Interview and portrait by OLIVIER ZAHM in Purple Magazine — F/W 2015 issue 24
OLIVIER ZAHM — How does the street influence your work as a choreographer and dancer? Is there something about being born and raised in Buenos Aires?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — In Buenos Aires as a child I was dreaming about the streets, as I was in tennis and polo clubs until I was a teenager. When I encountered the street in the ’90s, it was the punk times, post military government in Argentina. Quite repressive still. This situation made me eager to create utopic, freeing dances to forget the structures I was raised in. The streets seemed to me a place of infinite possibility, quite related to LSD, rock, and punk.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you create the costumes for your choreography — spontaneously?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Um, no. It really prevents me from sleeping. [Laughs] It may look spontaneous. The costumes have to describe the mental state and spirit of the dance. I work to make those ideas appear in the costumes and choreography.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You love the Caribbean.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Dance and music are wild and un-submissive in Jamaica. Like the twerk ritual and ass shake, which is not only to attract men. There’s something more feminist about it, after intercourse to prevent pregnancy and get it out of the body. To own their free body again.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Really?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — [Laughs] So when you see the girls doing this kind of dance, they are really entranced.
OLIVIER ZAHM — They have this technique, right after sex.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Yes. They do that. It’s an abortive technique. It also prevents menstrual pain.
OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re an extension and sublimation of sexuality?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Sex is sublimated in Jamaican dance. We imagine an invisible sexual act happening so that the movement becomes more real and detailed.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So you bring fetishism into choreography, movement, and dance.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Yes, when I was doing striptease in the clubs on the Champs-Élysées I was sad because only one kind of dance was allowed, a very codified American lap dance, not very inventive. I wanted to pursue this idea of erotic dance, but with other moves. So when I encountered Jamaican culture, I was euphoric about it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So you started out dancing. Did you go to school or did you learn on your own?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — I started dance in acrobatic gymnastics and horseback riding.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So this was not a classic dance education.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — No, later I studied ballet, anthropological dance, and art history at university.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’ve never heard of anthropological dance.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — It’s research on the most ancient dances of the world. This made me curious to meet ancient civilizations. I went to Mexico when I was 18 to look for the places Antonin Artaud had written about. In Oaxaca I met the Mazatec tribe and went through their rituals with sacred hallucinogenic mushrooms. It was a beautiful experience.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That was the beginning of your life.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Quite a beginning.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And there was always this idea of becoming a dancer or a choreographer?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Going to Mexico helped me to be sure of my dancing life. I saw many serpents in the hallucinogenic trips, I felt I was a serpent as well; my spine was serpentine. The serpent is the symbol of transformation and immortality: the skin dies and a new one is born.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Rebirth.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — My spine was like a serpent. I felt it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So that was your teenage research before you came to Europe, a way to discover something pre-modern. We’re not so used to integrating premodern traditions into our dance.
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Yes, I love to look at the history of the body in dance. From pre-civilized cultures, I like to speculate on the dance of the cave man, but also modern, postmodern, and post-civilized to futuristic.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How old were you when you came to Europe?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Twenty-one. In Buenos Aires I met a dance company from Germany that invited me to join them at the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius (1926) in Dessau for some months of creation.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Were they still under the influence of Pina Bausch?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Yes, she still influences the dance world. I’m very honored to choreograph a piece for Pina Bausch’s dance company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, with François Chaignaud this September 2015.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re often invited to play art centers, such as Beaubourg. How do you feel about this connection. Do you feel like an artist yourself? In the sense of using your body as a medium?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — To me performance is an animated sculpture or artifact. To become object and subject at the same time. I’m interested in the invisible thoughts becoming visible in the dance. It’s my favorite form of art.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you take a lot of your inspiration from erotic movement or from sexual references?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — I like situations of intensity. Eroticism is intense, as is street dance, rap, ballet. I try to make these forms meet in one body and one show.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you think about the state of dance today and choreography? Is this a good moment?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — I think it’s the best moment to make noncommercial art like dance, performance, and choreography. It’s a spiritual, idealistic, and romantic form of art.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What choreographers do you like?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — Michael Clark, Pina Bausch, Jack Ferver, Lucinda Childs…
OLIVIER ZAHM — And what do you think of dance coming from the street?
CECILIA BENGOLEA — It’s always a very specific geo-political context which makes it happen. Very concrete dance, less intellectual, fascinating.