When the dancer’s costume is their naked body

The French choreographer, Olivier Dubois, received around 2000 resumes from dancers when he was ready to cast his new work, Tragédie.

For the auditions, he whittled the numbers down to a hundred or so dancers, among them Sébastien Ledig.

A friend who had already auditioned told Ledig something he didn’t know – “you’ll have to get naked”. And he did, telling himself: “I’ll get through it”.

How embarrassing was that? Not that much. “For me the audition was not the worst, as you’re just so focused”.

It was more difficult when the chosen cast of nine women and nine men got together for the first time “because we knew that we would get to know those bodies very well and we were trying to keep it respectful and casual.

“It’s not always easy. You have to be careful not to stare at each other too much, stupid things like that. The people you stare at might be uncomfortable, you just don’t know. You never know how people are feeling in their bodies so you always need to add an extra layer of awareness, but it worked out really well”.

I spoke to Ledig in Sydney where Tragédie will be performed at Carriageworks on September 2 and 3. (A French dancer, Ledig speaks English fluently as he grew up living in Singapore).

Since Dubois’ production premiered at the Avignon Festival in France four years ago Tragédie has toured to many countries, among them the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Norway, Israel and the Netherlands but this is the first time it’s been performed in Australia.

Ledig has danced in the show around a hundred times, so dancing naked on a stage in front of an audience is commonplace for him and the rest of the cast. (His sister, who lives in Melbourne, and his parents and friends have all seen the show).

But Ledig acknowledges that some days “you don’t want to get naked. It’s cold in winter. Sometimes you feel vulnerable and fragile and you don’t want to get exposed…but the piece moves us in a crazy way”.

He is now one of a number of core dancers in Dubois’ company, but, he says, “even though you work for him you might not be in the next project.

“What’s really important for him is to create a group for every project.”

Dubois, now in his 40s, began his professional dance life when he was 23. He worked in Las Vegas with Céline Dion and the Cirque du Soleil, and in Europe for the choreographers Angelin Preljocaj, Jan Fabre and Sasha Waltz.

In 2007 he established Compagnie Olivier Dubois, with the company renamed Ballet du Nord in 2014.

Tragédie has been one of his more successful works, with the exception of its tour to Sadlers Wells in 2014 when London critics were united in their negative reviews.

The title refers to Greek tragedy although the piece is about the concept of humanity, but as Dubois has said, “being human doesn’t equal humanity. Humanity has to be cultivated and nurtured”.

Ledig thinks that in casting the work, Dubois was looking for “samples of humanity…for different people and personalities and types of body.

“The common thing for all of us [in the cast] is we’re fighters – we don’t give up, and he (Dubois] really values that. I understand that now.

“It’s a very intense piece. You can’t be untouched by it. You either hate it or love it… in this regard it’s a success. It moves you, even for us, the dancers.

“Nudity isn’t the subject of the piece at all. It serves as our costume”.

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Tragédie, photo © Francois Stemmer

Tragédie, photo © Francois Stemmer

Tragédie, photo © Francois Stemmer

Tragédie, photo © Francois Stemmer

Olivier Dubois

Olivier Dubois

Tragédie, photo © Francois Stemmer

Tragédie, photo © Francois Stemmer

Sébastien Ledig, photo © Francois Stemmer

Sébastien Ledig, photo © Francois Stemmer