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Arbitre des élégances (L')

CN D - Centre national de la danse 1986

Choreographer(s) : Diverrès, Catherine (France)

Present in collection(s): Centre national de la danse

Integral video available at CND de Pantin

en fr

Arbitre des élégances (L')

CN D - Centre national de la danse 1986

Choreographer(s) : Diverrès, Catherine (France)

Present in collection(s): Centre national de la danse

Integral video available at CND de Pantin

en fr

Arbitre des élégances (L')


“L'Arbitre des élégances ou Du baroque dans le désert”, commissioned by the Carré Saint-Vincent, the National Theatre in Orléans, premiered at the Sigma Festival in Bordeaux on 8 November 1986. The CNDC, National Centre for Contemporary Dance in Angers, amongst others, provided its premises, which were empty during the summer, for rehearsals. The work was performed at the Théâtre de la Bastille (December 1986), in Orléans (Carré Saint Vincent, 1987), in Le Havre, in Geneva and then at the Tanz Festival in Vienna in March 1988. It became popular in exactly the same way as “Instance”, with several years passing by between when it was created and when it attracted interest. The work was reproduced in August 1991 during the Avignon Festival before being performed in the Théâtre de la Ville (Paris) and then in the Quartz in Brest.

A creation for five dancers and an actor, “L'Arbitre des élégances” addresses the subject of nostalgia, old age and death through linked sequences, bathed in a dramatic atmosphere. This sentence from Hamlet is quoted as a preamble: “Is’t possible, a young maid’s wits should be as mortal as an old man’s life?”

Drawing on powerful images and the texts “Avis de décès” (Obituary) by Heiner Müller and “Tumeur cervykal” (Tumor Brainiowicz) by Stanislaw Witkiewicz, the production diffuses a theatricality that lies between Baroque and abstraction: “For “L'Arbitre des élégances”, I use Heiner Müller, Witkiewicz. We could do without, but why move if a sentence says it better. On the other hand, there are times when the clumsiness of the gesture is irreplaceable. It is interesting to interweave the two. The aim is to make the spectator feel fragile and awake in a society that is over-informed. In the Baroque world of “L'Arbitre des élégances”, I believe the texts bring emphasis, emphasis of abstraction, of sensuality, something ancient. (...) The powerful images entice the spectator, like a painting, yet this does not mean that the work is easy to comprehend. We have to ensure the gaze does not get carried away by images that are too powerful. Thought is generated through emptiness. » [1]

As regards the work’s enigmatic sub-title – “Du baroque dans le désert” (Baroque in the desert) – Catherine Diverrès explains that, through this antithesis, she sought to conjure up the tension between excess and emptiness: “The inspiration of the Baroque movement, in its excesses, in its unrelenting artistic will, is based, historically, on a period where values are upset, disrupted, which makes it easy to create a parallel with the present (...). The desert is at the extreme, like emptiness of the mind, like death of the intention, Sais faced with the unveiled image, collapses, the fire of the pursuit is consumed. With love as the learning process. “Du baroque dans le désert” is a paradox in itself. But TENSION is born out of extremes, a sort of distant gaze, a measure of impermanence and imminence”. [2]

Her creation notes, included in the press kit, illustrate her sources of inspiration, all mixed together:

“Trip to Holland,
The light of Vermeer, visit to Versailles.
The portrait, relationship of three plus one:
Transmission of glances,
Sensitive, impressive, private memory.
Du baroque dans le désert.
Death of the intention, everything is possible.
1600 Shakespeare wrote Hamlet
“Is’t possible, a young maid’s wits should be as mortal as an old man’s life”
In Japan, Bashô wrote his travel diaries.
“Travelogue of Weather-Beaten Bones”
1927 Proust wrote “Le Temps retrouvée” (Time Regained).
Relationship with aging
Legends of Frans Hals
Lightness of the gesture, incisive punctuation,
Dance, hailing from thought, fluid.
Determination of the decomposition”. (Théâtre de la Ville press kit, 18-19 October 1991)

The 1991 reprise was “more danced” according to Marcelle Michel, critic from the French newspaper Libération. For the occasion, Josef Nadj and Alain Rigout returned temporarily to the company, which they had, by then, left. Fragments of the work would subsequently reappear on stage: duos, as such, were reproduced as ‘one-shots’ during the Duos Festival in the Théâtre national de Bretagne (TNB – National Theatre of Brittany) in 1994, whilst excerpts were successively integrated into the anthological works “Retour” (1995) and “Voltes” (2001).

Claire Delcroix

[1] C. Diverrès in Marcelle Michel, “Elégances Diverrès”, Libération, 27 July 1991
[2] Théâtre de la Ville press kit, 18-19 October 1991


“On the stage, a tiled mark, vestige of the past and a few streaks of snow, hinting travel. A blue drop hangs from the rigging. Bernardo Montet takes possession of the diagonal. His laconic presence, emphasized by the rapidity of the movement, erases all traces. It seems as if he never existed before the step that would take him from the edge of the stage. In the cross-section, the light that strikes with full force burns other silhouettes. Beneath the sobriety of the colours, beneath the strangeness of the emotions, it is best not to forget the black from which they come, the shade that embraced them for a long time. Each of them carries within themselves their own exile, the body traversed by fundamental dispersion. Alain Rigout hides behind confessions extracted bit by bit from the very heart of Heiner Müller and Witkiewicz’s texts. (…) Defender of irony, Josef Nadj cultivates a certain sensuality of fear and, with a husky timbre, duplicates the clamour of the words formed by the fickle voice of the actor, multiplying his masks. A frenzy of dislocation runs through Thierry Baë’s leaps and falls. Whilst, with an almost artless movement, Marion Mortureux traces out a white, upbeat, melodic line, which extends into the void, Catherine Diverrès, face veiled, moves back and forth between commas and apostrophes”.

