French-born, Gilles Chuyen, had an artistic bent since an early age. From Modern Jazz to Ballet, to learning Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi, he explored many dance styles before moving to India in mid-90s. He got posted in Delhi for a job in the cultural section of the French Embassy and has since made this HIS home.
He spoke to The Dance Bible about the Bollywood-style shows, his own creative company In Step and passion for India.
From folk dancing to Southern French music, to learning modern jazz and ballet, to teaching Bollywood – tell us about this transitional dance journey.
My Mother told me that I knew how to dance before knowing how to walk. I have always danced. Since the beginning, it has been a Sacred Garden where the shy boy could express his inner complexities. I was comfortable dancing alone, locked in the privacy of my bedroom but not really looking forward being part of a group class. And then a teacher came to school and I started Provence folk dance quite naturally. Then later moved into Modern Jazz and Ballet. Contemporary came much later in my mid-twenties as an urge to define a personal style.
Dance for me has never been about steps. So, Bollywood came into my life as part of a mission to spread joy all over the world.
What drew you towards India, especially, Bollywood?
My first connection to India has been intellectual, looking for answers to my questions about choice and destiny. Hearing about the Upanishads and studying their philosophy in France is a major milestone on my life journey.
I am a seeker.
Knowledge has always been one of my main motivations. India is a labyrinth of information. I know that I don't know and each time I open a door, I realise that there are 10 new doors to be explored.
So I came to India for higher studies and to complete a Ph.D on contemporary Brahmin identity. I had started studying Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi in France and joined Chhau Mayurbhanj classes, when I reached Delhi.
Bollywood entered my life as a challenge: I was offered a choreographic project in Scotland with Bollywood style and I felt fear and doubt: "Oh, I don't know anything about this style. How will I manage?" And because of the challenge, I said "yes”, and research started.
Please tell us your choreography process. How important is music, props, setting, and other visuals in a choreography apart from movement?
There are no recipes. Every project is unique. I first sit for meditation and guidance comes to me. It starts with an energy potential which can be expressed through a particular music, specific costumes and props. The intent is to be faithful to the vibration of the initial vision.
You have done a Ph.D. on caste system in India and have exhibited a unique interest in political anthropology. Do such themes reflect in your choreography?
More than the choreography, it reflects in my creative process. Research is the first step for any of my project. I read and write a lot before entering the dance studio.
My involvement with Bollywood choreography is threefold: teaching in private or public workshops, traveling with shows rehearsed in Delhi and creating performances with local artists of a particular country.
So, for the shows created in Delhi, we present the same content wherever we go, maybe just changing a few lines for the actors to make it more relevant to that particular society.
But for workshops and locally developed shows, I do think of specific ingredients, starting with some research on the popular films and songs in that county. In Egypt, I used many songs with an Arabic flavour; in South Africa and Zimbabwe, I incorporated many Salsa steps as Salsa combines Latin and African influences.
But wherever I go, be it on the beaches of Tel Aviv or in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Bollywood dancing is always welcomed with open arms, as a splash of colour and togetherness.
You’ve travelled the world extensively, teaching Bollywood choreography. (most recently in Singapore where you presented a flash mob). How does the world receive Bollywood dancing? Do you change your choreography to include the culture of the part of the world you are in?
Theatre is also a huge part of what you do. Do tells us about that?
I am a Guest Faculty at the National School of Drama. I have done a lot of research on the physicality of emotions. I Choreographed more than 40 plays and musicals. I also direct plays and musicals, write scripts and act.
Theatre and Dance are like brother and sister. I train my dancers as actors, opening them to receive and express "characters" who could be just a colour. I guide actors to start with the body, before going into voice or any intellectual connections.
How did your company ‘In Step’ come into being? What motivated you to start that?
Since 2000, I had this desire to have my own Dance Company. Maybe the first intent was too shallow, something like "creating beautiful shows for beautiful people in beautiful venues". So, it took time for me to first embrace my true self and mission before In Step could be born. My spiritual Guru, Gurudev told me " we were waiting for you to drop the desire of 'I want MY Company'". So, In Step was born on 17th November 2007. It is first of all an intent to connect to dance as a language of energy. The movement material comes from energy work and creative visualisation.
In Step's vision is to create platforms for performers and audiences to reflect on their journey as Human beings, is to remind ourselves that dance is first a Human language before going into styles and forms, cultures and differences.
Dance speaks the language of the Soul.
Dance is an act of Oneness.
What are the major challenges you face as a performer and choreographer? One thing that you would change about the Indian Dance Industry.
Challenges for me start inside and do reflect outside if not addressed. I have worked a lot on self-acceptance and SELF love, so I have received a lot of acceptance and love outside. I don't feel part of an industry at all. I am an artist and am grateful for any project I step into.
Any projects you are working on? What is your vision for the future?
On the 17th November 2017, I am celebrating the 10 years of In Step. For this occasion, I am presenting "Self-Ritual" at the Baha'i house of Worship (Lotus Temple) auditorium.
"Self-Ritual" is a piece for 5 dancers talking about the journey from multiplicity to Oneness: multiplicity of religious practices to Oneness of being, finding our own true voice, through the many, thanks to the guidance of our Gurus.
In times of rising of the Divine Feminine, "Self-Ritual" is also a healing of Masculine energy, from control to let go. It coincides with the 200th anniversary celebrations of Baha'u'llah's birth, the founder of the Baha'i faith.
"Self Ritual" by In Step
Baha'i house of Worship (Lotus Temple) auditorium
17th November 2017
The performance will be followed by a special prayer inside the Temple.
Any words of encouragement for the many aspiring dancers in India?
Follow your inner voice.
Have faith and patience.
Be grateful for what you have and are.
This dancers, is the best advice, for dance as well as for life. Thank you Gilles for taking out the time and speaking to The Dance Bible about things closest to your heart.