(LA)HORDE — Playmates

Giulia Frigieri
Francesca Cavalcanti
Words by:
Alexander Perepelkin

Founded in 2013, (LA)HORDE is a collective of three artists: Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer and Arthur Harel. Together, they study our world, building creative collaborations across dance, film, music, visual art and technology, thinking through, and with the body. As the head of Ballet National de Marseille since 2019, (LA)HORDE leads extensive dance projects, artist development initiatives and works with global fashion brands and pop icons, continually redefining dance and pushing boundaries of performative art.

Alexander Perepelkin: My first question: Are you excited right now to get back to a full work schedule after Covid?
(LA)HORDE: Yes. But actually, we were in an institution and we kept on pretending that we would be re- opening every week, so we were in the reopening process for a month. In the end, it was actually a very ac- tive period for us, because we were working a lot, but it wasn’t efficient because we were doing the same thing the whole time. We were busy, but we were “useless” busy. And then, of course, we [eventually] went back to a full schedule. We had a tendency to be “yes” people – people who would say ‘yes yes yes’ to everything. But there’s a lim- it. For example, in ballet we can’t have more than 70 performances per year because of the schedules of the dancers, the time we need to rehearse, the touring. I think that we’re not rid of the anxiety yet. We’re kind of excited – going and doing stuff. But it’s OK, it’s a good energy, we just have to be careful not to get too tired, but otherwise it’s good.
AP: It was a very scary time, but one good thing that came out of it is that everyone went digital: I got access to so many things that I probably could never have seen.
I think that dance has been able to show that it was present for its audience and I also think that because of the confinement, we’ve never been so confronted by our own limited spaces and bodies, with bodies that haven’t been able to get out into the world and walk and meet and dance in clubs and all these things. I think that it’s made a big statement and people were really thriving through dance. Also, we’ve met a lot of young people who were saying that during Covid they found shelter on TikTok, they could dance together. It was just a way to connect in a more playful and lighter dimension. It was a very beautiful moment in the history of dance and movement.

Sportmax top & skirt

Left: 8IGB tank top, Carhartt WIP polo, Dolce & Gabbana jeans,
Louis Vuitton shoes, stylist’s own boxer & gloves
Right: Martine Rose top & jeans,
Huma Eyewear sunglasses, stylist’s own hat & gloves

AP: How did you develop this interest in combining video and dance, because lots of people and choreographers who I’ve talked to usually say ‘No, we need an audience, we need a direct connection with the dancers’, and so on.
LH: We are a collective of three. We come with different perspectives on dance, movement, and art in general. Together, we realised that the core of our practice was the body and what the body has to say. Essentially, our subject was dance. But around dance we can develop so many things with our video performances, our installations, our stage shows, our choreographic shows. I think that, for us, the me- dium was never secondary. It was always the medium that gave us the shape of what we were creating and writing. Sometimes there are projects, for example To Da Bone, where we actually started with a film, then we created a performance that we also filmed and we reintegrated it into the movie that we had shot months before in the same location. Then we created a 10 minute performance that we presented at the Théâtre de la Ville, and then we extended this 10 minute performance into a one hour show. And now we put on performances of that show that are staged in museums. For me, there is no artwork that is better or more central than another. We just had multiple angles of vision on it. It’s like with an author – if you read one book you get just one book, if you read all their books then you get a better understanding of what it’s all about.
AP: Or if you like a particular book, let’s say Anna Karenina, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to go to the movie. It would give you a completely different impression, as would a ballet.
LH: I think that you’re right that it’s also a generational issue, because we don’t need to put a scale on which art form is better than another. We know that they coexist, so in the end I’ll never say that the show is better than the video or that a video is better than a photo or whatever. They’re just different.

Top: Sportmax top & skirt
Bottom: Marco Ribeiro top & leggings

8IGB tank top, Carhartt WIP polo,
Dolce & Gabbana jeans, stylist’s own boxer & gloves

AP: Where does it all begin? How did you all meet and how do you carry on working together so efficiently? You produce so many works that I assume that this is really working.
LH: Jonathan and I met at the com- petition to get into the school. It was just a huge friendship, we were in the same class, we were roommates, he was kind of like my twin brother. Then we got back together in Paris, where we met Arthur. We were within the queer community and I think that is where we developed the first statements on a relationship to the body image and the political body – an understanding that when we express ourselves or question whether it’s our gender, our shape, our political aspects, this is a very big vessel for history, for concepts and for politics. So, we were all dancing together and, in the beginning, that’s what we called the “sentimental capital.” When you are a young artist you don’t know the resources at yourdisposal, how to get funding, you just help your friends a lot. Everybody becomes everybody’s assistant. The three of us were helping each otherthroughout every project. After two years of really working together, we decided that we’d better build something. So we created (LA) HORDE. We never had a fantasy about what the collective was. It was already a collective, and then we named it afterwards. We didn’t know it at the time, but creating (LA)HORDE was a very smart move. When you create in your own name, you have boundaries built in be- cause it’s something that is linked to your persona: sometimes you will have your family’s perspective on what you are doing, that of your friends, the community and so on. But nobody knew who was inside (LA)HORDE. That gave us the freedom to be far more rebel- lious, to do all the things that we really wanted.

