am thrilled to be able to bring my company there. Traveling with the company is always an adventure and we are very excited for our United States premiere.
Michael Wade Simpson has an MFA from Smith College and is the editor of Culturevulture.net.