An Interview With Gigi Căciuleanu - June 1999

Gigi Căciuleanu is one of the most important and original personalities in the world of contemporary dance. He is a graduate of the ChoreographyHigh School in Bucharest. He studied with Messerer Varlamov in Moscow. A decisive influence on his entire career came from the great choreographer Miriam Răducanu. Gigi Căciuleanu is a director, choreographer, professor and dancer and, since he left the country 30 years ago, he has been working with the world's greatest ballet dancers. Among his collaborators count Pina Bausch, Marius Constant, Rosella Hightower, Jean Michel Jarre, John Neumaier. The dances devised by him have become part of the repertoire of the Opera House in Lyon, Hamburg and Rome, as well as that of the "La Fenice" Theatre in Venice and the Avignon Theatre. During four years he was the director of the "Ballets de Lorraine" in Nancy and then, after settling in Rennes, he managed, for 15 years, the dance company of the NationalChoreographicCenter in Brittany. In 1984 the FrenchState granted him the "Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters" award. In 1994 he founded in Paris the company named after him, whose honorable director is the well-known fashion designer Pierre Cardin. After 1990 Gigi Căciuleanu has returned more than once to his native country, both as a dancer and as a choreographer. In 1997, invited by the Romanian Television, he recreated at the Ţăndărică Theatre, together with Miriam Răducanu and Johnny Răducanu the wonderful "Nine and a Half Nocturnes"; later, again invited by the Romanian Television, he staged at the National Theatre in Bucharest the show entitled "The World of Dance – Gigi Căciuleanu and guests…". In 1999, answering the invitation of the Director of the Oleg Danovski Ballet Theatre in Constanţa he created "Mozartissimo" and in 2000, once again in Constanţa, the absolute première "Requiem". "Good morning, Gigi. I woke you up rather early to bring you to this place which I hope you like." "I don't really know what time it is but it's before sunrise, that is, the most beautiful and exciting time of day on the sea shore." "How long is it since you were last here, on the beach of the Black Sea?" "I haven't seen the Black Sea since I left Romania, which was back in 72. It's a real joy to see it again. It is all coming back to me already, its taste, I mean it's not too salty, it's warm, welcoming, easy to go into. I mean you get to walk a while before you start swimming and I like that because you can really get used to the water. The waves are not as high as ocean waves… they are somewhat smaller. More human in size. I have dreamt so many times with coming back to this Black Sea but I didn't really believe it would actually happen." "You were born in Bucharest, if I'm not mistaken." "Yes, but I used to spend all my holidays here, in Constanţa. Those streets where I took you for a walk yesterday – I really wanted to see them again. It's here that I used to stay with my mother's relatives. We used to run bare-footed, play, stage shows. I was staying with an aunt of mine who worked at the Theatre. She was the librarian of the Constanţa theatre, so I was very close to that mad, theatre atmosphere; I knew actors, I was in love with an actress whose name was Zoe Caraman Ştefan and I was crazy about her. She had parts in some plays that I couldn't even understand, I don't think I could understand the script but I liked her madly. Then we used to copy the play at home but I don't know why with me the plays always had a way of turning more choreographic. Of course we painted our faces with mud to make it more interesting, to alter the ordinary flow of life. We hung a sort of curtain in the garden of the house, in one of those streets… it was called Lahovari back then. It was a small, two-story house with a balcony and it had this garden full of some tall flowers, some dahlias. We would hang the curtain between the gate and the doorway. There were several kids: there was this little girl who could sing very nicely, she really had an opera voice. She kept singing the 'Brindisi' aria from 'La Traviata' with a glass in hand and I would dance some African dances that I made up on the spot. My aunt would make me some ribbons out of corrugated paper - it was really toilet paper if I remember correctly – and we would dance and it was fabulous. When I was a little older, that is I was already going to the choreography school, I would still come to Constanţa and stay in Mamaia – the village. I remember we had to walk a lot because the bus didn't go all the way. It stopped right here, at the Casino, where we are now. We used to stay in this small peasant house and this is where I devised