MM6 Maison Margiela top & sleeves, UND skirt, Isa Boulder shorts,
Justine Clenquett hairclips, Roussey necklace

From left to right:
Izzacc is wearing 8IGB tank top, Carhartt WIP polo, stylist’s own boxer & gloves, Dolce & Gabbana jeans, Louis Vuitton shoes
Alida is wearing Balenciaga hoodie & shorts, Moon Boot shoes
Nonoka is wearing Balenciaga hoodie & shorts, Moon Boot shoes
Eddy is wearing stylist’s own hat & gloves, Huma Eyewear sunglasses, Martine Rose top & jeans, Marsell Shoes

Coach jacket, Cormio T-shirt & skirt, Marco Rambaldi socks,
Marsell shoes, stylist’s own gloves, Roussey earrings

AP: How did it come about that, instead of being an independent collective, you are now at the helm of Ballet National de Marseille?
Honestly, we didn’t think that we would get it. We thought, ‘OK, maybe this is the moment for us to write a manifesto about what dance is and can be today, and we know that we’re going to be read by the state, the region, the city, people who are going to be influential in dance’, so we thought, ‘This is just a moment where we can be heard’. We also thought that this was a time to create a checkpoint for ourselves so that we would know how we were positioning ourselves as artists. So, first we just wrote the manifesto and then we got select- ed to go into the second round. There, it was really about building the whole project, saying what we would do with the budget for four years in a row, what our plans were, how we wanted to structure it and so on, so we got more into the practical aspect of it all. Also, in the end, I think that it was a bold choice on their part because putting some sort of three-headed monster at the head of that kind of institution can be very scary, because it could be confusing as to who is in charge. But we’re just a kind of board of directors and we take decisions together. We speak to the team together. In the end, I think it has also been kind of less hierarchical.
AP: How do you find a narrative for your dance pieces and the performances?
For us, art is a collective conversation and, as artists, if we were born 40 years ago or if we were born in 100 years’ time, we would create an answer within that world. I believe that, for us, the answer today is to talk about the questions that we are facing. I know also that, in talking to Lucinda Childs, for example, I got a better understanding of the importance of abstract dance. Previously, I didn’t fully understand the power of poetry. Now I understand and accept abstraction as something that is actually very strong politically. I remember Lucinda telling us, “If I wanted to be a preacher I would have been a preacher, I decided to be a poet and I decided to use abstraction and to talk about the body and the rhythm and the light and the space.” That gave me my best lesson of the last few years, because it opened a new reality for me with regard to what dance is about. Understanding the way in which the world is now no longer binary is also important in terms of politics. I remember this speech by Obama who was saying that the world used to be a much easier place in terms of politics because there were axes of good and evil and a line could be drawn and you could stand on either side of it. Now, with the circulation of information, you always have second guesses and an understanding of the dynamics. It becomes so much more difficult as we are so much more conscious than ever before. With the pile of paradigms that we all live in, we re- ally are living in a multiverse, where different visions are happening at the same time. This is what we’re going to be talking about in our new show, in a way. The multiverse, not as a tech vision, but as a compilation of alternative realities that is within our realm. 

ERL jacket, T-shirt & skirt, stylist’s own hat

Left: Louis Vuitton jacket & skirt, Justine Clenquet earrings
Right: MSGM top, 8IGB trousers, Panconesi earrings

Left: Louis Vuitton jacket & skirt, Justine Clenquet earrings
Right: MSGM top, 8IGB trousers, Panconesi earrings

