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  • Interview with Boris Charmatz
  • Boris Charmatz

It has now been five years since your manifesto “For a Dancing Museum” first appeared. As is well known, this manifesto led you to become director of the Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes et de Bretagne (2009). Do you believe you have achieved the goals you stated as crucial for a dancing museum, i.e., to displace the idea of “Center” from the institution; to dismantle the “nationalism” always lurking under the adjectival “national”; to move the focus from the noun “Dance” to the actioning of the verb “Dancing” in defining this museum?

Boris Charmatz:

Although we originally thought we’d call ourselves by the double name Musée de la danse/dancing museum, we now almost always use “Musée de la danse” (which translates to “Dance Museum”) even when abroad. I wouldn’t say that our attempt to invent a new type of public space for and via dance has “achieved its goals.” The Dance Museum sets ideas in motion, not ruling anything out in principle, except perhaps the idea of finishing things off? [In French “finish off” can also mean belaboring a body that is already dead.] If we made a catalogue of all the things we have done so far, its title would be more “How to Start a Museum” rather than “Goals Achieved 2009–2014.”

That said, we have become a very concrete museum, with a base in Rennes, but whose core activities sometimes take place in New York, Utrecht, or Guissény (a little village in Finistère, Brittany). National choreographic centers in France usually have a local presence (performers’ residencies, rehearsals, cultural activities, etc.) that is somewhat separate from their national or international activities such as tours. Our project has re-jigged these two areas to modify the DNA of the structure: so a project that starts in a Rennes library becomes the foundation stone of the Dance Museum at MoMA, Tino Seghal comes to prepare and co-produce his piece for the 2012 Documenta in Brittany, and the Dance Museum becomes truly Breton when it storms into the Avignon festival, in the South of France.

To take another example, the first visitors to Musée de la danse were kept shut in there for nine hours to learn by heart all the pictures and movements contained in Fifty Years, David Vaughan’s book on Cunningham: it was they who “made” the art of the museum during their performance, but went home, taking the work with them . . . but this project was also the basis of the third collective action at MoMA. . .. This micro-institution has become a complex organization that certainly gets around. However, Rennes is where we carry out our everyday activities, which currently include La Permanence, for example—a whole year of shows put on with the National Center of Visual Arts.

We are “locaglobalrégioeuropéointernationabretotranscontinensud,” as it says in our manifesto: European and French, and Breton and Rennais . . .

Regarding the fact that the word “dance” has replaced the word “choreography” . . . The art of choreography is essential, but we have tried to approach dance with the vision of certain visual artists, with the practice of dancers, and even with the preconceived ideas of visitors . . . so we are not, or are not exclusively, a museum of choreographers, or a museum of choreography. In dance, dancers’ bodies are one of the main spaces for collecting works . . . and some of our projects draw on this active metaphor. Actually it’s probably not a metaphor, but a very concrete and meaningful reality. [End Page 49]


There seems to be a double provocation in your project. On one hand, it is clearly reclaiming the notion that the center cannot and perhaps should not hold; that what matters in movement, in starting a movement that matters, is to embrace the puissances in de-centering. But on the other hand, you have privileged another problematic word: museum. After decades of institutional critique from certain segments of the visual arts world against the very notion of the museum, why do you think this word and what it represents is needed for dance? And, what do you think dance (or...


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