Irène Filiberti, Théâtre de la Ville programme, October 1991

“Stage littered with small beads (polystyrene?) like salt or icy snow. A dark story without any possible narrative. Catherine Diverrès produces an hour and a quarter of choreography without any decipherable biography of a dramatic journey. More accurately, it is a state that she organizes through successive tableaux which all culminate by merging into the surprising final image: a painting by Vermeer [Ed.: Actually, it is Frans Hals’ Regentesses], five religious figures around red apples. Here, time slows down, concentrated in this small space around a table, the bodies remain motionless and the eyes stare at us. What took place before disappears into the pictorial representation, simulating this famous emptiness to which Diverrès aspires, by subtitling her work “Du baroque dans le désert”.

The Baroque would, as such, take place before, in the confrontation and shock of the bodies which come together, collide and fall violently to the ground. (...) Without ever touching on the chords of virtuosity or the spectacular, the dance deals directly with the limits of representing violence, harm, blows, falls. The perfectly-controlled body excesses simulate a rupture, a revolt, a scream that hit us in our very flesh. »

C. G., “Avignon : Diverrès corps à corps”, La Marseillaise, 29 July 1991


Premiered at the Sigma Festival in Bordeaux on 8 November 1986, reproduced in August 1991 at the Aubanel high school gymnasium for the Avignon Festival.

choreography Catherine Diverrès
dancers Thierry Baë, Catherine Diverrès, Bernardo Montet, Marion Mortureux, Josef Nadj
actor Alain Rigout
music Bach, Bartok, Schubert

stage design Jean Yves Bouchicot, Catherine Diverrès
costumes Manon Martin, Goury, Chantal Rader

duration 1h20

texts Avis de décès (Obituary), Hamletmachine, Heiner Müller, trans. Jean Jourdheuil, Heinz Scharzinger, published by Editions de Minuit. “Tumeur cervykal” (Tumor Brainiowicz) in Théâtre complet, V, Witkiewicz, trans. Alain Van Crugten, published by L'âge d'homme.

latest update: November 2014 

Diverrès, Catherine

Catherine Diverrès has said, “Conscience, our relationship with others, this is what creates time”, ever since her first choreographic creation. She is a sort of strange meteor, appearing in the landscape of contemporary dance in the mid-80’s. She stood out almost immediately in her rejection of the tenets of post-modern American dance and the classically-based vocabularies trending at that time. She trained at the Mudra School in Brussels under the direction of Maurice Béjart, and studied the techniques of José Limón, Merce Cunningham and Alwin Nikolais before joining the company of Dominique Bagouet in Montpellier, then deciding to set out on her own choreographic journey.

Her first work was an iconic duo, Instance, with Bernardo Montet, based upon a study trip she took to Japan in 1983, during which she worked with one of the great masters of butoh, Kazuo Ohno. This marked the beginning of the Studio DM. Ten years later she was appointed director of the National Choreographic Center in Rennes, which she directed until 2008.

Over the years, Catherine Diverrès has created over thirty pieces, created her own dance language, an extreme and powerful dance, resonating with the great changes in life, entering into dialogues with the poets: Rilke, Pasolini and Holderlin, reflecting alongside the philosophers Wladimir Jankelevich and Jean-Luc Nancy, focusing also on the transmission of movement and repertoire in Echos, Stances and Solides and destabilising her own dancing with the help of the plastician Anish Kapoor in L’ombre du ciel.

Beginning in 2000, she began adapting her own style of dance by conceiving other structures for her creations: she improvised with the music in Blowin, developed projects based on experiences abroad, in Sicily for Cantieri, and with Spanish artists in La maison du sourd. Exploring the quality of stage presence, gravity, hallucinated images, suspensions, falls and flight — the choreographer began using her own dance as a means of revealing, revelation, unmasking, for example in Encor, in which movements and historical periods are presented. Diverrès works with the body to explore the important social and aesthetic changes of today, or to examine memory, the way she did in her recent solo in homage to Kazuo Ohno, O Sensei.

And now the cycle is repeating, opening on a new period of creation with the founding of Diverrès’ new company, Association d’Octobre, and the implantation of the company in the city of Vannes in Brittany. Continuing on her chosen path of creation and transmission, the choreographer and her dancers have taken on a legendary figure, Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons, in Penthésilée(s). In returning to group and collective work, this new work is indeed another step forward in the choreographer’s continuing artistic journey.

Source: Irène Filiberti, website of the company Catherine Diverrès

More information:

Arbitre des élégances (L')

Choreography : Catherine Diverrès

Interpretation : Thierry Baë, Catherine Diverrès, Bernardo Montet, Marion Mortureux, Josef Nadj, Alain Rigout (comédien)

Set design : Jean Yves Bouchicot, Catherine Diverrès

Additionnal music : Bach, Bartok, Schubert

Costumes : Manon Martin, Goury, Chantal Rader

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