AP: I like a trend noted in the New York Times, according to which we really began to live in a world of “supersized lies” this year. You can create a whole world that is entirely based on a lie, on a falsehood.
LH: I’m writing this down because I love this idea of “supersized lies”. 
AP: Do you explain yourselves to the audience or do you prefer that the audience projects its own interpretation onto your story?
LH: It’s a very fine line – we try to present violence without promoting violence. Sometimes people will criticise you for producing or platforming it – why why why? We just say that yes, this is what we wanted to talk about. What is violence against women? What is rape? What are the dynamics of love, hate or war? How do we build something? We create narratives that mysterious and we don’t use language as well, so it leaves the interpretation to the audience. One of my favourite things to do is to have a talk after the show where people can ask us questions. We reopen spaces where nothing is underlined and nothing is subtitled in order for people to see what they need to see. It creates a chemistry and a moment where we try to understand a narrative that isn’t linear and lets us process intellectualise.
AP: You must have heard about these climate change actions when guys glued themselves to walls or put tomato soups on display. From your perspective, is that their right because they’re trying to attract attention in an unexpected place and they’ll definitely be seen? Or, is it simply the wrong place and we need some sanctuaries because these are churches for creative people and we mustn’t touch them?
LH: I think it’s silly that people are so angry about it. Most people don’t even go to see these artworks, so why do they care so much? There is something about conservatism that goes “Aaaah!!! You can’t do that!!!” but they don’t even question why you can’t do that. It reminds me of a story that shocked me when I just got out of school. There was this woman, a tourist, who kissed a Cy Twombly artwork with red lipstick and it created a tremendous scandal. I thought ‘What the fuck?’ These protestors, CIS-heterosexual men, are getting angry at a woman for kissing a painting by a millionaire painter who has been making similar paintings for decades. It’s the same people who would be totally fine with anyone forcing a kiss on a woman. It made me realise that art can work like that too, showing the hypocrisy of our times. 

Left: Martine Rose top & jeans, Marsell shoes,
Huma Eyewear sunglasses, stylist’s own hat & gloves
Right: 8IGB tank top, Carhartt WIP polo, Dolce & Gabbana jeans,
Louis Vuitton shoes, stylist’s own boxer & gloves

Left: Haider Ackermann x FILA top & shorts, Panconesi earring
Right: MM6 Maison Margiela top & sleeves, UND skirt, Isa Boulder shorts,
Justine Clenquett hairclips, Roussey necklace 

AP: Public opinion on fine art is overall conservative, as we agree, but we can say the same about ballet? Do you personally think that ballet is an outdated art form?
LH: I think that ballet is a word and it depends on what you put into that word. For example, we don’t view it as just a historical term. When we arrived, the people from the cultural ministry asked if we wanted to get rid of the word ‘ballet’, but we said, ‘No, actually. Let’s broaden the vision of what a ballet can actually do” because we can reuse this word to change it from within. I love that we are a ballet company and have bodies that are from 20 to 47 years old. We would have to be a million people in order to represent the world, but this is a good start to demonstrate inclusivity and diversity. 
AP: But classically trained ballet dancers—do you like to work with them? Do you try and have them as your dancers? Or do you try and avoid this school?
LH: Again, it’s a combination of many things. We wouldn’t reject someone because they come from that background. 
AP: But you’re also not seeking people who have classical ballet background?
LH: We have a lot of people from the Netherlands, from the Young Ballet of Geneva, from the Royal Ballet of Sydney and from Batsheva in Israel. It’s open in terms of practice, but ballet is still present in our morning classes. We can’t replace it. It’s just one of the techniques that provide dancers with great tools. 

Antoine, Isaiah & Yoshiko are wearing Marco Ribeiro tops & leggings
Myrto is wearing Sportmax top & skirt

Left: Lulli International gilet, Carhartt WIP overalls & polo, Magliano shoes
Right: Coach dress, Haider Ackermann x FILA bodysuit, Marsell shoes

AP: Isn’t it too complicated to let dancers reproduce a work as personal as yours, with all the subjectivity that dance implies? Aren’t you sometimes afraid that the emotions will differ too much from those you originally expressed?
LH: This is what living art is about. For example, someone making a movie—first, you envision it. The next step is writing the scrip, then the movie is shot. Even if you come right from the first idea, the difference between what you had in mind originally and what is produced at the end is just a journey where you accepted the accidents or the new discoveries. The same way—to see a role taken from one actor to another is to see a celebration of that evolution. That is beautiful bringing new meaning. With an Israeli dancer, he brought something very “gaga” to it. There was a moment in the show where he was topless and getting crazy. When Eddy, a British guy, took over, at first he struggled because he tried to imitate the original, and I said  “No no no! Come with your own vision of what the craziness and tension you can bring is.” In the end, he created something that was similar to the original but still very different because, culturally, he came up with his own story, and I loved it so much.
AP:  Let’s talk about fashion. Why are fashion and ballet are so close to each other? You recently did great work for Burberry.
LH: I think it’s historical. When we arrived at the ballet [National Ballet of Marseille] we discovered all the archives of the costumes that were designed for the founder, Roland Petit, in the 90s. He collaborated with designers a lot. 
AP: I love his Notre Dame de Paris where Yves Saint-Laurent was a costume designer.
LH: Exactly! So we have costumes that were designed by Gianni Versace & Saint-Laurent themselves. Roland Petit and they were all friends, so who better to dress the dancers than actual fashion designers? So, historically collaboration has always been there. Maybe, there was a period of time when lost that connection, but if you take the iconic looks of Madonna, who was a former dancer of Martha Graham, her costumes are from Gautier.

