La Femme Qui Danse & La Leçon

'I Am the Wind'

November 23, 2022By Claudia BarbieriTheater & Dance
Marie-Claude Pietragalla in La-Femme-qui-Danse. Photo: Pascal-Elliott
Marie-Claude Pietragalla in La Femme Qui Danse. Photo: Pascal-Elliott

Now 59 years old and well into the fifth decade of a stellar dance career, Marie-Claude Pietragalla remains the personification of grace, high-energy athleticism and artistic perfection.

Her latest work, La Femme Qui Danse, is a mesmerizing, virtuoso nonstop 75-minute solo show, one half of a twinned program running at the Theâtre de la Madeleine through December 4, before going on tour around France. The other half, playing on alternate days, is La Leçon, a take on Eugène Ionescu’s play of the same name created by Pietragalla and her partner Julien Derouault for their dance company, the Théâtre du Corps.

La Femme Qui Danse is an exploration and contemplation through dance, spoken word, music and video of her trajectory from first childhood enchantment by the Béjart Ballet to “petit rat” (nickname for ballet students) at the Paris Opera to danseuse étoile under Rudolf Nureyev to creator and choreographer of her own company.

Pietragalla positions her art as contemporary dance but defends the survival of the classical repertory. “I am neither classical nor modern,” she says: “I am simply an artist who expresses her era.”

Intense and challenging, her performance melds her rigorous classical ballet training with a hyper-contemporary mise-en-scene by Derouault to create an intimate, immersive artistic journey. Against a projected backdrop of abstract images, words entwine with dance, sometimes fluid, sometimes staccato, aggressive, exuberant, spectacular, infused with offbeat grace.

Words and breath are the connecting thread. “It’s all about breath; breathing is energy,” says Pietragalla. “Speaking and dancing at the same time is a challenge. It’s very demanding.”

“I am a miming animal,” she added. “I am a dancing animal, a being incarnate and disincarnate. I do not dance like the wind. I am the wind.”

Julien Derouault in La Leçon. Photo: Pascal Elliott
Julien Derouault in La Leçon. Photo: Pascal Elliott

In La Leçon, Derouault stars as a deranged professor, exploring the dark absurdity of Ionescu’s theatrical world, in which a teacher of universal knowledge is driven to murder by the relentlessly deepening incomprehension of a pupil drowning in his wisdom. It’s a performance of fearsome energy, a riveting lesson on human nature danced by Derouault and his troop of pupils with extraordinary wit and chronometric precision.

Offstage, Derouault and Pietragalla take a more benign view of education; they set up their own dance academy, the Centre de Formation pour Apprentis, in 2021. The center acts as a nursery for emerging young talents in the multimedia performance space, exploring the symbiotic relationship between body and voice, an approach pioneered by the Théâtre du Corps.

If La Leçon is a surrealist poke at pedagogy, La Femme reads as an act of transmission, passing on the discoveries of a lifetime of exploration. Which is not to suggest that Pietragalla is anywhere near finished yet. In fact, she’s already working on her next creation, a new, feminist reading of Giselle, a role she first danced, in the Mats Ek version, in 1993.

La Femme is not the end of her journey, just a key waymark on the road. “This show is special for me,” she says: “This is the first time that I am interpreting nobody else, that I am myself.”

Not to be missed.


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