Guest Teacher Talk: An Interview with Nadejda Loujine

“Music is not just notes. Dance is not simply steps. Poetry is not simply words,” says Nadejda Loujine thoughtfully as she sits across from us speaking in French, “I will give you an example. If poetry is by definition words, then,” she lifts her hands as if holding up a large book, “Does a dictionary qualify as poetry?” We all know the answer. It is a resounding “no.” So, she continues, dance cannot simply be steps. She goes on to say it is what is “between the steps” that qualifies the whole as dance.

Nadejda Loujine is a choreographer for the Theatre du Soleil and the Barcelona Opera, a former instructor at the Paris National Opera Ballet School, and has been recognized as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, a high honor awarded by the French Ministry of Culture for distinguished achievement in the arts. For two weeks in February, she joined us at GKA from Paris, France as a guest character teacher. In an interview with her before she returned home, we explored the importance of character dance and asked her what she believes it means to be a dancer.

GKA: Why did you choose to study character dance?

 NL: I did not choose character dance. Character dance chose me. Though I love classical ballet, I also love the theatre. It is important to remember that a dancer is an actor before all. Character dance is in my mind and body, and I felt that character dance was a very good way to share something with an audience. Since character is an interpretation of folk dancing, what I can create as an artist in this medium can in part be of my personality while also of the personality of the people that each style comes from. This is why I chose this path.

Nadejda Loujine, third from right, speaks with GKA students.

GKA: What are some of the hallmarks of character dance?

NL: All movement is charged by emotional, philosophical, physiological, and ethnological energy. And in character dance, movement is also practical. You might place your fingertips at the base of the skull for artistic reasons and also because you would be aware of not displacing your hat or hairdo.

Character dance also teaches important details in how we move. For instance, when we think about the hands, each finger represents something. The thumb protects, the first finger indicates, the third finger balances, the fourth ties people together/relates, and the fifth (which is aligned with the heart) represents intuition.

GKA: How can the study of character dance educate and inform students of classical ballet?

 NL: Character dance helps students gain an understanding of space and how to move through space. It also is very musical and can help develop a great sensitivity to music. In group dances, it promotes the need to move as a group (as you must in the corps de ballet) and yet retain a sense of individuality. This is important because you can see that in ballet, students sometimes become “stuck” in an overemphasized sense of impersonalized movement, especially in the use of movements of the head.

GKA: You have mentioned in your interview “A Conversation with Nadejda Loujine” with Katharine Kantar that, “recognizing one’s own roots is a way of knowing a little better just where we’re going.” Can you tell us a bit more about this? Also, do you feel it is important to travel in order to study character dance in each place of origin?

NL: Dance is a universal language. In studying with a teacher you are connecting to the roots of where that teacher has been and what she has seen, and through her you connect to her own teacher and on and on back in time. Character dance comes from folklore, but it is interpreted through an artist’s personality. I feel that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that from the moment we step onto the stage we must have a purpose for being there. After all, why do we choose to dance on a stage? Sometimes now in classical dance we see dancers lifting their legs very high—“Oh, my leg is so high!”—but so what? I would rather see a lower leg, a smaller grande jete as long as it is done with meaning. We must always ask the question “Why?”

As to whether we must travel to study, each dancer is unique, so it depends on the person, but the imagination is the most important thing. See, here in my hand I hold a lemon. Do you see it? (She pantomimes holding a lemon.) Yes, that’s right, it’s in my hand. Now, taste the lemon. Do you taste it? Through the imagination anything is possible. Through imagination and work with teachers who have been there, we can go anywhere. And, the way you actively use your imagination changes the way you look as a dancer; it makes a visible difference.

GKA students rehearse a Greek line dance with Nadejda Loujine.

GKA: Also in “A Conversation” you mention that you seek to develop in your students “an open mind, an inner mobility that will allow them to progress technically, intellectually, and perhaps even as human beings.” Will you reflect on this a little more?

NL: Every person and dancer must think, “Why am I here?” Though it is difficult to become a good dancer, it is even more difficult to become a good person. I believe there are two things that will help the world: arts and culture. Dance can be a tool for people to learn, expand, and develop discipline and determination. Yes, to become professional you must have the combination of talent, a high-level of technique, as well as artistry but that doesn’t mean that only the talented ones should learn dance. All people should because we all are capable of connecting to the reason we should dance. Ultimately, it is our mission as human beings, and dancers, to give joy and happiness to the world.

Later this month, GKA student Nicole Federov will have the opportunity to travel to Paris, France to further her character dance studies with Nadejda Loujine. Additionally, one of Loujine’s pieces of choreography, “Ukrainian Dance,” will be performed in the GKA Spring Performance on June 2nd. (For more information about tickets, please follow this link: http://gelsey-kirkland-academy.ticketleap.com/spring-performance/)

Special thanks to Adriana Medeira, student of the Joffrey Classical Program, for acting as an interpreter.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Guest Teacher Talk: An Interview with Nadejda Loujine”
  1. 4dancers says:

    I always loved both the energy and nuance of character dance. It was demanding in a totally different way than ballet, and I loved the challenge of it! This was a very enlightening post–my instructor spoke Russian (no English) and it is so interesting to have this interpretation of Nadejda Loujine’s thoughts on character dance.Very insightful–thanks for sharing it!

  2. love2dance says:

    I’ve had the privilege and joy of taking Nadejda Loujine’s character dance workshops for several years now, and each new class provides a host of new discoveries – it’s like walking into Ali Baba’s cavern! This interview reflects her convictions regarding character dance, her boundless knowledge of the topic, and the importance of dance not only for dancers but for all human beings: a better understanding of oneself so as to better open up to others. What a gift! Thanks to GKA for posting this!

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