ArtArt Interviews

OnlyHuman: Interview with artist Christine Bonansea

Christine Bonansea is an artist who was born in France and now resides in New York. Christine recently created a theatrical dance piece titled “OnlyHuman” which was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s book titled “Human, All Too Human”. The choreographed piece investigates the balance between the appreciation of beauty and the tendency towards destruction that is embolic of the human race. The show was created in collaboration with other artists and has a very Science-Fiction like futuristic flair.

Christine recently discussed this work, its inspiration, and her plans for the future via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: How did you first get into the performing arts and why do you focus on dance?

Christine Bonansea (CB): I’ve been dancing since a young age, being on stage was always an immediate way to transcend myself, to feel more alive. I believe that movement is energy, dancing is one of the stronger emotional expression; it’s universal, it’s been around since the dawn of the human history, it generates positive vibration and brings people together for exchange and love. Dancing movement is liberating, it comes to me as a pure joy, and my choreographic choices are often connected to a specific scenography revealing a concept.

MM: How much, if at all, did your childhood impact your creative drive?

CB: My parents didn’t get the chance to study or practice art but I remember that they simply loved dancing and there was often music at home. It was not about technique or mastery but about being together. I started ballet very early in the conservatory and I studied solfege for two years; my two brothers each learned an instrument, we all graduated. Like many kids, we used to put up shows at home for various guests – with programs that included a real concert, a music duet with dance and some improvisation!

MM: What is the theater scene like in your native France and how does it differ from the USA? On the heels of that, what led you to New York?

CB: I’m not sure I’d be the best person to analyze the current French art scene – I moved out of there twelve years ago. The choreographic landscape there has changed a lot since, like in many other countries, as a result of the economic reality and political environment. But I think each region of the world has a strong aesthetic in the arts and choreography that is informed by its history and interests. I feel that France has a tradition to be attentive to the artistic concept behind each art project. It seems that the physicality is coming back in the contemporary French dance but it will still be rooted in a strong guiding idea.

I notice a lot of new dynamic in the NYC dance recently; I imagine it comes as a response to the contemporary political climate. Still, it is strongly influenced by the generations of choreographers connected to the Judson Church Dance Theater that started in the 1960s. It was really cutting-edge at the time and became such an important point of reference that almost feels like a new form of academism now… There is a current exhibition at the MOMA about it.

I landed in NYC after almost seven years in California where I practiced a lot of improvisation, release technic, contact improvisation, and experimental form, working in collaboration with many talented dancers and musicians. The Bay Area has this identity of freedom and experimentation. It was a liberating space for me where I could find my voice and meet exceptional artists. I moved to NYC to be closer to Europe for family reasons but at the same time, I wanted to experience the city that is the greatest American platform for the performing arts. This big move was also a way to shake my world: change is necessary for one to stay alive…I’ve been traveling across different spaces, lands, languages, references and somehow it made me grow and expand my artistic vision! It’s been an extremely enriching and crucial experience for me as an artist and as a human.

MM: How did you first stumble upon the literature that inspired OnlyHuman?

CB: I studied Modern Literature at La Sorbonne in Paris for three years and it influenced the way I experience life. I also love philosophy and am a big fan of Nietzsche, Foucault, Sartre… to name just a few critical theorists. OnlyHuman is a piece influenced by these post-structuralist and existentialist authors. The character of this work reflects certain aspects of human behavior while playing with the various perception of the physical body.

MM: How did you come to collaborate with all the artists you did?

CB: These meetings usually happen in the context of touring, creating work, performing and often the relationships, based on our shared aesthetic and interests, percolate over time. For example, I first met the musician and composer Nicole Carroll at an art residency in Florida back in 2010… and only now we finally are able to collaborate on this work! The same year, I met the multimedia artist Yoann Trellu in San Francisco where we were collaborating with another choreographer. He currently lives in Berlin where OnlyHuman premiered in its final form at DOCK11. He is really open to visual experimentation and playing with the material – and that is essential for the work. The visual artists and photographer Robert Flynt, as well as our lighting designer Solomon Weisbard, are based here in NYC; we just met and decided to work together.