the first puppet theatre scenarios to kill time. That's what my summers in Mamaia were like." "At some point you parted with ballet. But how did you discover it in the first place?" "After I was christened at the Amzei Church in Bucharest I was so frisky, I kept frolicking so much and making everyone crazy that my mother took me to dance classes when I was four. The truth is she had fantasized about dancing herself, but back then it wasn't 'proper' for a young maiden to take up something like this." "And who guided your first steps?" "I took private dance classes with Nutzi Dona, a former Miss Romania. She was my first love; when I got there the first time I saw this beautiful lady: blonde, with blue eyes (or at least that's how I remember them). When she took me to the barre I burst into tears: there were only women's tushies all around me and I, small as I was, among them… They were all ladies. (For a four-year-old even a twelve-year-old girl is a lady). Beautiful Madame Dona took me in her arms and comforted me. I passed, as it were, from my mother's arms into the arms of dance… Nutzi Dona was despairing because I didn't let myself be molded the way she wanted me to. In an end-of-school show I was given two parts: the first was the Faun (all I got to do was sit still on a log with girls dancing around me to Debussy's music); the second tableau was set in an enchanted garden, with a real prince and everything, just like in the operas, and I was the jester. Again, I didn't get to do much, but I believed, on the contrary, that a jester's part was really big deal! So I started throwing myself in everyone's way, playing, hindering the prince who had to do his variation and couldn't – because of me. The audience was thrilled with the confusion: all the fairies kept falling over, the prince was tripping, while I was running around. In that show I executed everything that I couldn't get right before, all the jumps, all the pirouettes. It is my earliest memory of myself dancing, when I had the freedom to do all that I wanted." "It was here, at the seaside, that you danced your last performance before leaving the country." "I danced 'An American in Paris' at the open-air theatre in Mamaia just before I left for Cologne for a choreography contest. I went with Ruxandra Racovitză and Dan Mastacan. They were both in my cast, the protagonists of this choreographic play that we got the prize for: it was Ravel's 'Bolero'. So this theatre in Mamaia is the last memory I have. I'd like to see it again and most of all I'd like to see the show I loved so much, this 'American in Paris' of Tilde Urseanu's that I danced so many times at the Opera House in Bucharest." "Honestly, now, why did you leave?" "I left in 1972 because I felt blocked as an artist and as a creator. We were a group of dancers who had invented Bucharest nightlife. After the show at the Opera House we used to dance in clubs and we had a great time. They were all fantastic people: Aurelian Octav Popa, Ianczi Korosy, Johnny Răducanu, Costin Mircescu (he's in Paris too), Miriam Răducanu. We were extremely involved in this avant-garde movement. I left the moment I realized that it was getting increasingly difficult to get out of the country and I, as an artist, had to travel a lot. But also because it was impossible to be a creator in the real sense of the word. There were formal prohibitions. The artist's madness and his pleasure is to be himself. Here, we were not allowed to be ourselves and. I was feeling tied down here in Romania, which for a dancer and a choreographer in the making such as I was at the time... I didn't know I was a choreographer, I was doing choreography the was monsieur Jourdan was writing prose – but I was feeling extremely oppressed and bridled." "How did you manage to cross this East-West barrier?" "My chance was my cultural baggage, which helped me a lot, my capacity to work and, of course, Miriam Răducanu, who had stimulated me. In the West freedom is a very relative notion. It means you come among strangers and you have to do more than others just to be able to push through. I am very proud to be one of the pioneers of contemporary dance in France, especially since I came from Eastern Europe and not from America. Coming from the East, if you weren't into classical dance, you virtually didn't exist. Classical dance helped me a lot, but at the same time it was a handicap, meaning that people thought of me as a dancer of the Russian school, which was true, thank God, since I had studied in Moscow. This worked in my favor. Later I had the chance to work with Maia Plisetskaya, to find a common language with this great ballet star. Another chance was Pierre Cardin." "Last year, when you came to the National Theatre in Bucharest with the 'World of Dance' performance, you said in the introduction: 'this world of dance is made up of so many heavy burdens that you carry around on your back, this world of dance is so dark until you come out into the light….'