Philadelphia Museum of Dance: Choreographing Public Assembly

When Thom Collins, Simon Dove, Miriam Giguere, Manfred Fischbeck, Allen Sabinson, and Lois Welk came to Europe to meet us, they carefully observed many of the collective exhibitions and performances that the Musée de la danse organized in the past before choosing how to invite us for this fall 2018 event. Together, we looked at how to work with this variety of different desires, that of the different universities and institutions they represent, but also that of the dance community in Philadelphia, and its history. Together we chose to reflect on “choreographic assemblies,” and how the desire to dance together can be realized in the public space.

Over the last years the questions around the public space have become more and more burning, at least in Europe where over the years the public space has become a field of paroxysm and of questioning – it requires urgent reaction, transformation, re-enchantment.

Historically speaking the streets and squares in France have always been a territory of confrontation – in the 60s, after the 1968 student and workers revolution, the fights against the War of Algeria… but let’s say that ever since then, the public spaces were rather peaceful; perhaps even asleep, sites of anesthesia. Recently everything has changed. The public space has almost disappeared as a space of creation for the common, the encounter, the open construction of identity and differentiation. There is less and less encounter and exchange due to social disintegration, exclusion, homelessness, abandonment of refugees… but as well, the rise of racism, anti-Semitism, isolating urbanism, and the paroxysms around gay marriage and the veil add to the tension. The rise of political and religious fundamentalisms have been occupying the media space, artistic contexts and public circulation. And the recent massacres in France have strongly affected these spaces and led to a hyper surveillance of public gatherings. To add one sentence that has almost become an obsession of mine: There are more armed soldiers in the public space compared to non-armed dancers. This is not a critical position against the permanent presence of soldiers in the streets, the stations, public squares but more of a constantly rising worry: what is needed is another invention of posture in the public space, of freedom for an encounter with the diversity of the other.

There are more armed soldiers in the public space compared to non-armed dancers.

It was in this search for an undiscoverable architecture that the public space imposed itself to Musée de la danse as THE potential space for its development. The desire to invent a new type of public space is part of the manifesto for a Musée de la danse: I had imagined this public space as a museum with an innovative architecture and innovative functions, a place in the city illuminated by danced experimentation.

And with these thoughts the team and I conceived a series of actions for the public space, aiming at making contemporary art leave its dedicated sites and to avoid as well the cliché of street theatre…. Dance could be THE medium to encounter political failure; a medium adapted for the malaise of the public space: dance unites bodies that otherwise would never touch, but it also represents objects of dissent to be acknowledged for the affirmation of an open civic identity.

Philadelphia Museum of Dance: Choreographing Public Assembly proposes to occupy the public space of the Barnes Foundation by dance only, a dance that takes form along the permanent transformation of postures and collective formats. We sought to create an event where one would move from one single taught movement to its transmission, from social dance to performance… from the live exhibition to collective spontaneous learning. With manger at FringeArts, it searches to also blur the boundaries between the stage and the auditorium.

Musée de la danse is built on the absence of any barrier among pedagogy, rehearsal, performance, exhibition, theory, and practical work. It allows itself to transform permanently. Its DNA is made with both an artistic and political agenda: this absent or blurred hierarchy becomes the generator of individual and collective esthetical emancipation. Everyone exposes him/herself to the experimentation of a museum that is about to invent itself via the present bodies.

Philadelphia, let’s give it a try!

Boris Charmatz Bio

In 2016, dancer and choreographer Boris Charmatz was invited to Philadelphia for Westphal College’s Dancing Dialogues residency, which featured the acclaimed Levée des conflits for 24 dancers. He choreographed manger, which will be presented by FringeArts September 22-23, 2018, and danse de nuit, which was the final performance of the Philadelphia Museum of Dance daylong dance exhibit at the Barnes Foundation on October 6, 2018.

Charmatz has presented a series of highly memorable pieces, from Aatt enen tionon (1996) to 10000 gestures (2017). While maintaining an extensive touring schedule, he also participates in improvisational events on a regular basis with Saul Williams, Archie Shepp, and Médéric Collignon and continues to work as a performer with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Tino Sehgal.

As associate artist of the 2011 Festival d'Avignon, Charmatz presented enfant, a piece for 26 children and 9 dancers in the Cour d’Honneur of the Pope’s Palace. In 2013, he was invited to MoMA, New York, where he conceived Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures, a three week dance program in the Marron Atrium and all over the museum. In 2015, Charmatz was invited to Tate Modern, London for If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse?, an intensive two day performance program throughout the galleries and the Turbine Hall.

From 2002-2004, while an artist-in-residence at the Centre National de la Danse, he developed Bocal, a nomadic and ephemeral school that brought together students from different backgrounds. In 2007 and 2008, he was a visiting professor at Berlin’s Universität der Künste, where he contributed to the creation of a new dance curriculum.

Since 2009, he has been the director of the Rennes and Brittany National Choreographic Centre (France), and has transformed it into a Museum of Dance (Musée de la danse) of a new kind. The museum has initiated, among others, the projects: préfiguration, expo zéro, rebutoh, brouillon (rough draft), 20 Dancers for the XX Century, Fous de danse (Mad about dance), and Petit Musée de la danse.

Charmatz co-authored the books undertraining / On A Contemporary Dance with Isabelle Launay, Emails 2009-2010 with Jérôme Bel, and wrote “Je suis une école,” related to the project Bocal. More information is available at and

Boris Charmatz photo © Caroline Ablain

Boris Charmatz
Choreographer & Co-Curator, Philadelphia Museum of Dance