In 2004, when Frédéric Flamand has been appointed general director of le Ballet National de Marseille, he positioned his project somewhere "between" memory and innovation; it was not about memory on the one and attempts to innovate on the other. For him, the word "between" implied communication, whether in terms of his work or works asked of guest choreographers. Classical dance and contemporary dance are labels designed to clarify the knowledge and comprehension of phenomena, but when you use a label, limits and confinement can be inferred. Flamand believes for le Ballet National de Marseille in a vision that cuts across things: whether it concerns disciplines or technics.
Right from the very start, Frédéric Flamand’s career has been characterised by three main elements: encounter, dialogue and a certain utopia tinged with realism. He set up Plan K in 1973, using it to question the status and representation of the human body by integrating visual arts and audio-visual technology into the living spectacle, and thus laying the foundations for the interdisciplinary approach which still fuels his work today.
Plan K began performing abroad almost immediately and the international recognition the company received meant that it soon became firmly established. Convinced that it is vital for a company to be linked to a venue where encounters can be made, Frédéric Flamand opened a multi-arts centre in Brussels in 1979 in an old 4,000 m2 sugar refinery. Artists from different disciplines came, including Bob Wilson, William Burroughs, Charlemagne Palestine, Steve Lacy, Pierre Droulers, Philippe Decouflé, Marie Chouinard, Michael Galasso, Thomas Schütte, Joy Division and Eurythmics.
The refinery was also a place of work, establishing an international dialogue between dance, visual arts, music and audio-visual arts, thus continuing along the lines of Plan K’s initial vocation.
Invited to Kassel’s Dokumenta 8 to perform “If Pyramids Were Square” – created in 1987 with the visual artist Marin Kasimir – there Frédéric Flamand met the Venetian artist Fabrizio Plessi. Together they worked on a trilogy about technology in three different eras. “La Chute d’Icare” (1989) concerns the Renaissance and small-scale production technologies. This first part of the trilogy, created to original music by Michael Nyman, was commissioned by Gérard Mortier, then Director of La Monnaie, the Belgian National Opera. This work at La Monnaie made Frédéric Flamand a fixture on major international stages.
It was followed by “Titanic” (1992), about the revolution in heavy industry at the start of the 20th century, and “Ex Machina” (1994) which evokes the end of the 20th century and the proliferation of image and communications technologies. This piece was invited to the Venice Biennale in 1995.
In 1991, Frédéric Flamand was appointed artistic director of the Ballet Royal de Wallonie, a neo-classical company which he renamed Charleroi/Danses, Centre chorégraphique de la Communauté française de Belgique to emphasise the company’s precise location in an industrial city under redevelopment and the different missions it had. It was after this appointment that he began working more intensively on integrating classical dance and contemporary techniques, convinced that it is more fruitful to make them talk to each other than set them against each other.
With Charleroi/Danses, Frédéric Flamand combined his own creative work, co-productions with different companies from Belgium’s French-speaking community, the establishment of a training programme for professional dancers and the organisation of biennial international dance events. The themes of these events have been chosen for their relevance in relation to the human being’s position in a contemporary environment:
“Corps et Machines” in 1994, “Vitesse et Mémoire” in 1996 and “Gender” in 1998. Whether Frédéric Flamand draws his inspiration from the past or from today, his prime concern is to question the status of the contemporary body – the dancer’s preferred tool – in the relationship it has with its environment.
In 1996, Frédéric Flamand started reflecting on the relationship between dance and architecture, both of them being arts that structure space. For “Moving Target”, he chose to work with New York architects Elisabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, gaining inspiration from the uncensored notebooks of Vaslav Nijinsky, one of the first classical dancers to build bridges with contemporary dance.
“E.J.M 1” and “E.J.M. 2” followed, based on works by Eadweard James Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey, again in collaboration with Elisabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio. “E.J.M. 2” was created for the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Lyon and “E.J.M. 1” for Compagnie Charleroi/Danses – Plan K, and both were premiered at the Opéra National de Lyon.
In 2000, Frédéric Flamand created “Metapolis” with the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, winner the 2004 Pritzker Prize, the architectural equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
The same year, Frédéric Flamand met Jean Nouvel when he was commissioned to create a piece for Hannover’s Expo 2000. The resultant piece, “The Future of Work”, was seen by more than 600,000 people over a five-month period. This fitted perfectly with Frédéric Flamand’s concern to attract the widest possible audiences for dance. This same approach has led him to alternate presentations of his work on traditional stages and in disused venues: a mill train, a Charleroi swimming pool or the Arsenal in Venice to give just a few examples.
In 2001, he created the double piece “Body/Work” and “Body/Work/Leisure”. An extension of his collaboration with the architect Jean Nouvel, it was premiered at the International Dance Festival in Cannes.
Frédéric Flamand’s interest in establishing a dialogue between dance and other artistic disciplines led to him being offered the post of artistic director of the Venice Biennale’s first International Contemporary Dance Festival in 2003. As with the biennial events in Charleroi, Frédéric Flamand chose a topical theme for this first festival, “BodyÛCity”, in which the relationship between the human being and the city is considered, and bringing together companies from many continents. He inaugurated the festival with “Silent Collisions” – created with the Californian architect Thom Mayne – parts of which have been broadcast on Arte.
Frédéric Flamand has been teaching at the University of Architecture in Venice since April 2004, running interdisciplinary creative workshops centred on dance.
In September 2004, he was appointed General Director of the Ballet National de Marseille by, jointly, the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, la Ville de Marseille and la Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
He has since created “Cité radieuse” with the French architect Dominique Perrault, “Métamorphoses” with the renowned Brazilian designers Humberto & Fernando Campaña and “La Vérité 25X par seconde” with the Chinese architect and visual artist Ai Weiwei. Frédéric Flamand has also enriched the Ballet National de Marseille’s repertoire, inviting outside choreographers such as William Forsythe, Lucinda Childs and Nacho Duato, as well as Thierry Malandain, Michel Kelemenis, Olivia Grandville & Eric Oberdorff from France and the Belgian choreographer Michèle Noiret to name just a few.
Frédéric Flamand has been appointed Artistic Director of the Festival International de Danse in Cannes for the 2011 and 2013 festivals.
Frédéric Flamand’s works are performed on major international stages: Het Muziektheater- Amsterdam Opera, Edinburgh International Festival, Lucent Danstheater / The Hague, Hebbel Theater / Berlin, South Bank Centre / London, Théâtre National de Bretagne / Rennes, Centro Cultural de Belem / Lisbon, Brooklyn Academy of Music / New York, Lirio Hall / Tokyo, GREC Festival / Barcelona, Sao Paulo and Venice Biennales, Festival de Marseille, Festival Roma Europa, Singapore Arts Festival, Shanghai Opera House, Maison des Arts de Créteil, Biennale de Lyon, Auditorium de Dijon, Budapest Opera House, Ataturk Centre Istanbul, Grand Théâtre de Genève, Festival de Beiteiddine – Lebanon, Le Carreau – Forbach, Leipzig Opera, Festival International de danse de Cannes, Teatro Arriaga – Bilbao, Arsenal de Metz, Festival de Bregenz, Hippodrome de Douai, Festival de Cervantino – Mexico, Teatro Alfa – Sao Paulo, Le Manège – Maubeuge, Kampnagel Hamburg, Odyssud Blagnac.