. After so many years of dancing, have you reached the light?" "I guess I have come to see the light, but these moments of light and darkness succeed one another at the very moment when you see the light, so there is no revelation, it's just like day and night. The sun comes up, you see the light, then the sun goes down and you don't see it any more." "Ever since you left and up till now you have had a lot of artistic experiences. Maia Plisetskaya is one such example. But apart from Miriam, who initiated you into dance, has there been any personality on the other side who had any defining influence on your career?" "When I talk about international encounters I mean first of all Miriam Răducanu. For me, she has always been the person who has done most for me in the world. The meeting with Madame "Papa" – as we all call her – is one of the few interesting meetings I've had on this earth. The moment I saw her dancing, that's when I saw the light. She was giving a recital somewhere in front of a lot of people, but this recital hadn't been announced, it was in an "underground" place, that is. I had just come running from school and I saw on the stage a hand rising and concealing her face. This dance erupting from inside her was called 'Thinking' and that's when I felt I was having a revelation. I realized that a thought could be more choreographic than a movement, so this meeting with Miriam Răducanu was crucial for what I have become. Of course, in a lifetime one meets a lot of people and many of them are very interesting people. Pina Bausch was a great help at a time when I was at an impasse. I was somewhere between Romania and the rest of the world, which seemed to me a sort of deep abyss with no prospects, so this meeting with Pina didn't exactly happen in the context of concrete artistic collaboration. She simply saw the 'Bolero' I had made in Cologne and asked me to join her company, which at the time was in Essen, Germany. She invited me to spend one year with her dancers, which is a one in a lifetime offer for a dancer. It was the very period of Pina's transition towards the Wuppertal Company." "The 'dance-theatre' phrase, derived from the German 'Tanztheater' – which is no novelty, since dance and theater have been a unit ever since the antique 'triuna horeia' – was made topical again in the research undertaken by Pina Bausch at the Wuppental Operahaus." "Yes, but don't you forget that her professor and mentor is the choreographer of the 'Green Table' and of German Expressionism, Kurt Joss. The WolfgangSchool in Essen is a sort of castle or many-story mansion with three or four dance halls, a music school, an acting school, a musicology school and everything that has to do with art. This school had a senior year, a kind of master's programme, and in this group there were people like Susanne Linke, Carlos Orta, Katerine Denizou. She left me these dancers to work with me. The meeting with Pina Bausch meant rather the opportunity to invent and create, coming from a world where I was simply a performer. I had left the country with my first creation, so I couldn't really call myself a choreographer. But meeting these dancers was fabulous. Carlos Orta is the managing director of the 'José Limon' Company in New York and also the manager of his own company in Venezuela. Susanne Linke kept close to expressionism, but in a very personal manner and she is now a manager in Germany and a well-known choreographer. I had these personalities working for me." "What about Rosella Hightower, did she in any way shape your career?" "No, I wouldn't say that. But she was of great help, though. She is a very different personality from the world of dance, because she is a ballerina, a great American star who became a première danseuse in France. She started from a very prestigious company, that of the Marquis de Cuevas. I knew her from books and suddenly Ruxandra Racovitză and I, who came from Romania, had the chance to dance before her. We danced those fragments from Maria Tănase with which we had won the prize in Cologne for the second time and she was really impressed and she said: 'What on earth are you doing in France? Go to America right away.' I had just turned down the American visa and refused to go to America because I had fallen in love with Paris and since I was saying I wanted to be free, then I wanted to be free from economic constraints as well." "After 30 years of living in Paris can you still say the same?" "Yes, I