Jean-Marc Puissant (CBA ’18) is an award winning set and costume designer working internationally for opera, theater and dance. Designing productions of all scales, styles, and genres, Puissant’s design practice is rooted in the identity of unique collaborations, supporting the nature and craft required by each art form across the performing arts. He was nominated as Best Scenographer at the 2016 Benois de la Danse, was a finalist of World Stage Design 2013, and several productions he designed won Laurence Olivier Awards, South Bank Show Awards and National Dance Critics Awards. Puissant trained at the celebrated Motley Theatre Design Course in London after studying Art History at La Sorbonne, Paris. His career began as a dancer, studying at Paris Opera Ballet School and Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris. A professional dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet, Puissant danced and created roles in classical, neo-classical and contemporary repertoires. Puissant serves on the Board of Dance Umbrella, London’s international contemporary dance festival.
For more about Puissant’s CBA Fellowship, visit his fellow page.
Please describe your research. What piece(s) of this work are you tackling at CBA?
The idea behind the project is to explore the culture and identity of dance as a whole, through the biographies of its practitioners, their skills and collaborations. Choreography and the practice of dance are well documented and researched, both from an historical and contemporary point of view; I deliberately exclude the choreographer and the dancer from this research. Rooted in hundreds of years of tradition and constantly transformed by technology and socio-cultural shifts, I am interested to shed light on the complex ecosystem surrounding the production of dance today, giving a voice to the entire cast of protagonists.
The project is called Kingdom of Shades – Dance Beyond Choreographic Identity.
At CBA, I am:
- Creating a series of documents in support of the project (a list of practitioners I would like to interview and why; a template of a questionnaire for the interview; a bibliography etc)
- Compiling a seminar presentation of the work to date in order to generate discourse with CBA staff and current fellows
- Exploring ways of taking the project further by seeking affiliations, grants, funding and partnerships
Why do you believe it is important to research dance from a non-choreographic perspective?
Dance, and ballet in particular, is put under the microscope, asked to make a case for itself and, for obvious reasons, address crucial challenges that all art forms have to face today. Understandably, the debate often focuses on what we could call the artistic mission of dance, which is invested in choreographers, dancers, artistic and administrative managements.
As the debate broadens and brings to the fore an economic and socio-cultural focus on diversity, education, outreach, funding and audiences, it is becomes crucial to identify, recognise and support key participants whose contribution and expertise are vital to the making and success of dance. If we are to address the relevance of dance today, find solutions and ways forward, we need to have a greater awareness and understanding of its ecosystem, as well as the culture surrounding and supporting the choreographic discourse.
In what ways could your findings influence the field going forward?
Bringing into focus every aspect and protagonist involved in making dance today can only enrich our process and make for better, more fruitful, successful collaborations. It is as much a chance to identify, protect and celebrate the wealth of a cultural heritage as it is the opportunity to responsibly ask ourselves what needs to be changed or updated.
The interviews will constitute a database which will focus on biographies, skills / practice and collaboration. In itself, this will be a valuable resource for practitioners, researchers, students and general members of the public. This database will be hosted at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts in New York.
My aim is to use the research to write a book composed of essays, excerpts of interviews, photographic portraits and art works.
How does your experience as a dancer and costume and set designer influence your research?
My personal experience has made me acutely aware that although we need to “think” about dance, its mission and its place in society today, this quest cannot be limited to a set of scholarly or academic processes, evaluations and considerations. Dance is not just an ideal or a thought; it is a practice, a reality, the handling of a set of very pragmatic parameters and always the result of deeply sophisticated, specialised collaborations. The voices, lives, needs and respect of all of its protagonists must be acknowledged as the central part of its identity, success and future.
You plan to undertake dozens of interviews. Could you talk about the process of strategizing whom you will interview?
The research could become an overwhelming, indefinite process, therefore I have only selected people whose practice has a direct impact on what is being created and to the performer. I took a mental walk through a theatre, an institution, and systematically listed everyone I may encounter in every corridor, behind every door. I then broadened the spectrum to smaller structures and practitioners who work independently, not as part of a large organisation. I have endeavoured to be as systematic as possible.
Have you encountered any unforeseen challenges or surprises during your CBA Fellowship?
This project was initially intended as a platform for the voices of others. Surprisingly, with this research and the feedback from CBA Staff and Fellows after the seminar presentation, it became clear the project has to also include my own voice and perspective. It is challenging because I am a practitioner in the performing arts, not a scholar or an academic, but it is consistent with the very premise of the project itself.