Rachid Ouramdane’s insight on the legacy and future of Chaillot – Théâtre national de la Danse
“The “Chaillot Expérience” is the perfect synthesis of everything Chaillot has to offer.”
At the age of twelve, Rachid Ouramdane, a native of Nïmes, discovered dance through hip-hop. This first encounter and the urban culture surrounding the genre will be present throughout his career, as he will be devoted to promoting art in public spaces. For instance, he participated in the revamping of the low-income housing estates in which he grew up. Reflecting not only his artistic training but also his personal journey, Rachid Ouramdane’s path is marked by a constant tension between an autobiographical dimension, aesthetic reflections and social issues.
In 2021, he was appointed Director of Chaillot. A few days ago, we caught up with him to find out more about the “Chaillot Expériences”, their latest project – an ambitious and highly successful initiative – as well as the theatre itself, a relatively unknown yet major element of contemporary history.
While the history of the Théâtre de Chaillot is little known, the building has seen many extraordinary events take place. Can you tell us about this mythical venue?
The Théâtre de Chaillot was built for the 1937 Universal Exhibition, which aimed at demonstrating how art and technology could blend, making beauty and functionality go hand in hand. The exhibition was intended to promote peace during a period of significant geopolitical tension. Many symbols of peace and unity among nations have been woven into the history of this place, which saw the creation of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the war. While millions of tourists from all over the world visit this iconic Parisian square every year to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, few are aware that they are standing on the Human Rights Square. Nelson Mandela once intended to address the public from this rooftop during his visit to Paris, and many other human rights activists have spoken here. The theatre itself is regarded as the birthplace of popular theatre and has played an integral role in human rights advocacy throughout its history. Firmin Gémier and Jean Vilar are the founding fathers of popular theatre, a great and magnificent idea rooted in a democratic spirit. We are still part of the legacy of cultural democratisation that these pioneers structured and that all performing arts venues are proud of.
Some of the greatest international theatre and dance artists have performed at Chaillot: Jean Vilar, Antoine Vitez, Bob Wilson, Maurice Béjart, Tadeusz Kantor, Claude Régy, Patrice Chéreau, Ivo Van Hove, William Forsythe, Trisha Brown, José Montalvo-Dominique Hervieu, Alonzo King, Découflé, Rocio Molina, Ohad Naharin, Angelin Preljocaj, Crystal Pite, (LA)Horde. This remarkable place has also been the stage for many great fashion designers to introduce their collections, including Chloé, Armani Privé, Agnès B, Balmain…
While embracing its rich legacy, the theatre is also looking to the future with initiatives like the famous “Chaillot Expérience” and all revolving around it. What is this project about?
“Chaillot Expérience” is the perfect synthesis of everything that Chaillot has to offer. We know the theatre for its auditoriums and its programme, but I’ve always thought that the eloquence of its interior and exterior architecture offers a formidable showcase for artists. Once a month, Chaillot-Théâtre national de la Danse presents a piece epitomising the universe of a creator, who comes to share his shows but also to make suggestions to other artists who make up his creative environment, references and people to whom he wishes to pay homage. It’s also an opportunity to showcase a whole territory, an artistic ecosystem, as we will be doing in forthcoming editions around Algerian creation, both local and diasporic. The next Chaillot Expérience will be devoted to ‘transatlantic’ artists, and it’s inspired by American culture, its postmodern heritage, counterculture movements and landscapes. A Chaillot Expérience dedicated to the Australian scene will follow, then the Caribbean, Rwanda.
Each time, the programme immerses the audience in these creative environments through concerts, films, and workshops. For example, “Algérie, ici et maintenant”, co-programmed with Nacera Belaza and presented at Chaillot until November 19th, offers visitors a wide-ranging programme: Acid Arab electro music, choreographies by Nacera Belaza, press cartoonist Nime, director Sofia Djama, authors Samira Negrouche, Lina Soualem and Kamel Daoud, designer Hania Zazoua, rappers TIF and Danyl…
The venue is undergoing major renovations. What does the future look like?
It’s always a special experience to wander through the theatre’s Art Deco architecture, adorned with impressive frescoes, and admire a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower from the Foyer de la Danse. Today we can enjoy the Salle Gémier, the Salle Béjart and the various areas of Chaillot. When the renovation of the main auditorium is completed, we will have one of the largest dance stages in Paris, equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The theatre will have 5 rehearsal studios, one of which will be the size of the main stage. These spaces, orchestrated by the Chaillot teams, will make this venue a dance factory unlike any other. A neighbourhood of artists who are researching and creating, holding workshops, transmitting their knowledge to younger artists and presenting their shows.
I’m convinced that we need to create the conditions for the choreographic scene to come together because it’s in these exchanges and encounters that dance is invented and expanded. This new venue will be the ideal place to bring together dance creators and design shows that can be experienced in situ, digitally or physically. It will be a place where all these worlds of dance can come together to engage audiences in all their diversity. Already this season we’re welcoming works classified as intangible heritage by UNESCO, as well as queer artists, urban dancers, neoclassical artists, major international ballets and emerging artists. I believe that the diversity of this dance community opens us up to a world in perpetual evolution and offers us ways of understanding its complexity. This new venue will allow us to embrace this approach on a very large scale.
Interview by Nicolas Salomon
Photos: Michael Huard