Interview choreographer Manuel Vignoulle for BACH – 'ANIMA'
Interview Manuel Vignoulle ANIMA
January 30th, 2023
On the occasion of our new BACH programme, we spoke with choreographer Manuel Vignoulle about his piece ANIMA. It is a new choreography (world premiere) that he creates with the dancers of Introdans.
The collaboration between Introdans and Manuel Vignoulle goes back a number of years. Earlier in New York, Manuel made a choreography for which he used a small part from one of Bach’s passions. Roel Voorintholt, artistic director of Introdans, saw that piece in New York at the time and asked Vignoulle that evening to participate in a performance by Introdans, in which Bach’s music is central. “I thought it was a really good idea,” says Vignoulle. “It is the first time that I am making a piece in which I only use Bach’s music.”
Manuel once – in 2001 – auditioned as a dancer at Introdans, despite an injury. He was not selected, but Manuel says it was supposed to be like that as he now returns to the company, but as a choreographer. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has already asked him for his help in creating the choreography Loin at Introdans. Manuel immediately had a good time here and he thought the Introdans dancers were great. “I already knew rehearsal director Marlena from New York and she then told Roel that I also made choreographies. We had a good click with each other and the collaboration was born.” Manuel created the choreography EARTH as part of the Introdans program Aqua last season. And now he returns with ANIMA.
For Vignoulle, the inspiration for ANIMA came from a personal journey he made. He likes to put this inspiration and emotions into his work and thus inspire as many people as possible. “During the first ideas about ANIMA, I had a conversation with Roel about how we as people can go back to ourselves. Because many people are so conditioned every day in their personal rat race of life,” he says. The blue suits he uses in the piece are the translation of this. “We are people who are all in the harness of working, working and going on and on and we are all looking to achieve ‘success’. But what is success and why are we so eager to achieve it? The first piece of ANIMA is mainly about this. It is a piece that is literally a lot, in terms of movements and music, because I really wanted it to resonate with the audience.” In the second part he wanted to show the counterpart of that and how people can go more to the inner and sensitive self and show it.
Vignoulle also makes the same journey to your ‘inner self’, but for himself. In recent years he was very busy, he made a lot of pieces and was always thinking about what the next step should be. Now he lets life go more as it goes. “That is new to me, I don’t know where it will take me, but I already feel so much better. So it does work,” says Vignoulle.
When asked how new ideas for pieces originate with him in the first place, Vignoulle says that he is not a direct storyteller. “There is always a certain line to be observed. My focus is on emotion and I want to achieve a certain feeling.” His ideas start from an emotion and then he proceeds in a playful way. He explains: “I don’t at all know the movements yet, but I turn on the music, the dancers are there and I start creating. Even though I do have a certain vocabulary that I work with, I get the most inspiration from the dancers together. I then go along with them to look for the movements associated with a specific feeling. It’s great to witness the ‘fight’ of the bodies that then create ‘the real me’, so to speak.
There are several challenges, says Vignoulle. “Introdans is not as used to creating new pieces. Some dancers love this creative process, while others prefer to know the entire cast and setting beforehand to then learn the piece. In the creation process I do not yet have all the answers to their questions. I then explain to them that their personal input is valuable to me, whatever this input and translation to the dance is at that moment. So it is important for everyone to go along with the creation process and accept that things come about by doing them.”
In ANIMA, Vignoulle also wanted to try new things. “Lifting, balancing is often more for men than women. I wanted that to be different in ANIMA and some dancers had to get used to that. Sometimes it was a challenge for them, but they always take that experience with them to the next choreographer who asks for the same thing. Then when they say to me afterwards, ‘oh wow I didn’t know I could do this’, that’s the biggest reward for me.”
Music and Bach
“What applies to the creation of my movements also applies to the choice of music. It has to match the feeling I want to achieve. That choice was sometimes quite difficult. There are so many versions of certain pieces of Bach music that you can choose from and if I want to put a heavier feeling in the piece, for example, I may also need more bass in the music.
“Bach can be so delineated and square,” he says, “and also kind of boring. Moreover, it is so hugely famous. So it was a challenge to take certain famous pieces of music, but also pieces that allow me to surprise the audience.” He then carefully weighed up the different versions of Bach’s music against each other. “Often when I create a new dance, I know the start and the middle part, but the end remains a question mark for a long time, just like life, where the end is not mapped out either.” Choosing the right Bach music for ANIMA ultimately helped him to create the ending and then he was able to shape the entire choreography.
“I expect a lot from the dancers, but they also expect a lot from me. I expect them to put their own layers and their own interpretation into the piece. That has sometimes been a challenge, for everyone, because there is usually little time to create a new piece. I forced myself and the dancers to take that time in the beginning. By asking questions such as ‘what is your biggest fear’, ‘how do you react when danger threatens, do you close up or do you talk a lot’? I asked the dancers to write this down so they have this as a reference; ‘who am I, how do I react to things’, etc. Sometimes I don’t explain certain parts in a dance either. I do this deliberately to make the dancers first think ‘where are we going?’. But in the end this helps me get a second or even several layers of theirs. So if at a certain point the piece feels too complex for them, then together with the dancers I can go back to their reference and therefore to themselves. Because movements are beautiful and nice to look at, but for me as a maker the question remains whether they also relate to what I want to create and convey.”
When it comes to creating new pieces, Vignoulle is much less career-oriented now. The pressure to get things done is gone. He explains: “In a way I have found more peace in how I work and also in the number of works I do per year. I also approach it in a playful way; I want to enjoy the things I do. If you always strive for perfection, as I did and sometimes do, it only frustrates you and you can no longer enjoy yourself,” he says. “Now I think it is much more important to think and to be concerned with how we as people interact with each other, in a social way. And I hope that this also resonates in my work, together with the dancers, but also with the audience. I am happier with the way I fill it in differently now and I also think much more about the meaning of life. Because why aren’t we working together on how we can be even happier every day?”