The human tragedy

Olivier Dubois’s controversial ‘Tragedie’ opens the new season at TAPAC.

Olivier Dubois’s controversial ‘Tragedie’ opens the new season at TAPAC (photo credit: FRANCOIS STREMMER)
Olivier Dubois’s controversial ‘Tragedie’ opens the new season at TAPAC
(photo credit: FRANCOIS STREMMER)
A few weeks ago, when posters promoting the upcoming performances of Olivier Dubois’s Tragedie were delivered to theater owners and flier distributors, there was a momentary consensus that the signs were too provocative to be displayed in public. The photo, taken during a performance, shows several nude figures in midmovement.
Premiered in the 2012 Avignon Festival, Tragedie features nine men and nine women, all of whom dance the entirety of the piece in the buff.
Next week, in spite of a fair share of controversy and resistance, Tragedie will open the 2014-2015-dance season at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.
Dubois, 42, is the artistic director of the recently renamed Ballet du Nord, which is based in Roubaix, France. His dance career began at age 23 and lasted for more than 15 years. It included engagements with Cirque du Soleil, Celine Dion, Sasha Waltz, Jan Fabre, Angelin Preljocaj and others. In 2006, Dubois revealed his first choreographic work, a solo entitled Pour Tout L’or du Monde. The ensuing success of this piece encouraged Dubois to establish Compagnie Olivier Dubois the following year.
The type of resistance fostered by Tragedie’s poster has been part and parcel of presenting the work since its earliest days. However, Tragedie is not about nudity, nor does it use nakedness to shock or provoke.
Instead, Dubois has craftily omitted costumes from the work in order to get closer to the heart of his statement.
“Nudity is essential for Tragedie, but Tragedie doesn’t talk about nudity,” Dubois explains. “Nudity was a clear choice for me from the very beginning. There’s no special event; they don’t get naked, and they do not undress. They are naked from the beginning to the end.”
The piece was based on a short yet complex notion.
“Being human doesn’t make humanity, and this is our human tragedy,” says Dubois. “That was my first idea of Tragedie. Then, really fast, came the desire to follow the path of the chorus in Greek tragedy. Also, Tragedie is a choreographic poem based on an alexandrine (poetic meter comprising 12 syllables).
Tragedie is the third piece in a triptych based on barrier-breaking and resistance. The previous two pieces in the series – Revolution, which featured 12 female pole dancers; and Rouge, a genderquestioning solo danced by Dubois – established an aesthetic zeitgeist that comes to full fruition in Tragedie.
Dubois spent months reading, viewing and considering countless resources before ever setting foot in the studio. By the time the cast arrived for their first rehearsal, more than two years after Dubois had begun his research, Dubois’s master plan was already largely in place.
“On the first day of rehearsal, first of all, I explained to them the ‘why’ of the piece, the reason why I chose them and the fact that I was looking for men and women dancing and not dancers. Then I gave them a little book as a synthesis of all my research plus different books such as The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche, some gender studies of Judith Butler’s, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and some paintings.
Then we started walking and walking,” he recounts.
As audiences in Israel will soon see, Tragedie uses the repetition and development of everyday pedestrian movements and gestures to shed light on the human condition: facial expressions, eroticism, laughter, vocalization and contact and all tools used by Dubois to point at the difference between human and humanity.
“It starts with a kind of a biological theorem saying ‘I am a man or a woman, and this is how I am made, and from there I will build my humanity.’ The concept of humanity doesn’t grow by the simple fact of being human; it demands much more: thinking, acting, consciousness, porosity and determination,” Dubois explains.
To the people who decided not to hang his posters, Dubois says, “Watch out!!! Don’t go to museums (centuries of naked bodies), you risk a heart attack. And don’t look at yourself in a mirror, you could see yourself!” Tragedie will be performed at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on September 17, 18, 19 and 20. For more information, visit