Born and raised in Rennes, François Chaignaud has broken out from his artistic shell to challenge his audience with his provoking yet universal storytelling through dance. His individualism and constant need to reinvent himself, made François a household name within the dance community. In a time when everything seems calculable and predictable, he brings his art form to another level by moving his audience into intense situations. Contributing editor David Baczyk sat down with François in an exclusive interview for RAIN.
Interview by David Baczyk. Photography by Laurent Poleo-Garnier.
David Baczyk: Do you remember the moment when you realized you wanted to become a dancer? How old were you and what made you pursue this career path?
François Chaignaud: I remember when I started dance classes at the conservatory in Rennes when I was maybe six. It’s where I was born in the west of France; I never stopped practicing since then. When I was 14, I moved to Paris by myself to study at the National Conservatory but even while I was attending, I was still questioning if I actually wanted to become a dancer. Maybe it was because I was very suspicious of the sacrificial mythology about being a dancer. With my present perspective, I value a lot of the spiritual and holistic aspects of a dancer’s life, but I hated the way it was presented…the way it forced young dancers to accept and to consent to a very dark and oppressive vision…to renounce. Being a professional dancer is a commitment for sure, but it’s only worth if it empowers and opens doors.
DB: You are known for breaking out from the traditional dance technique and creating your own style. Where are you getting your inspiration from?
FC: Ah-ha! Breaking out from the tradition sounds like a neoliberal mantra! I would rather say that I am embracing my academic background and trying to be aware of its history, its potential, its privileges, its problematic aspects and its limitations. I challenge it by confronting it against other dance sources. For instance, I love wearing pointe shoes, that are the iconic prop for western classical dance. Dancing with pointe shoes connects my art to the French ballet tradition, but it also allows me to draw new significations to it – more spiritual, risky, or athletic ones.
“Dancing is not only moving your limbs in a specific way in order to create shapes. It has this aspect, but I see dance as an invitation to invent your body, or at least to consider it as a place of invention.”
Regarding inspiration, I believe everything comes from collaborations and practice. I start every project by putting myself into a learning situation: learning some moves, learning aspects of a culture, learning historical melodies, etc. By learning a skill, I’m paying tribute to the faith that the body can transform and is literally a place of invention. The first work I created was with Cecilia Bengolea; it was called “Paquerette” (2004-2008). We were dancing with dildos, as a literal way to express that the body is not waterproof: it’s a penetrable entity! And that is huge! Because if a body can be penetrated by a dildo, it can also welcome different forms, ideas, cultures. So, I like to start a project by letting myself being penetrated by some type of knowledge, of history, of coordination. Throughout the years, it has varied from learning House routines to deconstruct 12th century musical manuscripts to standing on stilts to remain under pressure for hours in vacuum beds.
DB: You said that dancing for you is like creating a new body for yourself. Can you elucidate this thought?
FC: For me, dancing is not only moving your limbs in a specific way in order to create shapes. It has this aspect, but I see dance as an invitation to invent your body, or at least to consider it as a place of invention. The way you look, the way the environment shapes you, the way you transform your appearance, the way you let the world in makes you move. All this is very central to my dance – as crucial and important as the specific movements of my arms or my chests are, for example.
The type of shoes you wear makes this very explicit: wearing pointe shoes, high heels, sneakers or stilts is not just a detail, or an aesthetic statement. If you allow your body to respond and work genuinely with each situation, it does affect your whole self: the way you are present to the world…your power as much as your vulnerabilities.
DB: As an artist there is an inherent relationship with the audience through a medium whether it is paint or light or dance. How do you approach your relationship with the audience. What is it you want them to walk away with?
FC: Relation to the public is important to my craft as a dancer. The performance itself is influenced, shaped, and colored by the type of relation with the audience that one creates. I’ve created a few works for a very limited amount of people (from one to fifty spectators).
“The art world likes to isolate individuals and build up their legacy as some type of hero or extraordinary person. But I think dance allows us to think outside of this individualistic and inaccurate scheme.”
Those experiences have been crucial to my vision of art and performance. I used to perform a lot of pieces for 1 spectator: “Aussi Bien Que Ton Coeur Ouvre Moi Les Genoux (open your heart to me as you will open your knees),” in which I would sing very explicit 17th century erotic poetry. I would perform it by appointment up to fifty times a day in various offices. When there is only one spectator, the power of the the relationship to the audience becomes obvious, undeniable! It can totally change a performance! I keep this in mind, even if I create a performance for big venues: how do I relate to the audience, what kind of space do we share? Are they in front of me, around me, behind us…how am I permeable to their presence…
Learning & growing
DB: An interesting driving force behind art is the drive of learning or growing for oneself. Creation isn’t only to share with others but also to learn and grow ourselves. What are some ways that you have learnt or grown from your own practice? How did it impact further work you created?
FC: I’ve grown a lot from collaborations. Except a few works, I’ve always co-signed my performances. I’ve created in collaboration with other artists such as with Cecilia Bengolea (we created more that 15 works), Nino Laisné, Théo Mercier, Marie Pierre Brébant, and more recently, Akaji Maro and Geoffroy Jourdain. I’m extremely grateful for all those collaborations. The art world likes to isolate individuals and build up their legacy as some type of hero or extraordinary person. But I think dance allows us to think outside of this individualistic and inaccurate scheme. Collaborating is tough and uncomfortable but it brought me so many extensions to my interests and in my practices.
Singing also took a part in the growth of my artistic practice. While I’m academically trained since my early childhood in dance, I have a very autodidactic approach to singing. Singing allows me to convey words and explicit references that aren’t so easily shared by dancing. This conquest of a singing body is a real experience of transition: your body is a place of infinite development.
DB: How was life growing up? Were there obstacles or things that happened in your formative years that influence your work or practice? If so, how are those reconciled in your practice?
FC: I grew up being very dedicated to my studies in dance and in school! This gave me a strong background but also shaped my psyche in a problematic way as dance schools are very much based on competition and evaluation. So, I’m dealing with the sequels of this very intensive education!
My relation to effort/pain and to self-performance is also challenging, especially in my intimate life.
On stage, I also found a place where I can reconcile all the different aspects of my life, my sexual experimentations, my gender process, my physical practice, my aesthetic visions… My challenge now is to extend this reconciliation outside of the stage!
DB: For those who have not seen you perform (and I believe YouTube is quite limited), how can they access or be introduced to your practice?
FC: I’m building a new website that will be available soon. Mandorle Productions will produce all my new works and collaborations. I’m also active on social media: @theycallmefrannie on Instagram.