Xavier Le Roy

Xavier Le Roy discusses his “Retrospective” at MoMA PS1

View of “Xavier Le Roy: Retrospective,” 2014.

Xavier Le Roy has worked as a choreographer and dancer since 1991, and he is well known for pieces that highlight audience-performer relationships. In his debut US survey exhibition, on view at MoMA PS1 as part of the French Institute Alliance Française's Crossing the Line festival, dancers perform excerpts from works Le Roy made between 1994 and 2010, all of which address the complicated negotiations performers engage in as both subjects and objects. The show is on view through December 1, 2014.

LAURENCE RASSEL, from the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, commissioned “Retrospective” in 2012. It was the first time a curator had proposed that I exhibit my work in a museum. Although I see the exhibition as a new work, I chose the genre of the retrospective because of its specificity to museums, and I also liked that an exhibition could hold the pieces in one space at the same time, producing new meanings. So, instead of presenting eight consecutive solos every night, the performers in this show choose excerpts from my solo works to perform while also telling stories from their pasts. The rule is basically that they use excerpts of my work and I have suggested that they choose to speak about something meaningful, for instance a memory that the work evokes. Not only do the dance excerpts vary according to the wishes of each dancer, but they also change in each country where the work is performed. The culture influences the work. You hear in their stories a combination of factors specific to that location and its politic—for example, in Singapore there are tales of censorship and how being an artist there is considered a hobby, not work.

The show addresses the notion of “looking backward” in that each experience in the present is also a condensation of the past. The performers are doing what we call “an individual retrospective of my work in and through their lives,” and the point is not that they say something about themselves but that they use this moment to say something as artists. This format is based on a 1999 piece, Product of Circumstances, which marked the first time I used this structure of dancing and speech. It’s always one and then the other: the gesture and the speech. It can be a comment, it can be complementing. Sometimes the movement can produce the end of a sentence. There are many ways to combine these juxtaposing things. The work also tries to do something other than just taking a dance and performing it endlessly—“museographing” is not interesting to me.

“Retrospective” pushed me to think about what I can do in exhibition spaces that I cannot do in a theater. In a gallery, people can stay as long as they like and they can leave whenever they like, but in the theater they make an appointment and perhaps feel they must stay—the duration is decided for them. I am interested in how behaviors change in these two spaces: What does each allow for or prohibit? With this show, I knew I wasn’t going to start doing painting or video—I would continue to work with performers. This brought up the question: How can you work with dancers for a long duration without transforming them into objects? Where is the agency of the performer for this, and where is the agency of the viewer?

There is a constant tension that you have as a performer about being objectified. In the field of contemporary dance and choreography, it comes up often in stories about how much you are used by the person who authors the work. It’s a contract, but the contract is often full of questions and uncertainties. During the exhibition we try to approach, unfold, and transform that problem and make these negotiations visible.