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Conversation with Jean-Marc Adolphe

For the Birmingham International Dance Festival


Jean-Marc Adolphe - Dorothée, after Samedi Détente, in 2014, and Unwanted, in 2017, which heavily relied on your own presence (accompanied by the composer and sound designer Alain Mahé, the dancer Nadia Beugré in Samedi Détente and the singer, composer and performer Holland Andrews for Unwanted), the creation of Mailles is inspired by a desire to gather several women and artists whom you could meet in your way or during travels.

But apart from these women who will be on stage, you have also requested the collaboration of the costume designer Stéphanie Coudert. And this is also a long-standing partnership. How have your

works crossed each other?

Stéphanie Coudert - It was a mutual friend, the singer David Babin (aka Babx) who first presented us on the set of a clip, Naomi aime, in 2013. Dorothée played the main character, to which I had designed a dress in one piece, in paper instead of fabric, which was gradually soaked by pomegranate juice. I had created an irrigation system, with plexiglass tubes and sections that drove the liquid through the fabric. Except for a sequence of movement, Dorothée stood motionless on a chair. The shooting, in the place of Armand Gatti in Montreuil, lasted all night, until the morning! There was an astonishing contrast between what her body felt and the great serenity she radiated! We were in the mood of a painting, somewhere between Hopper, Delacroix, Ingres, and Georges de la Tour...

Dorothée Munyaneza - For my part, during this shoot, I was blown away by Stéphanie’s perseverance. The irrigation system she’s talking about, to imbibe clothing, was not easy. This perseverance in the idea is something I appreciate in a general way. Then, when I first visited her studio in Belleville, I fell in love with her work. And I was dreaming to meet someone who works the garment as she does. It goes beyond the mere «habit»; first there is a beauty of the materials, and a thought of the volume which can give rise to several layers of «reading».

I needed to find opportunities to perpetuate this meeting. I invited Stéphanie Coudert to design costumes for a performance at the Centre Pompidou, another in Porto, and finally for Unwanted. A great trust was born. Her work never ceases to surprise me, like a breath that takes me higher, further. So I had the desire to associate it fully with the creation of Mailles and beyond, to articulate a long-term collaboration. Her way of creating touches me a lot, and it’s a source of inspiration. Through a constant correspondence, and the images that we exchange, she propels me into spaces that are both imaginary and very concrete. Like visions that take shape.

Jean-Marc Adolphe - In the movement (and especially in dance), can we «inhabit» a garment in the same way that we «inhabit» a performance?

Dorothée Munyaneza - It’s a matter of moulting, appropriation. When I wear a creation by Stéphanie Coudert, I have the feeling of entering a space, of appropriating all its nooks. It’s not just a dress or an extension of the person; it’s an extra skin, a writing place whose volumes I can explore.

Stéphanie Coudert - My expression is the sculpture of a volume. I always talk about volume in terms of circulation of air masses between the fabric and the body. The energy, it is first the air we breathe. The costume must not exist more than the body. When I started my work twenty years ago, I wanted to break free from the codes of fashion, to make creations ex nihilo from the energy of the garment: a piece of fabric that is wrapped around the body. It is a question of creating a new body by letting the material express itself. In fashion, I find that there is a lot of «chatter»; that’s why I titled

my first creations Silent clothes, as if it were a universe in itself. When I see Dorothée’s movement, it seems to me that there is an energy that starts from the shoulders and unfolds. I am working on this idea of carried motion; while the woman was permanently sealed by very wide dresses, which arrive at ground level. The first dress I made for Dorothée, for a performance at the Centre Georges Pompidou, was a crinoline dress, but in a material that did not interfere in the movement.

Jean-Marc Adolphe - From a performance to a show with several women on the set, the challenge is taken to a new dimension. Even if you have already exchanged ideas and sketches, the costumes will be developed during a creative residency. It’s a different time from that of the atelier…

Stéphanie Coudert - I worked for ten years with the theatre director Joël Jouanneau; I’m used to it, and it’s a lifestyle choice. I interrupt the work on the atelier for my collections to join a creation on a set. I need this time of maturation in situ, to feel all the energies at stake. It would not be logical for me to feel the drawing is enough. To work with the body and the gesture, it is essential to see how the movement gives life to the volume.

