Visions Fugitive


An Interview with Brigitte Martin

Original "Visions Fugitives" dancer, repetiteur, and former NDT dancer.

by Jules Houben

June, 2003


Rambert Dance Company, image by Anthony Crickmay

We publish this interview, which originally appeared on the NDT website, as Rambert Dance Company perform Hans van Manen's "Visions Fugitives" around the UK.

Even as I stand outside Brigitte Martin’s door, I’m still not sure how I am going to have a conversation about a ballet that I have never seen. When I step into the sunlit living room, her little son starts talking to me in fluent French. In my ‘best’ French, I tell him that my name is Jules, but of course the computer game is far more interesting. Eventually, sitting on the couch in the home of the former Nederlands Dans Theater dancer, I get an animated conversation about her life, about NDT, and about the creation of a new ballet.

What can you tell me about the creation of "Visions Fugitives"?

‘I remember that when the rehearsals began for "Visions Fugitives", there was a certain lift that just would not work for my dance partner at that time. Eventually, Jean-Louis Cabane took over. That sort of thing is never pleasant, and happens rarely, but it is an enormous disappointment for the dancer in question. In the end, everyone understands that it is the final result which counts. "Visions" was a ballet that grew out of a lot of interaction between Hans van Manen and the dancers. Choreographers are people who spend 24 hours a day brainstorming, while dancers only kick ideas around during the rehearsals. Sometimes nice things come out of it which are then used, but also other things which don’t quite fit in that ballet. In an earlier Hans van Manen ballet, "Two", I suddenly noticed how differently he hears the music to me. Whilst I listen to the principal melody, Hans hears all the underlying melodies, and those are the ones he uses to guide the development of the choreography. It takes some time to learn how to hear those as well. That is not really the case with "Visions", but it is not absolutely on the melody, either. "Visions Fugitives" consists of fifteen short pieces of music, to which various pas de deux are set. This makes for a real mixture of styles and different atmospheres. It is a typical Hans van Manen ballet.’

What is Van Manen’s signature?

‘It is pure dance, abstract, with a clear dance language. A language which is easy to read, and which tells an almost obvious story. His ballets often have irony in them, and simplicity. You always see plenty of arabesques in his ballets. Visions is definitely a ballet from that particular period of Hans, when he didn’t have to make a big masterpiece. Whereas, in the past, he could come over as controversial and sometimes even shocking, this ballet is drenched in an ironic sauce. Although the end of "Visions Fugitives" is dramatic, to say the least. I remember seeing a Van Manen ballet for the first time and thinking that all the female dancers had so much ‘attitude’. I couldn’t see myself as a ‘bitch’ at all’, says Brigitte. ‘Of course you can use certain facial expressions to portray it, if the choreographer asks for it. Then, if you see in the end that the ‘bitch’ is there, it is a sort of personal triumph. Luckily, Hans van Manen normally chooses to use the emotions that fit you the best.

This also points to the difference between Hans van Manen and Jirí Kylián. Hans is very direct, while Jirí Kylián is much more complex – as a person, but also as a choreographer. It isn’t that one is better than the other. Hans van Manen is more direct, but that can also be more painful.’

Did you prefer taking part in an existing ballet or a new one?

‘It is always more fun to be part of a new ballet. Then you feel like the choreographer’s muse. It’s fantastic to feel the excitement and euphoria when things go well, or when something beautiful is created. As a group, you look forward to the première with great intensity. Waiting for the reviews. However much you want to shut yourself off from what the press writes, it still gets to you. Especially if they write bad things about you. Once, on tour in the United States, we were labelled ‘eurotrash’, and that was hard to swallow. I remember Jirí Kylián coming to us and saying ‘Let them write what they like; we know better’. At moments like that it’s important that the choreographer is behind his group. And that’s how it was!’

Is it difficult to watch "Visions Fugitives" again, with another dancer in your role?

‘Yes and no. Of course you look at a ballet differently if you were there at its creation. Sometimes you sit in the audience and think ‘hey, these dancers are actually doing a better job of it than I did, back then’. But usually it’s a trip down memory lane, and in my mind I’m reliving my own première. And especially now that I’m so closely connected with NDT as repetiteur and know the dancers so well, I find it really special to watch somebody performing it well. I try to stimulate the dancers to put something of themselves into it. Copying what someone else did is never good; you must make it your own.’

You have been repetiteur with NDT now for four years and are busy with dance every day. Don’t you ever hear the call of the stage again?

Yes, I do, but when I made my decision to end my dancing career, it was definite. That’s not to say that it wasn’t very difficult. I always intended to stop at the high point in my career, and I seem to have stuck to that. I celebrated that farewell consciously, on stage with "Bella Figura". You know as a dancer that your chosen career is a short and painful one. That’s why I applaud the concept behind NDT III, but my future does not lie there.’

How did you find a balance between motherhood and dancing?

‘Actually, it is a natural process. Don’t forget that, at that moment, dance was just as important to me as my children. Dance is my life and my calling and you cannot just put it aside. You try to structure your life as much as possible, but it is not always easy. Once I went on tour for a few weeks and comforted myself at the airport with the thought that I had arranged everything well at home and could leave with an easy mind. When I arrived at my destination, I found my son’s dummy in my bag. It broke my heart. I didn’t feel a bad mother, but I did have the feeling that I had failed somehow. Now I am a repetiteur there is a bit more structure in my life, but it remains important to weigh things against each other.’

Now you have been involved with NDT for so long, what do you think is the biggest difference between then and now?

‘There is much more pressure now. It is difficult to safeguard that quality and hold on to it. You have to keep building up the company. You mustn’t think that it is all plain sailing, and that brings extra pressure with it. You feel it as a choreographer, but also as a dancer. There used to be less of that. But it is also a challenge and it still feels good to be a part of that challenge. Things change, and that is as it should be. You can’t wait around for a second Jirí Kylián or Hans van Manen – they’ll come by themselves, and anyway, they’re probably very close by. You mustn’t forget that nobody knew beforehand that they would turn out to be the celebrities that they are now. It used to be the choreographer who was the star of a dance company, and he or she made the dancers into stars, too. Perhaps that has changed a bit in recent years. As a dance company, it is important for us to be open to these developments. Sometimes there are great things right in front of your nose, sometimes you bring them from far away.


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This interview first appeared on the NDT website .




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