love Paris very much because it is the essence of France and in a way, to me, the essence of the free world. It connects at the same time East and West, North and South. You can find everything in Paris. Mornings are splendid in Paris, evenings are charming, nights are divine. In sunshine or heavy rain the cobblestone in Paris shines. Every house seems to have a name. I believe France and Paris are the center of the wind rose." "You were saying earlier that you didn't like the term 'ballet'. Is there a rupture between ballet and dance?" "I've never had this spirit of classical dance. I remember that, as a child, I used to go to the Opera House in Bucharest and stay glued to that red velvet rail and watch Gabriel Popescu and Irinel Liciu. To my mind they had broken away from the classical, too… I mean that 'Walpurgis Night' – which I don't think I'll ever forget – was one of the most beautiful things that have ever happened to me. I remember Gabriel Popescu's chaînés in 'SwanLake'… I don't mean the variation in act III, but in act IV, when he is caught in that terrible storm in Oleg Danovski's choreography… and those cygnets were so nice and white and fluffy… and he was like a madman carried by the wind in his chaînés. Chaînés are classical movements, but the way he performed them they were not classical anymore, so I realized unconsciously that this whole classical school is nothing more than a frame for certain personalities. Classical dance is a succession of personalities, of people like Ulanova, like Maia Plisetskaya, like Rosella, who could do four pirouettes on their pointes as easily as going to the marketplace. This is the beauty of classical dance. I feel attracted to it, but there is more about dance than classical dance… the classical is just a part of dance and I think I've never had a serious problem not doing what I was required to do. I don't think one has to belong to the classical school to be a dancer." "Even as a student you resisted rigidity. I would say that – keeping the adequate proportion, of course – the episode in Madame Dona's school that you told me about resembles, in a way, the Gigi I remember from the Choreography School and then from the Romanian Opera House. Master Oleg Danovski's 'Buffoon' in 'SwanLake' was in fact your 'Buffoon'. It was your creation. Did you cross Master Oleg then?" "I received quite a lot of criticism, especially from my colleagues, for stepping out of the canon. But I took the 'Buffoon' literally, since by his very nature he was supposed to break the rules, to bring joke to the level of art and art to the level of joke. I have never claimed to have discovered anything new. Still, every time this happens to me, the very next moment I realize there is more to be discovered. It's like an onion that you keep peeling and you never get to the end of it. They say there's nothing new under the sun. But Borges said something very beautiful: 'There is nothing old under the sun'. Because everything is renewed every day. And this is the passion that keeps me going. I've been through difficult times when I didn't want to go to the Opera House and step into that conservative repertoire again. And Miriam Răducanu would tell me: 'You have to do it'. And so I rediscovered classical dance. Miriam's beautiful thinking made me rediscover classical movements, although her thinking is very modern. 'Can't you feel the energy flowing through your body? Try to stretch out.' She would dance her 'Bach' stretching out, looking ten meters tall, even if she was such a tiny person. So this is what she gave me, a dispense from the classical." "What made you decide to come to Constanţa this summer?" "It wasn't classical dance what brought me to the Oleg Danovski Ballet Theatre; it's not what drew me here. Of course, the Oleg Danovski Theatre is inseparable from that 'SwanLake', which is one of the most exquisite choreographies that I've ever seen. That performance is a reference point in the world of dance. Being invited by a Romanian company to work with it was in itself very gratifying and exciting in a very interesting way. I came here to work with some dancers and in general I have a style of my own, a way of working, of perceiving dance and getting it across, just like I have my own dance style, I mean it is independent from the vocabulary of the people around me. What bothers me is the limitations, not the fact that those people are classical or contemporary dancers, it's not that, but the fact that people confine themselves within some boundaries, of any sort. The issue is to break out of these canons, of these clichés, which is not necessarily revolutionary. You can very well break a cliché at some point with an insignificant movement, but