For La Traversee: The Promising Voyage, his 90–minute dance suite about immigrants coming to America in the early 20th century, Vincent Brosseau needed only look to his own not–too–distant past for inspiration.
The SCAD professor of dance moved to this country from his native France in 1980. “I didn’t speak the language when I came here,” he says. “So the means of communication is almost nil – but you still have to communicate.”
Communication, of course, was only part of the upheaval facing early immigrants – disease, crime and brutal class discrimination were part of the package for Europeans making the arduous – and frightening – journey across the Atlantic.
All of which Brosseau has worked into La Traversee, a multi–media production combining original choreography, still and moving archival pictures, original films made at SCAD (blended seamlessly into the vintage material), lights, music and more.
Brosseau, who was hired by SCAD in 2006, came to the United States to dance with the Joffrey Ballet; in 1986, he earned a BFA in Dance from Juilliard, then went to Ohio State University where he got a Masters in Choreography.
He conceived La Traversee – at least, the outline of the piece – while he was teaching in California in the early ‘90s.
At SCAD, he finally found all the tools necessary for completing it.
We spoke with Brosseau about the show’s promising voyage.
I imagine your own journey to America in 1980 wasn’t quite as difficult as those that made the crossing a hundred years ago ...
Vincent Brosseau: That was not my experience. My experience was much softer and gentler than theirs. But when one has experienced this emotion of leaving one’s place of birth, and being immersed in a new culture ... Those are the kind of things that intrigued me. And I could empathize as I was doing research. I tell the students “You might not realize that when you’re all together, you might not be speaking the same language.”
Movement is a great way to communicate. Because that’s what you do! When you need something, you point. Or you make some sort of crazy, silly sign – you demonstrate through a drawing in the air in space that that’s what you need.
Your English is very good. How long did it take for you to feel comfortable speaking the language?
Vincent Brosseau: When you come from another country and you speak your native language, what you do, if you know a little bit of the new language, is you translate from your native language to the new one. At first, you translate a couple of words so you know what people are talking about.
And then, as you go through, suddenly you’re able to say them as well. But you start to understand a lot more. Your understanding is much more predominant than your ability to speak, simply because when you listen to something, there’s the body language. And the situation gives you a lot of clues about what those people are talking about.
Speaking is a bit more internal, because it comes from your brain to your mouth.
Then you start to speak these idiosyncratic sentences very fluently. You start to get more vocabulary. Your comprehension is very good. And then suddenly you’re not even thinking about some of the stuff you’re saying.
Then you start dreaming partly in your native language, and partly in your new language. And that’s the tricky part!
When you’ve made the switch is when your dream sequences are totally in the new language. And now, when I talk to my family in France, I have to translate from English to French. It’s the same process reversed.
As a dance instructor, is it nice to have the technological avenues at SCAD open to you?
Vincent Brosseau: When I came here five years ago, they asked me “If we were to do a dance program here, what do you think it should be?” And I said it should be technology, it should be all the mixed media that we can. Because that’s the way of the future for live performances.
Not just live performances. It’s just the way we deal with media now – all the platforms we have like Facebook and YouTube and whatnot. That’s how we communicate now.
And it’s a great tool for artists to be able to digitalize their artwork, and be able to distribute it worldwide. You couldn’t do that 20 years ago.
Is the movement in La Traversee more classically ballet–driven, or more modern?
Vincent Brosseau: I come from the ballet world, that was my training, but then I moved to the modern world. But as the creator, I’m using anything that is going to serve the purpose of the theme. The theme is about that experience those people went through, and some of the movement is folksy – it was 1905, 1910. It is folksy but it’s very well composed and choreographed. It gives you that sense of “normal folks.”
But then there are different characters throughout. And between all those characters on the boat, there is an intertwined story. All of these people, you see their personal stories throughout the show. It’s quite elaborate.
La Traversee: The Promising Voyage
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. Feb. 10–12, 3 p.m. Feb. 13
Tickets: $10 public; $5 students, seniors and military. Free with valid SCAD I.D. Feb. 10 performance only.
Phone: (912) 525–5050
It is free and open to the public.
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Photo credits: Terri Morgan Hsu