Dorothée Munyaneza - In the case of a performance, a certain urgency can create moments of grace; but I feel that Mailles needs a specific time to share our dreams, to exchange, to encourage, and to raise one another.

Jean-Marc Adolphe - Precisely. Mailles brings together six black women whom you met, Dorothée, during your artistic journey or travels.

Dorothée Munyaneza - I wish I could create a congregation of artists who touched me, and whose work inspires and moves me. I speak as much about their artistic work as about their commitment to society. They live in Brazil, Haiti, South Africa, Chicago, Berlin, Seville... They are black, African or Afro-descendant. Even before we started the rehearsals, we exchanged a lot, on banal everyday things as much as on what happens in our respective countries, we share readings, music, images... What connects these meshed women? Economic power perpetrated great violence and dug deep inequalities between people; some have been discarded, separated. Where are we today, in a world of political cacophony, in the era of what I call «postpower»? There is, everywhere in the work, a remarkable feminine force that is engaged in spaces of creation, life, stories, convergence.

Starting from the stories and practices of the women reunited in Mailles, it is a question of telling the universal of our mixed stories. Apart from the creation of Stéphanie Coudert, there will be no real scenography. This multitude of meshed women will express themselves through these different moults, these different skins, these different spaces in which we will live with our stories, our words, our songs and our movements. We will talk about things that cannot be ignored, politically, socially, intimately, and we will also create those places where there can exist the contemplation, the poetry, the sweetness...

Stéphanie Coudert - For Unwanted, that approached the subject of rape as a weapon of war, I had designed a perfecto with pieces of leather and wax, which Dorothée sometimes used as a percussion instrument. There, we talk about «femininity», I needed to think about the quality of the materials, the enmity of the finishes. But I also wanted to preserve the freedom to surprise with unexpected «dialogues», as a mix between a kimono structure and an African fabric.

I need to feel things, without them being didactic. The set allows you to deploy a palette of materials, colors, patterns…

Jean-Marc Adolphe - There should be a certain choral strength in Mailles, but embodied by these six women each of which carries a strong singularity. Can we imagine that the work of Stéphanie Coudert contributes to give this sensation of a multiple choir?

Dorothée Munyaneza - Surely, there will be this part of singularity, and there is this desire to gather these multiple voices, not in unison, but as in a symphony with several layers. We are connected by a line of story, and the gesture of Stephanie will help to sew this line. It is a portrait of several women, but at bottom, perhaps it is the same woman; a female body composed by several bodies. It is the celebration of a fight that they lead to exist in spaces where they are rejected, and how they enhance themselves to be stronger than those who denigrate them.

I am reading a book by Conceição Evaristo, Insoumises, which brings together thirteen stories of black women in Brazil. All have gone through great hardships and they still end up showing dignity, strength, perseverance and beauty, despite all the obstacles that articulate their lives, and that’s actually what I want to celebrate: the beauty of these women.

Jean-Marc Adolphe - In your creative work, to one and to the other, how to define this research of beauty?

Stéphanie Coudert - Exactly 20 years ago, I was laureated an award at the Festival de Hyères. My collection was titled Métal irradié, I wanted to show volumes that were nested in each other... In my presentation, there were no hangers, each garment was suspended from butcher’s fangs. I called it «force fields». At the time, I was influenced by the work of Jean-Charles Blais. But when I received the award, I had to improvise a little speech, which I started by saying «I think I wanted to show my idea of beauty». I immediately saw the members of the jury roll their eyes! I realised that this idea of beauty did not interest this fashion world, which hates the first degree and prefers to talk about deconstruction. This is probably why I do not feel quite comfortable… So, beauty? I see it emerging as something that escapes from someone. Something that can happen in the performance, where the presentation of a collection is codified. And in relation to what Dorothée said of the women she gathered in Mailles, I would say that beauty is a way of sublimating rage.

Dorothée Munyaneza - The women gathered in Mailles are women engaged in everyday life; that’s what makes them beautiful. For me, beauty exists in disobedience to adversity, and in reappropriation of something that has been denied. Beauty is this lively place, which is aware of the deep strength that can be in each of us and that refuses to resign.

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