Dance Reflections: a radical new performing arts festival

Dance Reflections: new progressive festival mixing art and movement

The inaugural edition of Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival marks a bold new step in the performing arts calendar. In London from March 9 to 23, 2022, the initiative has been conceived in collaboration with Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Opera House and the Tate Modern. Here’s what to expect

When George Balanchine, legendary choreographer and co-founder of New York City Ballet, spoke about his work and his legacy, he said, “I don’t have a past. I have a continuous present. The past is part of the present, as is the future.

In the same spirit of fusion of time, Van Cleef & Arpels will present the inaugural edition of its Dance Reflections festival in London, from March 9 to 23, a program that looks back on key postmodern works and on the current moment with new pieces contemporary. Performances will take place at the capital’s main dance theatres, Sadler’s Wells and the Royal Opera House, as well as the Tate Modern and multi-arts space Earth.

Van Cleef & Arpels: a dance heritage

Van Cleef & Arpels’ relationship with the dance community stems from its founding family’s passion for ballet. Claude Arpels met Balanchine in the early 1960s, before the choreographer created one of his most famous works, the 1967 Jewelry. Today, the house maintains permanent partnerships with several major ballet institutions, including the Australian Ballet and the Boston Ballets, as well as with contemporary companies such as Benjamin Millepied’s LA Dance Project.

The London festival is to date its most publicized initiative in the field and was organized internally by Serge Laurent, head of dance and cultural programming at Van Cleef & Arpels, and previously head of live performance programming at the Center Pompidou. Laurent and Nicolas Bos, President and CEO of Jewelry, are committed to ensuring that the event attracts a large audience and has an impact that deepens our understanding of dance as an art.

“Based on our history, we wanted to continue to write the history of our relationship to dance, but with a holistic approach”, explains Laurent. ‘We wanted to create a program that would be useful for the dance world.’

Alessandro Sciarroni. 1 credit

The 17 performances selected range from important examples of postmodernism by Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker to innovative contemporary creations by artists such as Christian Rizzo, Alessandro Sciarroni and Gisèle Vienne. The intention is to show choreography from the last 50 years that has brought something new to the genre and, in some cases, may not have been widely exhibited beyond dance circles. Awareness of heritage and the transfer of ideas between different generations of dancers and choreographers also guided the curatorial themes.

“When you approach a contemporary work of art, whatever its art form, there is always a connection with earlier works”, explains Laurent. “This link can be a voluntary break or a continuity, but it is always a reference to the past. The 20th century is such an exciting time in dance history, and I wanted to talk about it through programming.

To dance by Lucinda Childs

Dance Reflections: a scene of interdisciplinary experimentation

In their interdisciplinary and conceptual nature, many of the festival’s works are as much theater pieces as dance performances. Coming from the very experimental American postmodern scene, Lucinda Childs’ 1979 To dance and 1983 by Trisha Brown Set and Reset were hugely influential in the way they incorporated contributions from other leading artists into their creative fabric. For To dance, Philip Glass provided the score and Sol LeWitt made a film of the dancers, which is screened simultaneously on stage alongside the live performers. At Brown’s Set and Reset, Robert Rauschenberg designed the set and costumes, Laurie Anderson wrote the music, and Beverly Emmons created the lighting. Looking at the two works decades later, it’s still thrilling to see how the collaborative elements blend together to form a harmonious whole.

Franco-Austrian Gisèle Vienne is a contemporary choreographer-director (and also photographer) who, like Brown and Childs before her, has adopted a multidimensional approach to her practice. His 2010 drama work This is how you will disappear takes place in a forest-like installation and features a “fog sculpture” by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. The design is intended to represent both a naturalistic and symbolic landscape that reflects the inner experiences of the performers as expressed through dance. The piece also incorporates lyrics by Dennis Cooper and atmospheric video and lighting designs.

This is how you will disappearby Gisèle Vienne

A new interpretation of dance: past, present and future

Like the work of the other contemporary practitioners featured (Katerina Andreou, Boris Charmatz, Ruth Childs, Ola Maciejewska), the two performances that close the program are, in an understated way, both celebrations of the transformative power of dance as a form of ‘art. Opening of the festival, Neighbors sees Los Angeles-based b-boy artist Rauf ‘Rubberlegz’ Yasit and contemporary Albanian dancer Brigel Gjoka combine their respective styles and techniques to find a new vocabulary of movement. Closing the program, with their new play When we talk, I feel, Opening, SERAFINE1369 (Jamila Johnson-Small) is a London-based artist-dancer who incorporates film, sound and text in installations that investigate the politics of the body. As much a visual practice as it is gestural, their work is a synthesis of media and artistic collaborations that invites a new interpretation of dance as performance art.

In Laurent’s words, Dance Reflections viewers will be taken on a “journey” (journey) through a dynamic period in the art form’s recent history. With post-show artist talks, workshops and film screenings complementing the live programme, this is a content-rich event that is likely to attract a large, curious audience and provide a compelling opportunity to reflect on the dance – past, present and future – in a new light. §

SERAFINE1369. Image by Katarzyna Perlak, 2020