"As artists, we are magicians"
says French and dancer-choreographer Ali Salmi who works with urban spaces and sounds. We caught up with him while he was in town for a performance. Excerpts from an interview
When and how did you begin choreography in public spaces?
As a child, I liked touching things and was sensitive of movement. I played high-intensity sports including basketball and athletics. For me, it wasn't about winning a competition or a match, but about enjoying the beauty of the movement with a focus on the quality of the movement and its relationship with time and gravity.
I was tired of the emptiness of the formal stage and spaces. I wanted to perform in 'real' spaces. My goal is to tell the stories of cities through bodies in motion, through the vibrations of dancers and of people. Giving a name to my passion, I formed the company Osmosis Cie in 1993 - a choreographic company focusing on performance in public spaces. Since then, I have performed around the world – across Europe, Asia, North America, South America and even in many parts of India: Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Trivandrum, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore.
What are the challenges of choreography in public spaces and working with ambient sound?
As artists, we are magicians. We use our bodies, sound design, and video projection to tell the story of this meeting. Each place has a vibration, a resonance. These spaces breathe like us - meeting them during the day or at night are vastly different propositions.
Our challenge is to give to the audience a glimpse of all these emotions, the hidden meanings of this meeting between our dance and space. In doing so, we share the space with the audience - the same floor (concrete or grass) and the same sky with stars shining above us. The soundtrack of the performance plays with the sounds of the city. The setting of the sound and its quality is very important to invite the audience in our journey in the middle of the soundscape of the city with all its throbbing, pulsating life.
What does your day look like?
I wake up at 7 am with the sun. I do some light stretching and yoga movements in the shower to wake up me up slowly. Then I have a light breakfast and brush up on news from around the world. It’s very important for me to stay connected with what is happening in the world.
Following this, I have special training that I do outdoors, on the spot where I will perform to resonate with the city and with space. Considering the weather here, I take a break between 12:30 pm and 3 pm. Reading, intellectual work, listening to music or documentary research for my work. From 3 pm till late evening, I work on sequences of movements i.e. on my physical statement. Then, we use the night to work with light and video projections in real conditions so that we can understand how to make pictures and images dance with us using shadows and light.
How do you relate to the spaces you perform in?
If I want to dance in the spaces of the city, I need to take time to feel the vibrations of the place and to understand them. For this, I need time to traverse, cross, move in and around the space - almost like the anthropology of the city and its spaces. I like to call myself a choreographic surveyor of public space. We need to live inside, to spend time in space and only then start to dance.
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