this blend of life and dance, that is of unnatural and natural, is as difficult to perceive by a dancer belonging to a classical school as it is to one belonging to a contemporary school, whichever it may be. What added to my definitive decision to come to Constanţa was the personality of Ana Maria Munteanu, who sounded from the talk we had on the phone like one of the most interesting company managers. She gave me confidence." "I was watching you two weeks ago, right after your arrival at the company. You had some fifty dancers in front of you. On what criteria did you select the cast for your show?" "It's just like with puppet theatre: they chose me and I chose them, that is, we chose one another. I just sensed whom I resonated with, who could read my mind, not simply execute certain things but grasp me to the same extent that I grasped them. When I come before my dancers I never try to convince them, I try to seduce them because I think dance is something very difficult and if you don't do it with a lot of love it can't come our right. At some point you need this psychological element, this struggle, this psychological tempest that breaks out only between two people who have fallen in love or out of love with each other." "The puppet show that you thought up as a child is taking shape today in Constanţa. Do you like Mozart?" "I thought it would be very nice to have my first contact with the dancers in a space of unbounded inventiveness. And Mozart is like a crazy child who's still a child in his thirties and most likely, had he lived to be 150, he would still have been a child. It is a dance show that I devised together with Dan Mastacan, with whom I had been working for years, since I had founded the company in Paris; it was a show created for the Mozart Year, but I used this chance to do at the same time a homage and a hide-and-seek game with this genius of humankind, because that's what Mozart is. And it seems to me to be a show that allows the dancers to become children again, just like that. And the audience can watch this show with the eyes wide open, like children." "I've known you for a lifetime, Gigi. We are not young anymore. I look and you and cannot believe my eyes: you are the same child I knew 30 years ago…" "I believe it's very important not to lose the power to wonder before a shell, before the sun, before the sea. Everyone enjoys these things. But wonder at them… My mother used to wonder at everything she set her eyes on. I couldn't realize it. I was so often tired, or bored, but she would look at the tiniest pebble as if it was a miracle from God. And it was just that, but I couldn't see it. How fortunate I would have been to have a mother like mine, but who didn't grow old, who stayed young like this forever… I don't think I could have become what I am now, with all the problems that came up because of this path I chose, if I hadn't had the parents I had." "Where do you really come from, Gigi Căciuleanu?" "I've grown used to people asking me where I come from, wherever I am. So I've got used to being from another planet… it's come to be my destiny already. When I'm in France people think of me as Romanian, in Russia as French, in Romania as I don't know what. A mélange. Speaking of parents, I have Russian-Greek-Swedish roots. Some great-great-grandfather on my mother's side came from Sweden. My grandmother came from Saint Petersburg, the other grandmother, my dad's mother, came from Athens, his father was Greek, but he lived in Russia. My mom's father was Moldavian, but Moldavian from Bessarabia, his name was Sârbu. I am very proud, because this makes me the grandson of Bessarabia's national poet, I mean Sârbu is the Eminescu of Bessarabia. I even learnt in school, at some point, a poem of his… it was called 'The Paper Kite'… and I'm very proud to belong to this side too, but I'm used to being from another planet, I don't mind that, to the contrary… in a way I feel at home wherever I am." "You have an exuberant sense of humor. You are jolly, you are optimistic. It's no secret that you like to tell jokes… and still, last summer in Piatra Neamţ, when you took part in the International Theatre Festival with 'Adieu, Odessa!', I had the feeling you were rather lonely. Are you really a solitary person?" "I think an artist is a very lonely person par excellence, and he cultivates this loneliness even if he is married, has children or a family. Because I am always in contact with lots of people, I have moments when I really need to be alone with my readings, with the music I listen to, even with the things I see in the street… I like to walk in the streets a lot… I love walking. And walking is a solitary action. Like dancing."

by Silvia Ciurescu