Hailing from Montpellier in the south of France, Xavier Le Roy is a renowned modern choreographer (and former biochemist) whose work kneads together space, human body, and machine. After seeing his recent performance "Self-Unfinished" at Boston's ICA, I caught up with him at Simmons Hall at MIT, where he is currently in residency, and asked him all my burning questions in the flesh.
In Self-Unfinished, you move into an alluring, muscular shape where you fold in half but then seem to transform into two separate, crawling bodies. How did that hybrid form arise? Was it a position you initially envisioned and sought to emulate, or did it emerge from what felt right?
It was a bit of both -- from the start I wanted to experiment with different strategies to make the head disappear. I set my task to reconfigure the body in a space where the head becomes invisible, and it took many tries. Many hours of being alone with a camera, doing and then watching, doing and then watching.
Do French notions of space - acceptable personal space, audience space, public space - differ from that in the U.S. and other countries where you have performed? And how might that affect the way the audience perceives your pieces?
It's interesting. Obviously, there are cultural differences in the way that people perceive space -- from an upstanding American handshake to the easy closeness with which the French kiss both cheeks. I have not seen drastic differences in the audiences between here and Europe, but I will never forget my performance in Moscow. The Russians laughed from beginning to end -- and while my piece certainly has elements of humor, it turned into a kind of action-reaction show, and it was a bit difficult for me to perform a streamlined continuum of movements. Only afterwards did I realize that they probably thought I was channeling Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime and entertainer.
In Asia, particularly Singapore, the audience was amazingly silent - and that was fascinatingly extreme as well. But it is difficult to make these generalizations about culture, especially when one remember who is in my audiences - it is a subset with certain expectations about visual art performance that represent a very specific cross-section of each culture.
How do you prepare your body for the endurance and intensity of your dances? Do you have a personal routine?
I do a series of stretches and release techniques - very much similar to yoga, in that I make my own mixture of poses. What's my favorite pose I use to relax? Ah, that would be lying down. My practice has surely transformed with my age. But I must always warm up and stay healthy, since I'm constantly moving, traveling, and generally being a nomad.
Photographs by Katrin Schoof