Interview with the French dancer Matthieu Nieto about his expression through dancing, influences on his work and his performance ‘I Came Here to Talk’.
You started learning dance. Were there any incidents that made you choose a political direction for your performances? Did you take theoretical (gender/political) courses as well?
I probably had rebellious or critical thoughts before I even started dancing. Growing up queer and gay in the South of France had not been easy, and dance probably became for me a practice of acceptance and healing, a practice of simply being in the world. Though through my dance training, I remember not fitting the gendered and heteronormative stereotypes people were placing on my body. I was not happy lifting girls, and I wished I could have been lifted along with the other girls. I challenged racial representations as well at the beginning of my dance journey because I started expressing myself through West African dances and R&B music. I didn’t choose to be political, it was and it is simply a necessity. I took a few classes in gender studies while I was doing my MA in Performing Arts in Paris, but mostly I developed a strong interest for cultural studies and alongside gender studies; decolonial or post-colonial studies; queer studies and performance studies ; and so I did most of the research myself : reading, listening, and practicing in the world. My thesis was on embodying utopia, or how to think a performance as a way of changing representations and practices in our lives.
How do you start creating your performances? I guess there is a personal layer based on your experiences and feelings, but there might be an outer point of view as well. Does your environment inspire you when choosing your topics?
I guess my performances come as a way to explore both: specific subjects and vague fantasies. The process is influenced by my readings, by every cultural product that comes my way, by the people who I decide to talk to or collaborate with, by the places and locations I am working, etc. The necessity is often personal but in relationship and conversation with the world, starting with my collaborators and then the audience, but also with every place I am showing or presenting the work. Making work is like creating a crossing point or a crossroad where I am trying to connect and articulate both: the personal and the political, the inner and the outter, the local and the global.
You are a solo dancer. Could you imagine working with a company or did you ever do so? Can the mannequins from your show be interpreted as a replacement for co-dancers?
I am not necessarily a solo dancer, and I definitely like to create in conversation with other people. Working or touring alone is mostly an economic non-choice at the moment, and I would like to keep on experimenting with other performers, artists, activists or scholars in my future work. I did work with a dance company while in New York City (Movement of the People Dance Company) and I could still be part of collectives, temporal or permanent associations, or perform for other choreographers. The mannequins are definitely nonhuman but I chose to perform with them to play with the social and emotional imagery of their human-like bodies. I don’t see them as co-dancers but they are a physical company.
What are your means to approach such delicate questions as you do during your performance in movement/dance? For example, when highlighting the verbal means in ‘I Came Here to Talk’.
I don’t like to lock myself up in a box. If I need to say something that requires words, then I will use them. Actually, there is a lot of talking in the performance as the title says indeed. But movement and dance can be another way of saying something or to address it to somebody of course. I came here to talk in many different ways, different tones of speech as well. I guess my way of thinking and making work is actually in creating encounters and juxtaposition between bodies, images, sounds and words. Languages always had a central place in my research, I am fascinated by all the languages humans are using, both the verbal and the non-verbal ones.
What can the audience expect if you announce the stage becoming a forum? Is their participation metaphorical or will everyone dance with you in the end or is all this a big surprise?
I created this real-fake TV-Show called « Télé Identité », probably it will become «TV IDENTITY» in English. Through this parodic but real setup, I am exploring a participatory relationship with the audience. Not everyone will have something to say or not everybody will come on stage to dance with me, but I am envisioning a frame where it’s possible for people to do so. I guess we will all be witnesses of whatever it might become on stage on the 19th of October ! And whatever it might be, I really like seeing some people making choices, raising their voice or taking space. This is a part of the work where I know that I didn’t come to talk alone. I am thinking of this time and space as the most inclusive as it can be, so that it ends up being surprising, even for me.