Philip Szporer
Ballet International-Tanz Aktuell (Germany)
July 2002


Imagination stimulates the poetic voice of true artists. And Lynda Gaudreau, a thoughtful and discriminating Canadian choreographer, is one of those lucky few who have heard their calling. In recent years, her artistic attentions have focused on dance as a kind of collection or catalogue. And the Encyclopœdia project, currently touring the globe, is her research lab where she filters information from movement, thought and life in general. Here, other forms of expression, including literature, video, photography, film and installation, are intimately linked with gestural invention.

Gaudreau and her Montreal-based Compagnie De Brune have produced three "documents", with a fourth in the pipeline. In the course of their work, the choreographer and artistic director collects snippets of movements from here and there, dense with meaning and obscurity, as well as complete, inclusive sections, large and small. Jérôme Bel, Jonathan Burrows, Meg Stuart, Vincent Dunoyer, Thomas Hauert, Johannes Odenthal, and Thierry De Mey are among the artists who have contributed material to her volumes.

Even as a young girl the inquisitive Gaudreau loved the experience of turning encyclopedia pages, savoring the order and organization of the bound reference books and the pleasure in picking out random entries. Later, she was inspired by the monumental Encyclopédie edited by Diderot and d'Alembert. Still, people often ask her, and it seems logical to do so, why she chose the encyclopedia theme. And her answer is: "The potential for hallucination is so great when reading an encyclopedia. We don't always understand what we read. It's always a creative process for the reader. There's lots of approximation going on, so we hallucinate to a large extent. You see something that you don't understand completely, so you fill in the blanks with your imagination. And that's what I'm trying to do in my work."

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If she did, she would cease to be an artist." The transient beauty of Gaudreau's series (the last, DOCUMENT 3, had its first incarnation in Lucerne, and then went to Brussels' KunstenFESTIVALdesArts) is not easy to talk about, not because it has garnered so much attention, but because of its multidisciplinary nature, while also containing formal concerns. Gaudreau is anything but a single-medium artist and she refuses to recognize boundaries in her art.

Labeled a choreographer, an art historian, a philosopher – all these tags suit her well. In fact, her previous work and interest in art history and philosophy are very present in her current work. Her appetite for what might be called "access culture", in other words a kind of utilitarian cultural streaming, has drawn her to "catch" reverberations of the creative process and creative act wherever she can. "I go back to other artists, present or past, like Giacometti, Bacon and Beckett, to find out how they approach their work. The way I work, I'm not sure that I'm purely a choreographer, [in that] I don't work in movement alone," she says. "It's much larger than just a gestural language. I treat all the elements that are in the piece as choreographic material. Working at a microscopic and macroscopic level permits another state of movement."

In 1998, Gaudreau had finished work on her acclaimed piece, Still Life Nº 1, and decided to take some time off for herself, a sabbatical of sorts, to reflect on her creative life.

"I didn't want to just keep doing pieces over and over," she reveals. But research beckoned, namely on the question, "what is movement?", and she forged ahead. A by-product of touring over the last decade has been the opportunity to meet other stimulating dance-makers, some of whom she holds in great esteem. "I said to myself, 'I've [always] wanted to work with them!' Yet we're each in our own corner creating work. But then I thought, 'Why can't we?'"

One senses in her words the potent desire to make contact with different artists from various fields, not for the fetish experience but just to be near them. That nearness is not necessarily even a question of physical proximity. Internet communication, for instance, has been a boon to her process. "I think it's fantastic that we have an exponential opportunity to be linked and exchange with others around the world." She bristles at the notion that technology alienates us, and on the idea that face-to-face interaction is better, she comments, "I appreciate the meeting with people in person, but there's an obscenity in our pseudo-intimacy."

Gaudreau adores Montreal, and like many artists in this northern city, she regards it as a fundamental source of her identity, certainly as an artist. "In Montreal, I feel at home. I wouldn't want to be elsewhere. I love working in Europe, sometimes for months. And the Europeans have supported me. (From 1992 to 1997, the choreographer was based in Klapstuk in Leuven, Belgium.) But home is here in Montreal."

One wonders if reading and observing became her trusty companions due to her nomadic experience over the last years. And yet, her perceptions, one could argue, have given her a rock steady grounding. "I want to approach Encyclopœdia from a personal perspective, as a scrap book. As a personal book of meetings that I've had – my sources, what stimulates me, what I'm doing," she says.

She embraces the act of gleaning; it is a part of her makeup and a natural inclination. When she talks about her work, she positively opens up. There is a tangible excitement as she describes her thinking and position in her chosen profession. "I don't believe in inspiration that comes from some force," she says. "I don't work that way. What generates creation [for me] is what comes from what happens in the day-to-day. While [I was] away, I met all these creative artists, and that's the motor of my creativity. And I want to show the public my path, share it with others. That's the reason that I've struck out with this idea." In part, what's fascinating about Gaudreau's concept in the Encyclopœdia series is that she's playing with memory – memory that is shaped by the phrasing and nuances of others.

