dance, documentary, prison, © © jean-claude Carbonne
Angelin Preljocaj and Sylvia rehearsing “Soul Kitchen” in “Danser son punishment”, documentary by Valérie Müller
© © jean-claude Carbonne

Filming dance is an art. And dance, director Valérie Müller knows her well. She co-directed with her husband, choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, Polina, according to the comic strip by Bastien Vivès with the star of the Paris Opera Jérémie Belingard and the actor Niels Schneider – who had learned to dance for the occasion.

When it started shooting Dance your pain last year, her words went beyond the challenge of “filming the movement” or that of recording a ballet: she wanted to show dance at work in prison. Or sensitive documentary work with prisoners from Baumettes in Marseille: Sophia, Malika, Litale, Annie and Sylvia. The adventure began when Preljocaj, who often went with his company to show his shows in prison, asked the authorization to the prison authorities to lead workshops for a show which would be given outside the prison, on a real stage and even two! Twice in its choreographic center, its own, the Black Pavilion (work of Rudy Ricciotti) with its 400-seat hall, and five times at the Corum in Montpellier, the flagship hall where the biggest companies perform.

A challenge. A madness ? The artists, Olivier Py, Joël Pommerat, put on plays with “these amateurs” who also performed on stage.

dance, prison, documentary © © jean-claude Carbonne
Sylvia dances “Soul Kitchen” by Preljocaj in “Danser sa pun”, documentary by Valérie Müller
© © jean-claude Carbonne

In Dance your pain, Valérie Müller shows, no comment, she gives the floor to the prisoners. They have between the thirties and sixties, strong, weak women, like everyone else, who talk about each and the others, about their mistakes and about the prison, about the dance.

Amazing result

They never danced. Never ! None of them. Sylvia would have liked to take classes as a child, but it was impossible in her family. The others danced “in the evening”. But to see them, from the workshop to the stage, they amaze us all. To move thus, obeying the instructions of the choreographer, integrating the accounts, the measures, the objects with which they must do … So courageous and accepting corrections, failures, repeats, including the issue: “If it is you who tell me that, said Sophia to Angelin Preljocaj, then I accept. “

The camera enters their cell, small yellow kitchen, small shelving well arranged, it could be a mini-studio, it is a room of nine square meters with bars. “The trouble? It is to be here. Cut off from the world, from our family. It’s the only. So why do we wake up at 5 am, which is useless? And other things like that. What benefit does society derive from it? Says Annie, who will already be out when the show arrives on stage.

“Every day I go out empty”

They learn, miss, get discouraged, sometimes, but it never gets out of hand. The choreographer corrects them, corrects himself: “Every day, I go out emptied, crossed by a very particular emotion, I am afraid to put them in a situation where they would be badly perceived by the public, it is very fragile, I make them repeat a lot so that they are sure of themselves and they can let go. I say to myself: and I, am I worthy of them? “

They say: “my body has changed”, “the dance gave me confidence in myself, I didn’t have one before”, “me, it gave me tics, when I get up now, I stretch your leg … “,” we are no longer just nut numbers, we are women “,” I who devalued myself all the time, I can’t believe I did it! “,” I have the impression that it is not visible that I come from the prison when I am here, outside “. Outside: two of them are still detained, the other three have been released. We will not know anything about the reason for their detention.

Liberation through dance

Dance released something into them. Something unspeakable but that we see when they finally give the show that Preljocaj titled Soul Kitchen (because they cook in their cell): they dance and it shows. If Sylvia reveals an incredible gift by her quality of movement, the others also have grace. The work is there, they did not dance to distract themselves or to entertain, but to taste the learning, the joy of carrying out a project until the end. And to do it with a famous artist.

The evening of the first performance at his house in the black pavilion, Preljocaj was crying, the standing audience applauding everything. Malika, Litale, Sylvia, Annie, Sophia greeted the public and themselves. In the film, we see them cry, scream in the boxes. They danced. Unique interpreters of their lives, of their grief. And it was magnificent.

“Danser sa punishment”, by Valérie Müller, on France 3, 11.25 p.m., then on France TV on demand

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