MM: Why do you think this piece is so timely and what are your favorite parts of it?

CB: The creation of OnlyHuman has been fuelled by various documentaries, press articles, conversations about climate change and politics that I’ve been exposed to over the years. These days more than ever it feels like the discussion about the damage we are inflicting on our planet cannot and should not be avoided. The human irresponsibility has been stressing out the ecology of this planet the last twenty years at least. Regarding its timeliness: I’ve always been surprised how as a species, we never change, how the human race is stuck in denial about what’s happening in the world until we suddenly turn our heads when it’s already too late; how we repeat the same mistakes and history. I even re-read Moliere’s The Misanthrope when making this piece!

Now, about my favorite parts of the show. The main character of OnlyHuman is a clown, a clone, a prank… it looks at the audience as if it was facing a mirror. It is absurd, unstable, attempting to transform but stuck is in own, constantly malfunctioning system of movement. The piece begins with a cynical pre-show sequence, which is intentionally over-acted, referring to these catastrophic movies featuring the last survivor of some global cataclysm who denies the reality of what has transpired. I also really like the next section, in which the soloist moves low on the floor, for the quality of sounds and the fractal-like play between the space and light. And lastly, I like the final appearance of my character as an elongated, alien-like puppet, reminiscent of Giacometti’s figures. This character is another metaphor for the human sense of entitlement, our overgrown ego: this extended body seems supernatural, maybe post-human but something about it is sad and poetic.

MM: What were the challenges of creating this performance and what do you hope audiences get out of it?

CB: The number one hurdle: the reality of everyday life as an artist in America is so brutal that none of us can afford to focus solely on the creative aspect of the work; we have to be teachers, social workers, administrators, mediators – all at the same time. There is also the major challenge of the constant lack of technical resources and time at a single venue to focus on making it happen from start to finish. This show has been in development, initially as a solo, for over two years now; I had to create it piecemeal, spreading over many showcases and residencies at different locations. At times, it was very challenging artistically: how do you express your full potential, the complete idea when there is not enough organizational support for developing the full work? It was finally DOCK11 in Berlin that gave me the first chance to present the fully staged show in 2017!

I pushed myself to make the New York premiere happen at Danspace Project because I really wanted to finalize the investment and acknowledge the energy I’ve devoted to this work. Also because I got the support of the Lower Manhattan Council with the Creative Engagement Grant and Foundation for Contemporary with the Emergency Grant. This project has been overwhelming on many levels, especially financially since I needed to hire a group of ten extra dancers for an extended section; and I’ve set up an online crowdfunding campaign to support it.

The piece has already toured internationally (in Bulgaria, Germany, Korea) and on the West Coast and I’ve been receiving a lot of great feedback …The audience is impressed, intrigued by the space and the character acting in it. I hope it creates visceral questions and emotions…I would like the art to be a vector of change, a catalyst for a deeper awaking of awareness, and an incubator of actions.

MM: What are your biggest hopes for your future in theater and what kind of pieces might you work on next?

CB: The theater will exist until the end of humanity (laughs.) This is one of the major forms of human expression. It just needs to be recognized as something of a crucial value and to be socially and politically supported. A society that nurtures art and theater is a true democracy: there has never been a time when this was more true and important. My next work is a sequel to OnlyHuman; it is called OH-2 and will have to do with human density. I created it thinking: If I talk about humanity, I should consider its population numbers, its mass and its volume, and the pressure it exerts on this planet – and how it’s compressing and diminishing the living space for other species. We also affect other members of our own species in a way no other species does: we commit torture, genocide, unspeakable cruelty and then even find a rationale to justify it… but I don’t want to reveal too much now. I am working with another team of ten local dancers from Berlin at the end of this month and the first version will be shown November 29, 30 and December 1st at DOCK11, in Germany.

To learn more, visit Christine’s official website.


Meagan Meehan

Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Examiner and AXS. She is also a stop motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a Bachelors in English Literature and a Masters of Communication. She is an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.
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