Manuel Pelmuş - Interview

Contemporary dance choreographers work on gestures. They do not necessarily have to be beautiful or interesting, but simply natural. Every single emotion expressed. The dancer always performs something, interprets something, lives that moment either through gesture, movement or word. What is of interest for the young Romanian choreographers is not so much the idea or the theme, but rather the energy. Whatever brings dancing to life. Choreography is that method of entwining bodies in space, which most of the time needs to be quite similar to the natural element around us. Because the object is the body and the body filled with energy is life. Their responsibility is to do what they please and to convey it. Whether we like it or not. Conveying is the important thing. It is like relay. We must accept them, even if someone will take away and destroy what they proposed. Because when there is nothing to destroy anymore, human progress becomes unlikely. Angelin Preljocaj, one of the most important choreographers in French contemporary dance, was addressing this problem in an interview: "We must give the people the energy to break, to destroy things. Someone breaking something could be a beautiful view, a release of energy. But we must give him that, if not, he will destroy himself, should he possess that energy, of course. We are too restrained. We fear the undance actually. We don't realize that the body itself has its own life, and being a choreographer means just that: being able to listen to the human body, to everything that happens across it. It is in fact our tool, and everything that gave it birth, we realize that our entire life has been a negation of those bodies."Dancing can tickle our sensitivity and draw attention to itself: "It is to be wished, and the soul of the world is probably going in that direction, for us to be able to 'read' the words of movements, the internal music of choreographic statements. The peculiar melting pot inside the dancer often remains obscure. The difficulty doesn't lie in overcoming the physical criteria of execution, but in choosing a single poetic mode from all those about to be born, and then the proportion between the movement's verbalization and its poetic potential, the mystery of bodily movements."As far as the generation of young Romanian choreographers who graduated from the Choreography High School in 1988 is concerned (Florin Fieroiu, Cosmin Manolescu, Vava Ştefănescu, Mihai Mihalcea), one can feel the contact with the European choreographic movement, predominantly with the French school. The France-Romania cultural project "La danse en voyage" was only the beginning. French choreographers Karine Saporta, Christine Bastin, Angelin Preljocaj, Joseph Nadj, Matilde Monier have taught in Bucharest along the years. The then young students are nowadays the new generation's present-day choreographers. Now teachers at the ChoreographyHigh School, or the Academy for Drama and Film, they have passed their knowledge over to the newly created generation: Ioana Popovici, Manuel Pelmuş, Eduard Gabia, Mateia Stănculescu, Maria Baroncea, Andreea Duţă. Some of them have chosen to go independent, forming smaller groups, others continue to dance in various companies. They are all dynamic, percussive and incisive. They are much more implicated in what happens today, more attentive to the reality around. Manuel Pelmuş is 27. He has graduated from the ChoreographyHigh School in Bucharest and the BalletAcademy in Cologne. Hamburg Opera House employee for two years, where he starts composing his first pieces of choreography: "Together with my Thoughts" and "Like Clouds", presented at the Altona Theatre in Hamburg. Moving away from classical ballet in 1997, Manuel turns independent, settling in Norway, but always having joint-projects with his former school-mates in Romania. The piece "Outcome", presented at the International Festival "BucurEsti-Vest", brought him international recognition and invitations to dance festivals in Poland, GB, Austria and France. International Press: "Extreme body art is presented in 'Outcome', a solo piece by Manuel Pelmuş. A man wrapped up in a cable that seems to grow from his head swings out of it in a monotonous motion, weaves himself out of time, plays at becoming something else, explores almost meditatively the roots of his identity, and finally tears himself apart. Eduard Gabia, trance-like and disembodied, tries to escape from his-self. Simple and fascinating, the piece brings a feeling of pressure back into your breast." Adolphe Binder (Ballet Tanz International, European Dance Magazine) "In the miniature-show 'Outcome' of creator-artist Manuel Pelmuş, the public was welcomed with an empty scene, with just one integral part having as subject a man, standing without a move. He begins to shake his head, to fidget and tremble while the text is being said in a rhythm more and more alert, touching on the obscure; he unchains and surrenders on a wall of egg-cartons. So something very simple and concise, minimized, with an agitated decorative meaning by which it has been tried to evoke visually the disruption of the subject." Gregor Butala – about "Outcome" in the Mladi Lavi Festival 2001 "Norwegian dancer Brynjar Bandlien and his two colleagues, Shinatro Que from Japan and Manuel Pelmuş from Romania have an intercultural touch to their work already in their line-up. However, in their new performance, 'Common Grounds' (working title), they will set an outlook on cultural similarities, using what they gather to be 'common references' in language, culture and media." Kristian Seltun (Black Box Theatre), Varen 2002 "I'm glad you've invited us over to your place, in a space of many memories. I don't know you very well, although I filmed you when you already were a promising talent at the ChoreographySchool. Can you remember when that happened?" "1994." "How old were you?" "18." "And you were wonderful in a classic variation from 'Taras Bulba', a variation with many leaps and pirouettes. You were so good that I decided always to begin my broadcast with those extraordinary leaps 'au ralenti'. What happened to Manuel Pelmuş after that?" "After that performance I took part in an International Ballet Contest in Lausanne, where I received a scholarship at the Opera House in Hamburg, a full scholarship that began immediately after my high school graduation. I went there, and for a year I did very many classic dance courses and also very many modern dance courses that I had not