LE QUOTIDIEN | November 18, 2022

Anima: when dance frees the head and the body

By Grégory Cimatti

With Anima, the choreographer Christian Ubl continues his reflection on multiple identities, this time putting himself at the height of adolescents. A piece that supports a “revolution” in progress and opens the debate.

It is the story of a transformation, which touches both the intimate and the universal. On the stage, four protagonists (two musicians and two dancers) meet and stare at each other in a black and white, binary world. Then comes the mutation, crazy, multiple, like the palette of a painter on which the colors would mix.
A symbol that fits perfectly with the identity upheavals experienced by the modern world, driven by social networks, and now visible, defended. “It’s something that has asserted itself in everyday life,” continues Christian Ubl, even in the lexicon. “The pronoun “iel” is now in the dictionary, he continues.

The important thing is to know what we are going to do with it: are we then ready to understand, or to put people back in boxes?
Behind, another central question: “How to find your place?”. It still resonates in a particular way with the choreographer, he, originally from Switzerland, who settled in France twenty-five years ago. “It wasn’t easy,” he admits. You have to adapt, get used to a new culture… It’s like developing a double identity!”
Hence his interest in the subject, which however takes other forms and takes on different themes, like his previous play, La Cinquième Saison, a fantasy that upset the established order and power by taking the popular carnival as symbolic. Inscribed in the same cycle and following the same fixed idea, Anima puts itself at the height of adolescents, whose body and mind change at breakneck speed, creating its share of troubles and disorders.
“I want to highlight the journey, sometimes confused and complex, for a young person who discovers their uniqueness, and sometimes, the disagreement that exists between their body, their desires, their image and their deep feelings”, aptly summarizes Christian Ubl. An “intimate and personal metamorphosis” that begins with the chest and growing hair, and continues with the first emotions.

© Pierre Canitrot

A relationship with the other that leads to positioning oneself on the notion of gender, even if it means shaking up this long unshakeable line of demarcation between masculine and feminine. A “real revolution” which, if it may be a source of misunderstanding and confusion for the old guard, is approached more naturally by the younger generations.
“They bathe in it!”, says the choreographer, aware that in his time, the situation was not the same. “It was more complicated to approach as a subject.”
Despite everything, even today, this decompartmentalization can get stuck. In the eyes of others, but also vis-à-vis oneself. So, to “gain ground” for this emancipation, Anima values, on stage, self-confidence and an uninhibited approach, in order to free oneself (if necessary) from pre-established codes.
“When you are a teenager, you can wear this transformation with lightness, says Christian Ubl. Later, it’s complicated: it then becomes a conviction, a fight to lead. A field on which the choreographer refuses to engage: “This piece is not a political or community manifesto!”. Especially since for him, “a militant show that brings solutions does not exist!”. He prefers to create “moments of exchange and confrontation” with young and old.
Finally, in order not to tackle a subject that is always “sensitive to controversy”, he uses disguises to take some “distance” and avoid an overly serious “documented” approach. “With the masculine and the feminine, we are quickly in the connotations, the clichés… Hence my desire to make a piece close to fiction, with a lighter “too much” side”.
On the set, in fact, figures close to the aesthetics of manga (with its androgynous characters), Kabuki theater, “Genderless Kei Boys” or followers of “cross-dressing” follow one another. “With a mask, you become someone else. Everything is possible!”, maintains the choreographer. Covering the bodies to better reveal them, this is his recipe for “inventing singular identities”, and who knows, changing the way we look at the society to come.
“In thirty years, how are we going to approach gender?” asks Christian Ubl. “It has evolved a lot for half a century”, even if, it is a fact, “we are not at the end of our troubles”.

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