Christophe Haleb was born of nomadic Algerian forefathers. Raised in Paris and Marseilles he was trained to dance in New York and is an artist, a choreographer, a dancer and a sprite with the most evocative way with words; an arch and accomplished intoxicator.
PP. Christophe is a French name but where does your surname Haleb originate?
CH. My Grandfather was Algerian. His father was in the city of Alep in Syria during the war. When he decided to return to his country he realised he’d mislaid all his papers. The French government officials asked him where he was coming from? He said Alep so they gave him a new identity. Strange the mobility in one’s identity isn’t it?
My father told me this story but I don’t know who told him. Transmission, nomads, migration, exile, fantasia, transformation…
PP. You are based in France. Do you still have a family in Algeria? Have you ever been there?
CH. I‘m based in the South of France in Marseille, the most African city in Europe, so not far from Algeria. The first time I went to Alger and Tlemcen was for my 40th birthday to meet some of my family. Lot of cousins. The second trip with my father was very emotional.
PP. Why was it emotional? Can you explain?
CH. The simple pleasure of meeting another part of me for the first time, moved by the faces, the smiles, the landscape, the tribe lifestyle.
PP. Were you always interested in dance? When/where/how did you start?
CH. When I was 5 years old I remember jumping, turning to the point of complete dizziness. Perhaps that was my first sensation of freedom. Then the vision of Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête and Peau d’ Ane et Les Demoiselles de Rochefort from Jacques Demy put me under a spell. I was enchanted.
For me dance presented a possibility to transform reality, where bodies are able to express fully feelings, intentions, desire. I started to invent other worlds with my puppets, dolls or any other objects I could find at home. I was talking and then singing to my parents: This is art. In 1968 my parents and I were living in Rue Mouffetard in Paris, a time of a revolution. 2 years later I ask my mother if I could take ballet classes.
PP. How old were you when you started ballet classes? Where were you trained and how long was it before you became a professional dancer?
CH. I started when I was 6 years old in Vincenne’s conservatory. Then I studied in Paris and in Marseille where I moved with my parents when I was 16. For my 18th birthday I lived for six months in New York and practiced modern and post modern dance. My first job as a young dancer was in 1982 in Lisbon Portugal.
PP. How did it feel to go on the stage for the first time?
CH. I was six years old and remember my arms and legs moving alone, my head looking at the public and asking myself what they were looking at? What did they expect? Did they like my shirt? I felt exposed like a cute little dog, dressed to please.
Later when I became professional I had to deal with strong energies and to go through the score I had to find a balance. I loved to dance with the others as it always gave me the sensation of power and freedom.
PP. What was your favourite dance, can you remember?
CH. La disco.
PP. What was La disco?
CH. It was a dance depicting a devil’s procession. It was extraordinary, possession, sexuality, nice little butts all over the place, a huge community sensation.
PP. How many years have you danced professionally? Do you still have desire to jump on that stage?
CH. I danced for 20 years and I’m still jumping with perhaps a little less intensity even though I am more interested in choreographing now, blending dance with other art forms, fiction fabrication… I love directing.
Dance can improve one’s ordinary life so much. Keep on moving baby!
PP. Let’s talk about Evelyne and her many incarnations. Who is Evelyne? How did you come up with her?
CH. She’s a monster! The reincarnation of a great cook, she was involved in Napoleon III’s empire, the most beautiful woman, queen of salons and mistress of many men and women. She had red hair. Her slogan: “Who loves me follows me.” She was the Comtesse de Castiglione, Princess Tutu drinking champagne with Comte de Lautréamont, the first model of her time. She could pose for hours in front of a camera, organising all the details, combining all sort of costumes and accessories. She wanted perfection in every picture. In that respect she was very similar to Cindy Sherman. Born in Greece, many rumours of the world arrived at her palace. You can call here Fama. She dances naked and bare footed with Isadora Duncan, contributed to the female revolution. She’s now reinvented love in Marseille, the city where she stays during autumn for the light and closeness to Algeria, and writing with many others a new constitution for an artistic Europe.
The idea of Evelyne is a spirit temptation; conversation with the invisible world, and the celebration of the living. We are all a little bit of Evelyne.
PP. You staged 2 different events under the name Evelyne House of Shame. The first one was a colourful performance, costume extravaganza, while the second one – still amazing in shapes and style – was all in black. What is the difference between them?
CH: The space was an other inspiration source. It works like a specific character to imagine a second act. The state of mind was different. The first opus questioned money and futility, commerce and hair style. The second was more focused on memory and ritual. For the third act there will be a great funeral. Dust to dust, dancing cheek to cheek.
PP. In the second act there was a point when the public – which also becomes an active participatant in your work – has been asked to recreate a particular death scene. Can you explain that? Do tell us about that painting, what was on it and why you wanted to recreate it?
CH: In my work process I like to experiment with different forms of implication with the spectators. For example in the Evelyne Night we wanted to start with a fragment of the magnificent Palais des Beaux. Many years ago a painting from the cholera epidemic in Marseille was shown in the main room. Thousands of people died all over Europe from cholera. And I thought Evelyn may have been a survivor of this terrible plague. Maybe her spirit could come back to visit us through this age for an evocation in a strange collective ritual.
That was the great context for this work. How would we handle such an epidemic today? What does solidarity mean? To touch and to be touchd holds a very strong social meaning. Now the palace is totally empty of all the art that use to be there. So we decide to invent a tableau vivant, a living tableaux if you will, with many people dying in terrible agony in front of the place where the painting used to hang. At the same time we focus on this very specific baroque second empire period, when photography was first invented and everything looked very rococo and full of paradox. The set was ready to tell one story. Everything was connected. A specific place. A concrete moment for the performance. A historical event, a memory fragment, all in a specific time. This living picture can be interpreted as a holocaust or in a totally different way as a communal pleasure to connect with others in a certain kind of social glue. Cyrille Weiner shot the pictures with a chambre, that give a very strong atmosphere, a distortion in perception.
Eitherway the political use of the human bodies as mere material in our contemporary world is always a real fact. Painting, pictures, human society, the collective and the individual part of it. Human passion is a great source for new interpretation. I think people are now more involved in the process of emancipation. They love to be involved in real life, and escape with fiction. It’s all very sensitive and porous.
PP. Will Evelyne continue with part 3?
CH. Their is a new cycle in preparation. In May I organized an editing workshop from material 1 and 2 to produce and develop a new concept. In June we moved into an old Ball room in Belfort, then a particular House in Uzès, and also in Paris. The Invisible Dog Fabric from Brooklyn invited us in September; Evelyne‘s gypsy tour!
PP. Do you believe in dreams?
CH. Yes! A dream of a busy society where each of us has peace in love.
PP. Is pain necessary to create?
CH. No. I believe solitude and multitude are linked more to my process.
PP. If you could start from the beginning would you still do the same job?
CH. 100% dance with different entrances into social research, architecture, fashion, design and cooking.
PP. What is your definition of beauty?
CH. A smile on the face of love.