Marco Ribeiro dress, Maison Laponte body

Marco Ribeiro dress, MM6 Maison Margiela shoes

AP: I really like the whole circle with Martha Graham because she was into dance and quite recently Anthony Vaccarello showed a collection completely inspired by Martha Graham’s ‘Lamentation’.
LH: Exactly! Dance is trendy again and it makes me happy to see that it’s welcomed everywhere. Though I still struggle with the ‘event’ side of it. We’ve refused a lot of proposals where we would be there to provide entertainment – I said ‘no, this is not what our bodies are about. We’re not there to provide visuals while you’re drinking champagne. It’s too 19th century, we’re not doing this anymore.’  However, when we can fully express ourselves, like in the Burberry ads or when we perform on stage – that’s totally okay for me. It’s a kind of work that makes sure we don’t just stay in a little enclosed space. Allowing us to reach people.
AP: As we talk about culture, tell me, please, about Sam Smith. Was it fun? Was it crazy?
LH: Sam Smith is a very sentimental encounter for me. We met three years ago—they actually came to see our show because they wanted to work with us. Then, it got cancelled. They had been non-binary for a decade already. This was something that was deep down in their identity for a very long time, but we are at the moment of true transformation in terms of making their narrative synchronise with what they feel on the inside. Because their songs are traditionally used for weddings or for marriage proposals – I think they felt somewhat pressured by the music industry. It’s been so amazing to accompany them in their journey and to create fun and craziness. When they asked us to work together for the video “I’m not here to make friends”, I thought “This is where Sam is taking us, into something so silly that we are actually very seriously choreographing!” We take it very seriously, but we are also twisting the code to a level of meta-humour and fun. At times we were like “Sam, what are you making us do? For real?” And they replied “Oh my god, you’re chickens! Just go for it!”. I was blushing because I was just shocked that we were doing this stuff that was so silly. In the end, though, I think that it’s good that they took us out of our comfort zone. They pushed us to break boundaries that we would have never have thought of crossing.

ERL jacket, T-shirt & skirt, stylist’s own hat

Haider Ackermann x FILA top & shorts, Panconesi earring

Coach jacket, Cormio T-shirt, Roussey earrings

Act No1 shirt, Vivetta skirt, L2ar8u1icci shorts, Nathan’s own socks,
Marsell shoes, Justine Clenquet necklace

AP:  It was great to see their triumph at the Grammies, which also freaked everyone out because it was again about Satan.
LH: It’s funny, because it’s the first time I’m on the other side of the conspiracy theory. We’ve been sent videos of people revealing all the Illuminati signs that were used and I just laugh because there’s one bit where Sam is playing the presenter of a show and people were saying “Oh my God, Sam is making a sign of the triple 6, the sign of Satan.” People are nuts!
AP: Satanic panic is from the 1980s, we already had it and now it’s back with the most beautiful, funny and heartfelt artist.
LH: I think, honestly, that this is deeply rooted in homophobia and transphobia. I do remember that when we were in New York walking in the park with their sister, Sam was very shaken because a group of people started saying “Pedophile! Groomer!” I asked myself, what is the link between all of this? What has being gay got to do with pedophilia?
AP: I have just one last question – do you often go to see dance performances or ballets? Do you have any favourite colleagues or choreographers who you love?
LH: We tour so much and we are always on the go, so it’s very hard for us to know where we’ll be or get tickets anywhere. We manage to go to as much as we can and I especially love festivals, because we get to see everything that’s around and, of course, I crave being in the audience and seeing what my cultural collaborators are doing. To stay relevant, you have to remain part of the conversation, so I need to know what’s happening and what people are working on. It’s not about having the latest idea – there are no new ideas. It’s about being part of the same conversation but not saying the same thing at the same time, so, yes – I love watching shows. Old school stuff as well, we’re always happy to see a Pina Bausch piece, we are in love with Romeo Castellucci. It’s a tremendous pleasure to be in a theatre and not to be working. 
Photographer: Giulia Frigieri
Stylist: Francesca Cavalcanti
Dancers of the Ballet National de Marseille: Nathan Gombert, Sarah Abicht, Jonatan Myhre Jorgensen, Izzac Carroll, Eddie Hookham, Nina-Laura Auerbach, Alida Bergakker, Nonoka Kato, Antoine Vander Linden, Myrto Georgiadi, Isaia Badaoui, Yoshiko Kinoshita, Amy Lim, Paula Tato Horcajo, Joao Castro, Nahimana Vandenbussche, Aya Sato, Titouan Crozier & Elena Valls Garcia
Makeup: Charlie Cecillon
Hair: Lea Marin
Production: Delphine Landes
Line Producer: Cyril Solinas
Photographer’s assistant: Moheli Amidioliva
Stylist’s assistant: Noemi Baris
Makeup assistant: Carla Flammia
Special thanks: Timothee Magot