been doing in Bucharest. As you know, there were hardly any courses of contemporary dance here in the 80s, so I was unable to discover a further facet to my personality." "I understand your experience at the HamburgSchool was interesting." "Yes, immediately after graduation I was employed by the Opera House in Hamburg. This ensemble's choreographer is John Neumaier, who was trying to move towards modern dance, not so much contemporary. I gathered a lot of stage experience there. I was having 110 performances per season. Huge. I think it was one of the companies that worked the most. Even some of our colleagues from other companies were saying we were fanatics, maniacs. We were always touring. My first chance to do choreography appeared there as well. It was highly successful, and I think it was then that I decided to take on a different path. All in all, it was about five years, an intense period whose cycle, I think, had come to an end. I said to myself it was time I became an independent choreographer." "How is Manuel Pelmuş perceived abroad?" "If we are referring to the area of European contemporary dance, I can safely say that we, Romanians, are perceived as interesting choreographers. It is a much freer area and more willing to integrate various dance forms but it is very difficult to keep up with it. What is curious is the fact that we are much more positively perceived over there than we are at home. I've been coming home often lately. I have come and left. But the world of dance is one of travels. Nureyev said: 'I'm not part of any land. I'm a citizen of the globe.' I have been everywhere in these past few years: New York, Vienna, Greece, Portugal, now France. I'm going to Germany and then to England." "Is the life of an independent dancer or choreographer difficult in the West?" "Yes and no. In certain countries there are very efficient systems that have a sort of unemployment benefit; they offer the dancers a sum of money during inactive periods, provided, of course, they had been working previously. So this is an income that you can live on for a certain period, until the next project. But it's difficult. Projects do not come up easily for a choreographer, especially for a young one lacking fame. It's quite hard to get inside a certain system so as to receive subventions. Sometimes these subventions only last you a couple of months. So you see, it's not that easy. But I'm glad I've had periods when I learned immensely from the workshops I did everywhere." "Was dancing a passion from a young age?" "The beginning was an 'accident'. A fluke. I was at school. I liked playing football. My parents aren't artists, so there was no influence from the family. But it so happened that one day the great ballet dancer Elena Dacian came to my father, who was doing rehabilitation gymnastics. She was first ballet dancer at the Opera House in Bucharest. She saw me and told my parents to let me do ballet, although it was rather late, she said. I was twelve and schooling starts at ten. I can practically say I was taken along at an audition where I had to do some strange things. In the first few years I didn't go to school a great deal because I could see that everyone else was quite advanced and I couldn't catch up with them much. In time, however, it began to interest me, as I was very tall and also had some inborn qualities." "But do you think anyone can become a dancer?" "Absolutely." "But there is a certain rigor, a certain canon. How can you say this is possible?" "Dancing has changed quite a bit in the past 20 to 25 years, you know. It's become more varied. Dancing doesn't only mean body, i.e. only one body, one type of expression; a whole lot of new techniques have emerged. The way people relate to the body, the movement, the presence on stage, the choreographic performance has considerably changed. I have seen dancers taking up dancing very late. At 20 or 23, and without the classical base. The body just moves differently. It's got other sensitivities." "I saw you a few years ago in one of Cosmin Manolescu's, your colleague's, projects: 'Incursion II', where you danced with an amateur." "It was an interesting project for me. A course held by an Austrian choreographer who was working with professional dancers and handicapped people. Cosmin wanted to do a project after this workshop, and it's true, I danced with a boy called Nicu Chiosu who you've noticed had never done any dancing before. Many people wondered at the time whether that was dancing. But actually the answer is that it is a body, it's a body without a leg, without an arm, a body whose one arm cannot move, but that is a body as well, a body that contains information, too, a body that can express itself, a body containing emotion. It was an extraordinary experience for me as well. His universe of movements was rough, but, although naïve, it was sometimes fresher than that of many dancers who are used to go through imposed clichés." "Let us no talk about the piece with which you entered the International Festival BucurEsti-Vest that took place at the Odeon Theatre. You gave me a shock: a static piece created on your colleague Eduard Gabia who was tied to some invisible threads, and all he did was to sway slowly all the time, slowly and then ever faster but in a fixed point. Could this be the essence of dance?" "I think I started off from something a bit programmatic. I have no rebellious tendencies. It wasn't a sort of protest, but I think that at the time when I created it I was passing through a very tense period and I think I just wanted to seize that moment and find a way of bringing it into the present. I actually proposed the busy presence of a body containing lots of information. I felt a blockage and started off from an image which I created a discourse with. The body has a stripe in the middle, you know, the stripe that we meet in nearly all our clinics, in all our hospitals and all our institutions. And the case I circumscribe the body with is in fact the space where our minds grow and where we try to express ourselves. This space will always contain us, and I actually feel impotent and frustrated when trying to make this visible. I have weighed down the body through a continuous sway. What happened around us has permeated me tremendously. Our identities as Romanians will keep this piece of information that expresses us and that we will not be able to shake off very soon." "Are you going to come back to Romania?" "All the time. My life happens on the road."

by Silvia Ciurescu