Carte Blanche trades in white hot global mashups

An Israeli choreographer and plenty of international talent propel the Norwegian troupe Carte Blanche
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Carte Blanche hails from Norway, but has a French name, a Belgian artistic director, and dancers from as far away as Bosnia and Zimbabwe. And when it makes the long trek to Vancouver, it will perform the work of an Israeli choreographer.

The fact that the company is so international may seem unusual at first, but to artistic director Bruno Heynderickx, it’s not all that surprising that dance has, like everything else, gone global.

“I think the dance world has always been quite international,” he tells the Straight from Washington, D.C., the night after his troupe’s performance at the Kennedy Center. “Dance is a nonverbal language and it’s an art form that can be understood by a lot of nations and nationalities. You don’t need words.”

If that’s true, then these Norwegians’ cool new Corps de Walk speaks loud and clearly to outsiders: the night before our interview, the Washington Post raved about the company’s “erotic splendor” and “tick-tock precision”.

The piece, which will travel here as well, finds its dancers outfitted in pale, skin-hugging bodysuits, wearing powdered faces and eerie white contact lenses. Crafted by Batsheva Dance Company choreographer Sharon Eyal with her partner Gai Bachar, it plays on ideas of conformity and individuality, order and chaos. The dancers by turns stagger out slowly like zombies, kick their bent legs out in unison, then flail out anarchically.

An Israeli choreographer might seem like a far reach for the Nordic company, but it’s been part of Heynderickx’s successful strategy to find up-and-coming, exciting choreographers to set work on the company. “In the repertory-dance circuit, there are a lot of the same choreographers doing the same choreography for the same companies,” he explains. “There were not a lot of companies working with Sharon. She’s incredibly inspirational. She works very well with her dancers and they love to work with her.”

According to DanceHouse producer Jim Smith, who’s presenting Carte Blanche on its first full North American tour, Eyal and Bachar are part of an Israeli-fed wave that is sweeping the contemporary-dance world. Pointing to others whose work has hit the DanceHouse stage in recent years, like Hofesh Shechter and Barak Marshall, he says: “Sharon is part of the Israeli-informed disciples of [Batsheva artistic director] Ohad Naharin who are determining what the current path of dance is right now….Where is the hot spot for dance in the world right now? It used to be Israel, but I think now you can say it’s the diaspora of Israel, with Naharin and Batsheva as kings of the world.”

Heynderickx turned what was a struggling national contemporary-dance company in Norway into a global force of the calibre of Cedar Lake. According to Smith, he did this by internationalizing the company—not just with choreographers like Eyal, but with dancers from near and far.

“If you’re going to play the international game, you have to have the best that the world can offer,” he says, explaining that national companies used to be completely aligned with artists from their own country. “It speaks to how high the quality of the international talent is right now.”

Smith, who saw Carte Blanche at its first North American appearance, at the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival in Massachusetts in 2011, says he was drawn to the company’s quality dancers as well as the choreography of Eyal, whose Killer Pigs and Love drew buzz there.

For his part, Heynderickx says his dancers are highly skilled, but he is loath to demand they all come from a ballet background.

“Many of the repertory companies look for dancers that are closely trained,” says the former dancer with such acclaimed European companies as Ballet du Nord, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Rui Horta Stage Works. “We have dancers from a lot of different backgrounds; some are from ballet but some are from jazz or really contemporary backgrounds. So we are not classical dancers doing contemporary dance; we are not so uniform. It’s not that the dancers all look the same, and I like that difference: it creates a certain uniqueness. And in the dancers, we are looking for a kind of uniqueness as well.”

The strategy has clearly worked, as Heynderickx builds a company to be reckoned with out of his corner of Scandinavia. In fact, he argues, Bergen, the troupe’s home city (and the country’s second-largest), is a thriving hub of contemporary art. “It’s a port city and it’s always had a connection with the rest of the world,” he says of his new hometown. “And Norway takes very good care of its artists; we are fortunate.”

So the question remains: if Carte Blanche can speak an international language without words, what language does Heynderickx use in the studio? English, it turns out. But Heynderickx is slowly picking up the local language. “I haven’t mastered the language very well yet,” he admits with a laugh before heading off into the wintry Washington air, “but I have a little son who’s going to school there now and he’s fluent.” 

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