Festival Artist Feature: Tentacle Tribe’s Emmanuelle Lê Phan

Montréal’s Tentacle Tribe will be performing on Saturday, June 1, 2024 at 8 PM at River Run Centre. Emmanuelle Lê Phan is the Artistic Director of Tentacle Tribe, along with Elon Höglund who are also the choreographers and will be performing in the critically acclaimed dance work Ghost. Emmanuelle shares with us the inspirations and evolution of the company’s second ensemble work.

What motivated you to make the work you will be sharing at the Guelph Dance Festival?

Emmanuelle: Elon and I started of making duet work in 2013.  This piece is our second group work and we’ve come a long way since our first rehearsals together in 2016.  Expanding the company was a big step for us, and we are so proud of the work these beasts have put in.  For this sextet, our research in floorwork, illusionary styles, partnering and breathing techniques has been fine-tuned.  As an ensemble work, our six bodies developed a deep connection to one another, a connection rich in trust and reliance. 

Through the simple concept of breath, we wanted to continue evolving in our choreographic aesthetic and bring to life this intricate journey into spirit, sound and movement.  

For most of us, breathing, although meaningful, is an automatic action, of which we are almost unaware. We can go several days without eating or drinking, but if we stopped breathing for a few minutes, then we would die. However, several ancient teachings teach us the importance of controlling our breath. In some Yoga practices, it is even said that over the course of a human life, there is an exact quantity of breaths. For various cultures, the word breath means soul, spirit, or life, which is where the idea of ghost, or specter, comes from. The piece is titled “Ghost”, not for this bizarre creation of the imagination but rather for the spirit living within us, our breath of life.

As dancers, we quickly realize the importance of controlling our breathing to conserve energy and release tension. We use breath and sound to better inhabit movement and create a conscious connection between movement and breathing. But to what extent do we really use it? How far can we push it? By the way, do you know the “Iceman” Wim Hof? The reckless Dutchman can endure extremely cold temperatures thanks to his breathing technique similar to the Tibetan Tummo. There are also these free divers who hold their breath for incredible periods of time. We want to take this concept to another level by exploring different breathing techniques, such as those of Kundalini yoga and Wim Hof. We investigate the relationship between our gestures, our dance, our trance and the breath that nourishes us. How does it inform our movements and the quality of our movements? Our choreographic material, which is characterized by action-reaction, undulation, and often inhuman illusions, will be constructed with the breathing effects of the dancers. We want these effects coming from the dancers on stage to be audible to the audience. By choreographing the breath, we hope to bring the audience into a state of awareness of the present moment.

How long have you been working on this piece and how has it changed since its inception? 

E: Ghost première in Montreal in fall 2018.  We had been working on it for about 2 years on and off.  Since then, the piece has had a beautiful life touring the Maritimes, BC, the USA, and it even reached overseas in Birmingham and in Busan South Korea!  The cast has changed a few times, which made us revisit the piece and solidify certain sections.  Our performance at Guelph Dance Festival will have 4 of the original cast members.  Whenever we welcome a new dancer, it reminds us to keep the connection alive between the bodies and to BREATH!  But overall, the more we do the piece the better it gets!  We want to express our deepest gratitude to our partners Danse Danse for believing in this project from day one.  A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way.

What was your biggest takeaway from the process of creating this work?

E: We learned so much for this creation. I would say the biggest step forward for Elon and I was to truly collaborate on tableaux.  Us two create collectively but when leading a group, we required a great deal of communication and compromise.  We’ve had a few stumbles, but I would say this process was eye opening for both of us on how to be efficient and while respecting each other’s artistry.

Don’t miss your chance to see Ghost in Guelph! Saturday, June 1, 8PM at River Run Centre. Tickets are available now, plus check out the rest of the 2024 festival programming! Following Tentacle Tribe’s performance, we will be hosting a festival party at artBar (37 Quebec St. Upper Level), welcome to all!

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