This project and phase of her career could be described in terms of diligence and tenacity and, as such, Gaudreau's choices have the quality of a philosophic vision. She refers to being "witness to the creative drive. I find it mysterious, the fact that artist can generate something that becomes significant for them from chaos." The human condition, she affirms, is to be in a state of movement. "In life, we're always in movement. The moment we're not in movement – and it happens when we're scared, in distress – is one in which we're static and incapable of moving or acting. Movement interests me... there's [also] movement in what happens between two things. The passage from one state to another, that in-between phase."

The primary goal in all her experiments is the reduction of confusion, at least in terms of the variables. In the Encyclopœdia project she found herself bringing all the abundant confusion of the external world into her "laboratory". In DOCUMENT 3 she deals with the question of passage, asking what happens in that place between two things, and do we really go from one state to another? "Working with the dancers I realized that it was difficult to gauge the difference – you do this action, then that action, and there's a stop," she says. "Between the actions we were using a formula that, from my point of view, stayed the same experience in moving or not moving. This research between moving and not moving became the central line of DOCUMENT 3.

This experimental method led her to analyze what goes on when there is no movement. "When there's physical movement you can describe how the movement is generated, what's the trajectory, you can talk about dynamics and so on. My interest, though, was more about the nervous system. How do I focus? How are my body and my thoughts in action? What happens just before acting and after?" she asks.

Since the start of her choreographic career, she has worked in movement units. "I don't know what a dance phrase is, I don't do it. I work on one movement at a time. And I've developed a language in series." In DOCUMENT 1 and 2, for instance, there is a series of two-hundred-and-seventy movements for the hands, one-hundred for the feet. In DOCUMENT 3, she tried to get away from the formulaic, although there is a series of movements for the head. "After these two works, I could sense there was a methodology, a structure, a way of working, that could be setting in. That's the difficulty of working in an encyclopedia [format]; because there are conventions, there's an alphabetical order, a subject list. But I didn't want to do that. In DOCUMENT 3, I came to a different kind of dramaturgy."

In DOCUMENT 3 fewer citations are presented, which also means the idea of the encyclopedia is less evident. In DOCUMENT 1, there are choreographic citations, Benoît Lachambre dancing in Meg Stuart's work, videos from other artists, commissioned work. In DOCUMENT 2 there are, similarly, choreographers who worked with the De Brune company. For DOCUMENT 3, material from Vera Mantero and a video with Akram Khan, filmed by Marlene Millar, were integrated into the piece. "In DOCUMENT 3, I have used fewer citations to go into one subject with less variety," she says.

Gaudreau skirts questions about her personal background, regarding it as irrelevant. Not that her history is unimportant, but it has no bearing on her work. She isn't interested in being subjected to a broad symbolic analysis, so broaching the privacy issue isn't really effective. "It's bigger than just my life. I think when we are creating, it's more than just about ourselves. It would be too narcissistic," she opines. "Working for me is to be surrounded by many people. My work has an auteur's stamp. But my identity is defined because of others, and I guess I get my identity through others."

Gaudreau is arguably not interested in reality, but in bringing appearances in line with reality. In this creative process, she spends her time documenting the intricacies of human physicality and states of being, in close, rich detail. First, she spends lots of time outside of the studio, gathering information, working out ideas, questioning life in a sensorial way. "Then I feel tempted to go into the studio myself," she says. "Very clearly, in my body, I feel what the next negotiation will be, to gravity, to space – information that is very physical."

Next comes the studio process with the dancers, working with what she calls "a new white page", where she proposes a plan of action, a plan of investigation. "I come with little cells of movement. I say what interests me in terms of questions. Some [dancers] have been with me for a while. They start by themselves, and I construct in view of how they work in it. Each project is different, she says. In the case of DOCUMENT 3, working with impossible tasks, assigned to different parts of the body, is the plan.

While some of the sequences in DOCUMENT 3 have a dramatic intensity, that was not what she was searching for, she admits. "I was looking for extremes. For one of the solos, it was about going from one second of terror to another of exaltation. The notion of switch. The switch from one state to another."

She has a keen eye – sharp enough to notice the small print, as it were, and the turns and twists of the body. But for DOCUMENT 3 detailed movement was not what specifically concerned her. "As a choreographer it does, but the action – where it comes from – was what interested me," she says.

Anti-sentimentality, it has been said, is the mark of a fine mind, and Gaudreau's virtue as an artist is her ability to grasp that quality and not let go. A sense of style is also the artist's best friend. Nobody owns it but you. But style is also dependent on judgment and knowing which way the wind blows. And Gaudreau's working style is demanding. "If you're asking me if I'm a demanding person, it's because you must think I am," she laughs. "Yes, I think I have a demanding nature. I like to grasp [information] quickly."

Previously, Gaudreau has said that to make art is to "produce life with something ordinary." If you like dance to be cerebral and poetic, with a hint of the intense, but stamped with the mark of the handcrafted, the Encyclopœdia documents might be just your thing. Even if you're not overly concerned with the work's underlying meaning, you'll have to admit that in the world of dance, Lynda Gaudreau stands out.

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