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Under the creative spotlight

Karina Sapota is a dancer, choreographer, photographer and a short film director. With impressive credentials to her credit, she has been touring with her productions. Read on to know more about this multi-faceted woman.

KARINE SAPORTA, of France is a living legend in the field of contemporary dance and choreography. A student of classical dance, sociology, philosophy and cinema (she has directed few short films - Les larmes de Nora, Les nuits d'Elvire, Les sort des enfants du desert) and photography Karine took over as Director of the prestigious Centre Choreographic National (CCN) of Caen / Basse-Normandie in 1989. Her productions have toured many cities around the world. She is a Knight of the Legion of Honour and an Officer of Arts and Letters. She has authored the books, Devil Dance Dead Forest . Her acclaimed choreographies include Belle, au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty), Le Ccabaret Latin (The cabaret Latin), Une Rose? un cercle de baiser (A Rose? a circle of kisses), Carmen, and the Phaeton opera among many others.. Karine spoke of her ideas and perceptions of choreography, history, and movement.

When did you decide to take up dance and choreography as a vocation?

I started dancing when I was five. Actually I wanted to be a ballerina, so I studied classical dance, and did quite well. I was in the National Conservatory - I tried to experiment very early, when I was still learning. I experimented on my little sister some techniques which were not being taught. For personal reasons, later, I stopped dancing. My mother died, and may be it was because of that. But it was also not in my personality to become a ballerina I went to university and studied different things. I was in the USA for vacation and there I studied cinema, and discovered improvisation and composition. It was very clear from then on that I would only, and mainly, do choreography.

You have a background in sociology, cinema and photography. Where do they influence your work?

It is difficult to say - if I went into photography because I was already interested in images, or I went into choreography because of the same reason; are these two choices parallel, or did one influence the other is difficult to say. I learnt in photography that there are several movements of a little tale, - in a way it's like stage performance, because, like a shooting of a movie, I have to create costumes, create lighting and a stage for that. May be both are the same and part of the same personality.

Does the study of sociology inform your work in any way?

I graduated in philosophy and mastered in Sociology. But my main field of interest is philosophy. When I started to choreograph I was so interested in mental games, that I felt it was bad for my choreography. For when you choreograph, you have to be very interested in craftsmanship. It is very precise, like building a house - you have to know how to construct pieces? You need to have very specific techniques. The idea of shades and light is very intrinsic to photography and cinema. Your ballet (Charmes) too used shades, lights, which went beyond the dancers themselves. Do these stem from your interest in photography and video or were they simply part of that particular choreography?

I have become very interested in anything that can change the perception of the audience. I ask beginners in choreography to watch the light and sets very carefully, because if you don't they will be in the way between you and the audience? Imagine having a very beautiful movement on one side of the stage and another which is less important. It is like an orchestra - to highlight some elements. If you don't take care of that, your light designer will throw light at the place where you didn't want it. You should be able to direct the light designer. Have there been influences from non-western traditions in your understanding of dance?

I can say basically I am interested in visionary attitudes that are already present in one's mind. When I started classical dance, I was using my fingers and hands a lot, which no other western dancers were doing. And many of my teachers used to tell me to get rid of my `classical Indian mannerisms'! But I had never studied Indian dance. Back in France we have a very interesting institute called Montpellier in Paris that very frequently invited Indian artistes and I studied with them. I was not initially aware that I had movements that were not completely in tune with the western culture. Then something happened. I went to Russia (for a film festival) - it was crazy, everything seemed familiar, women with scarves, cleaning? I became interested in the history of my family. I had Russian grandparents, and I didn't know that, as I was brought up as a French child. After a big emotional shock, I became interested in roots - where you come from the influences; that took me slowly, but surely away from the only history I knew - that of France, and the western world. I became more and more attracted to other cultures, as if I had discovered myself. My father was born Spanish (now he is a French national) and between the Russian and Spanish side there were a lot of influences that I now see had something to do with the Indian side, possibly. So I have done a lot of Flamenco dancing, for example I became interested in one part of the history of the world which I wanted to know more about - and connections. I came to India to really know about the gypsies and history of the Flamenco. Why is the knowledge of history so limited in the west to western culture and western world? I am trying to understand better the history of humanity for the last 3000 years. There seem some influences from the Russian ballet in your performance?

Without knowing it sometimes you have affinities, connections with specific cultures. Russian ballet had two phases - one at the end of the 19th Century when French choreographer, Marius Petipa created the repertory ballet. What we call the Russian ballet was at the beginning of the 20th century with such dancers as (Vaclav) Nijinsky that was less French than the 19th Century. Charmes had a certain amount of shadow play - how much a part of your ballet is the shadow?

For instance - at one moment - there were pictures on stage, light, dancers and shadow; and there was a particular moment with slide projector. I invented the movement because of the shadow it was creating. Sometimes I decided after the movements were created, to create shadows - do I want shadows or not - on the floor, or on the wall?

Charmes has some sculpturesque dimension. Are you trying to freeze sculptures or make them move?

I am interested in poses, positions. It is not the way most modern choreographers and dancers look at dance in the west. They are interested in fluidity. It is not that I like sculpture so much but I think choreography should be able to give the vision to audience of human beings and the body of human beings, and this is much more than, or simply, movement. I am interested in technique; (of course). Movement sometimes is really removed from expression and emotion. Choreography is much more than making movement.

Why did you take up Greek tragedy?

In this case (Charmes) I was commissioned work by a very beautiful film festival called International Women's Film Festival of Creteil (in France) - to throw light upon Mediterranean women filmmakers - Italian, Spanish. Also to ask where do we stand today regarding myth and mythology, and this is how I chose the theme.

In some ways, you were giving voice to these women - Phaedra, Antigone?

In that particular piece, yes. You (do) have male figures - Hercules and Oedipus. Women are more numerous. What I re-interpreted, was to have all these characters together in one performance, unlike ones where you just had one of these women - Antigone, or Penelope, or someone else...

What music did you use?

Mostly contemporary compositions by the Italian composer, Luciano Berio; and for other music, they all came from recordings - folk recordings that the UNESCO made, which I really looked into and listened to a lot.

There are multiple layers in your dance - movement, light, sea, monuments. How are you trying to connect all these, or are they meant to be separate?

I want to convey that our memory, history mythology has really sunk deep into the sea. Most of our culture, paintings, (17th Century) came from Greek mythology. Our classical theatre was a revival of Greek theatre. Young people are not wanting to learn Greek literature in high school. Slowly the foundations of our culture are dissolving or are sunk somewhere. May be some chunks of memory are being brought back to surface? (from) the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Do we see traces of these myths, people, characters? That was my idea.

How do you connect myth with history?

In Greek culture, both are mixed together. Is Oedipus a myth or a story or a historical fact? It is difficult to know. Certainly some of these stories, some parts are true. To compare these mythologies in different parts of the world is important. In Indian dance culture there is still lot of myth being referred to. May be there are equivalents to other cultures. Being open to other cultures is important. I wanted to go back to real roots of French and western classical - the Greek theatre - which is beautiful. There is poetry, feelings, perceptions - a mix between theatre and poetry and music. This was music and theatre blending; we have forgotten that in the west now. Dance makes some attempts to bring it all together, but it is not completely happening.


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