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Dancers Take Monastic Retreat

Abbaye de Royaumont, Asnières-sur-Oise (photo courtesy of the Comité d’Expansion Economique du Val d’Oise)
The Abbaye de Royaumont was built in the first half of the 13th century, with funding from Louis IX, to house a Cistercian monastic community. An abbey with royal associations (Louis IX, later St. Louis, was known to visit there and live as one of the monks) and the largest Cistercian monastery built in the Île-de-France, it became the burial place of some members of the royal family, whence its name Mons Regalis, or Royal Mount. As a sign of its unique status, it was founded directly by the mother house of the Cistercian order, Cîteaux. Like almost all monastic houses, Royaumont was destroyed during the French Revolution. Parts of the buildings were carted off or used for industrial purposes, but sections remained intact, including a rather stunning cloister and the monks' refectory (the church is almost entirely disappeared). The abbey's secular afterlife has been mostly cultural, as it was used for the performance of operas and other music. Since the 1960s it has housed the Royaumont Foundation, a private organization that hosts cultural events.

Since July 26 and concluding tomorrow on the feast of the Assumption, the dance seminar Transforme has taken over Royaumont. Under the direction of choreographer Myriam Gourfink, artistic director of the Centre de recherche et de composition chorégraphiques at Royaumont, the twelve participants have attended activities around the general theme of perception, including sessions of yoga in the morning, dance rehearsals in the afternoon, and discussions in the evening, taking their meals and even living on a sort of retreat in the abbey. Rosita Boisseau reports on the results (Retraite à l'abbaye de Royaumont avec la chorégraphe Myriam Gourfink, August 14) in Le Monde (my translation):
The profile of the candidates is varied. The young Italian Luna Paese, age 23, comes from a circus; the Tunisian Ammar Habli, 29, more from the martial arts, while the Frenchman Thibaud Le Maguer, 28, comes from classical and contemporary dance. Before them the panel of presenters is also distinguished by its singularity: the Swiss choreographer and performer Yann Marussich, at the crossroads of dance and biomedical technology, but also the art critic Jens Hauser, the Indian dancer Ananda Ceballos, the musician Andy Emler. "It's about creating the most auspicious artistic environment to allow everyone to fine tune his own work method," says Myriam Gourfink. The exploration of the intimate, of the most deeply seated perceptions of the body, is the foundation of the teaching. Parallel methods, like yoga, allow a knowledge of self that goes beyond the superficial musculature. To feel better, it is sometimes necessary to recenter oneself, to retire from oneself."
Another participant, 38-year-old dancer Virginie Garcia, said that the experience has been trying, with considerable hard work, but well worth the effort. On August 15, the abbey will open its doors to the public, allowing each of the participants to give a solo performance presenting some of the ideas worked out during the retreat.

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