Interview with Cédric Schönwald by Virginie Bobin (translated by David Pickering)

Virginie Bobin  What was your definition of a dramaturge before participating in Jennifer's project? What about now?

Cédric Schönwald  I had no job description in mind, just a vague idea fueled by the lasting memory of Frans Poelstra and Robert Steijn's collaboration in Frans Poelstra, son dramaturge et Bach. Beyond dramaturge as a job title, which doesn't mean much, it's the dramaturge's function that seems operative. I think it's interesting to define the function through a collaborative process. In functional terms, if dramaturgy is the way a performance is structured in time and space, a collaboration in any form can be operative from a dramaturgic point of view. Any participant in the project can intervene in the course of the action regardless of his or her discipline or job title. Jennifer's project tests that hypothesis and designates it in an almost didactic way by depersonalizing the dramaturgic function, despite the title of the piece (My First Time With a Dramaturge), which I take to be ironical and reversible. The irony takes aim at both the thing designated (the hypothetical existence of a being incarnating the dramaturgical function) and the one doing the designating. The reversibility lies in the fact that the "first time" is as much Jennifer's as it is the supposedly amateur dramaturge's, and she is as much (or as little) dramaturge as those she invites to participate.

VB  How did this "first time" change your perspective on contemporary dance's esthetics and modes of conception? What about your own activities and practices?

CS  This experience has only strengthened my interest in everything that tends to denaturalize functions. Though in the production of a performed action everyone cannot do everything, nothing prevents everyone from participating in its production, without that being a goal in and of itself. One of the issues is therefore to avoid all forms of demagogy. For me this experience was yet another opportunity of participating in a project in which I was doing a job I supposedly didn't know how to do. Here again, we touch on an artificial distinction because the continual stratification of all our different types of experience endows us with a certain universal and permanent savoir-faire (which we could just as easily call incompetence). Not all paths and stratifications are created equal in the sense that, to start, not everyone is necessarily aware that he or she possesses a form of latent but intrinsic omniscience. Still, it seems to me that in most fields the decision-making processes of experts or "art people" could greatly benefit from enlisting the everyman's savoir-faire (in the sense previously evoked).

VB  In her choreographer's note, Jennifer Lacey talks about constructing "personal freedom through process and social freedom through form" by transcending the constraints of authority and the author's role. What do you think about that in retrospect?

CS  I have a hard time dissociating these two types of freedoms because I have a hard time dissociating form and process. In other words, personal freedom only seems effective to me when it can be realized in the social sphere, or in relation to the social sphere (to other "personal freedoms"). Not only does form always bring its own process of creation to light, but the forms that interest me the most are those that belong to the process itself. At the point we envision the process as form, the form/process distinction loses its whole reason for being. The project Jennifer Lacey has embarked upon through these different opuses of Ma première fois avec un dramaturge is emblematic of a work whose form resides in its own process of transformation, or more specifically, in its successive actualizations. The different stages of the project don't add up to a final production or grand total. At the end of the day (the end of the residency at the Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers, which will undoubtedly not be the end of the process set into motion by the project), no one will be able to define this work in its totality. No one, that is, except its author, Lacey—if one can even be said to define a project in which one is so closely involved. Consequently, though Jennifer continually shares her authority as an author by abdicating a large part of the decision-making process to strangers she didn't even invite, it is no less true that her authorship transcends the project as a whole. Her authority as an author remains intact, because the monumental work she conceived constantly references both the artistic specificity of the project (and notably this form of controlled abandon with which it is consubstantial), and the person who shepherded it from start to finish (all the choices are made, if not peacefully negotiated, with her), the person around whom everything revolves. Indeed, by virtue of its strong processual dimension, this project makes the occasional sharing of authorship the distinctive mark of a work that is at the same time very much centered around its principal signatory, Jennifer Lacey. Therein lies the paradox, beauty and difficulty of Ma première fois avec un dramaturge.

Interview published in Le Journal des Laboratoires Sept-Dec. 2010