“I think the LGBT community is very linked to all kinds of dance, no matter what it’s exploring, because without saying a word the body says so much about who we are.”
Frenchman Benjamin Perchet became the Director of the Dublin Dance Festival in August 2015 and will be in the role until 2019. Before that he was the Programme Manager and Artistic Advisor for Maison de la Danse in Lyon and the Biennale de la Danse in the same city. Not from a dance background originally, he embraces the art form, both showcasing new creators and celebrating the work of the most important choreographers of the 20th century. With this year’s Dublin programme, he’s aiming to attract audiences that might not usually be fans of modern dance.
I’ve always been gay, but I had the great luxury of never having to come out. My parents saw me growing and changing, and my personality evolving, and they were very open minded, so I didn’t have to say anything. It wasn’t a difficulty.
Growing up outside Lyon in France, I was not familiar with dance, theatre, opera or theatre. It was a great privilege to dive into dance at the age of 20 as a spectator, not as an artist. I discovered so much very quickly and I fell in love.
I had the opportunity to work at a venue called Maison de la Danse in Lyon, which is a theatre dedicated to the choreographic arts. I was working in communications and at the time the director was getting a bit tired with travelling. He wanted to open my mind and give me the opportunity to meet the artists and see the work. So after some years I became his artistic advisor.
I wanted to leave my comfort zone. In the ’80s there was a big boom in contemporary dance in France, so there has been a lot of public and private money invested, and that was a very privileged position to be in, but I needed a big change. So I applied to become the Director of the Dublin Dance Festival.
I arrived in Dublin for the first time on the day that the marriage equality referendum was passed. It was fantastic to be here on that day; everybody was partying and I really felt like participating in the joy. In France gay marriage has been a huge ethical and political mess. It woke up some very weird and profound hatred from some people in the country. It’s been a long and painful journey. To me it seems that in Ireland it happened in a very casual way.
What I like about Dublin is that there’s no rush on the streets. It’s very quiet and pleasant, compared to Paris or Lyon, and you have the feeling that everything is quite close. I know it’s a cliché, but everyone is very friendly and curious.
For the first few months I couldn’t take the bus without having an old lady talking to me about her sister coming to visit, or the children coming for the weekend, and what she was going to cook. I thought that was lovely. And the taxi drivers as well, they have so much to talk about. Take a taxi in Paris and you’ll see the difference!
I don’t go to gay bars that often. I enjoy going to local pubs because I like when the clientele is more mixed. Of course I’ve been to Pantibar a couple of times, and The George, but that’s all. I’m 40 now and I’ve been around. I’m far from being square, but I’m not out partying that much.
It’s so easy to be gay working in the area of contemporary dance. Maybe that’s why I don’t go out to gay bars, in my professional and social environment there’s always been a good mix, including lots of LGBT people.
This year’s Dublin Dance Festival programme is very open-minded and I think it’s very accessible to newcomers. The productions are blending the theatre with visual art, live music, traditional dances, new media, and even striptease. If somebody doesn’t know about contemporary dance, or if they have some resistance, I’m trying to present works that can appeal to people who are interested in other art forms.
We’ll have a DJ on stage with ten dancers at the Abbey Theatre in a piece by Emanuel Gat, called Sunny. The dance may be very abstract, but people who don’t know anything about dance will enjoy the generous and joyful music and whole experience. At the Abbey Theatre we also have a piece called Deep Dish that’s been created by an Austrian choreographer called Chris Haring for four dancers and it’s a collaboration with a French fine artist called Michel Blazy.
We have a piece by gay choreographer Philip Connaughton called Extraterrestrial Events, which includes some incredible dancers and the soprano Kim Sheehan. But it doesn’t have a queer theme. There are no shows in this year’s festival that explore LGBT issues, but I think the LGBT community is very linked to all kinds of dance, no matter what it’s exploring, because without saying a word the body says so much about who we are.
The Dublin Dance Festival takes place from May 18 to 28, find out more at www.dublindancefestival.ie
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