Vacant Chairs Weigh Heavy With The Memories Of Everyone Who Has Sat On Them

Dancer and writer Parvathi Ramanathan reads through Fabien Prioville’s La Suite

“What happens if the story goes on?”

La Suite by German choreographer Fabien Prioville poses this question after Pina Bausch’s Café Muller and finds several phrases in response. 

Pina’s Café Muller, which was first performed in 1978, shows a series of characters passing through an empty café strewn with chairs. As Anna Kisselgoff writes in The New York Times, Café Muller is “a highly charged theatrical experience performed by mature-looking performers who appear spent by life before they even begin living”. The characters—such as two sleepwalking women (one of them performed by Pina), a waiter, a frenetic, skittish red-haired woman, a catatonic male character—embody a deep sense of anguish and desolation that pervades the performance and its afterglow.

A confrontation with this major choreographic work by Pina and the legacy that she represents, sets itself up for many challenges and Fabien Prioville’s La Suite faces these on several occasions during the performance. 

German choreographer Fabien Prioville’s La Suite at Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 Darshan Manakkal

Based on the original characters from Café Muller, Prioville’s characters take us on sporadic peregrinations of their lives through movement and speech. The audience now hears the story of the café from the perspective of the red-haired woman, who is only a minor character in Pina’s work. While this brings out the many interesting and inventive possibilities to the pasts or futures of the various characters encountered, the characters seem shallow and lack the intensity of their former selves in Café Muller. Fabien Prioville revisits some of the encounters from the original piece but his choreography is distinct. At a conversation with the participants of the Writing on Dance Laboratory, he shared that his process of creating La Suite had not been anything like Pina’s process of making Café Muller. While he said that he did pose questions and give images to the performers, their own personal experiences shaped the narrative and encounters amongst the characters on stage. La Suite stands especially apart from Café Muller in its brave use of text and speech and even elements of humour. Vivien Wood, who plays the role of the red-haired woman, narrates her encounters with three men, seemingly the ones we see on stage. However, the fragmented nature of the stories allows the identities of these characters to continuously shift, and their relationships, to meander, unbound. Just as in Café Muller, it is impossible to determine the exact narrative and circumstances that La Suite relates. One might say that every time the characters meet, there is a tormented struggle between the remembrance and obliteration of their shared histories. 

German choreographer Fabien Prioville’s La Suite at Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 Darshan Manakkal

In some parts, the choreography of La Suite is also disturbed and jagged with disruptions such as a duet between Prioville and Zuzana Zahradnikova, which although framed as such intentionally, comes across as incoherent with the rest of the work. 

Throughout the performance, what continues to enrich the experience is the live music and vocals. Emma Bonnici’s solemn and painful voice, we learned during that conversation with Prioville, stands in for the Pina character because he “wouldn’t have found anyone to stand in for Pina”. “So, I didn’t want to put a person in her role but for me, Pina is more like an aura, a colour, a voice in Café Muller. Sometimes you hear it, sometimes you forget about it”, he said. 

In incorporating a singing voice in his work, Prioville could move away from the original musical score of Café Muller and infuse La Suite with touches of the blues, tango, and experimental music. These sideways creative interventions by the choreographer seem to pervade every other element of the performance, too. Through our conversation with Prioville, we learnt that he approaches scenography, light, sound, and choreography with a sense of design, which renders this work comprehensive but also open to disruption. Prioville’s use of simple plastic chairs, a plastic table, and masking tape—all white and very common and essential—indicate his preference for art pauvre (poor art). He also intentionally doesn’t use wooden chairs—an iconic element of Rolf Borzik’s set design for Café Muller—to avoid being trapped by it. 

German choreographer Fabien Prioville’s La Suite at Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 Darshan Manakkal

This could be said of the minor narratives within the work but also in its relation to Pina’s work. Prioville emphasised that despite being inspired by the afterwards of the characters in Café Muller, one could situate La Suite either before or after Pina’s work. “You don’t have to have seen Pina’s Café Muller to enjoy the work but it could give you the desire to watch it. It could also be watched the other way around. There are enough elements in my work to make a story on their own. The relation of the characters still remains unexplained in this version.” Nevertheless, the striking depth and unforgettable imagery of Pina’s Café Muller doesn’t allow La Suite to be received as anything but an epilogue.

Parvathi Ramanathan likes to dance, write, and explore. She is interested in questions of identity pertaining to nations and borders, especially about how these manifest in the body and in everyday life. She is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, now exploring other forms of movement and expression.

TABLE of Contents
The Biennial Issue: Part 2

As the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 comes to a close, participants in the Writing on Dance Laboratory show us the festival in their words and images.

Zawirowania Dance Theatre’s Closeness
Swar Thounaojam

Playwright, theatre director, and performer Swar Thounaojam finds the Polish dance company’s trio work just bold and beautiful

The Time, The Times: A Dual Perspective
Dayita Nereyeth and Ian Abbott

Dayita Nereyeth and Ian Abbott take a collaborative stab at Time Takes The Times Time Takes choreographed by Guy Nader | Maria Campos to offer a fuller perspective on the work

Vacant Chairs Weigh Heavy With The Memories Of Everyone Who Has Sat On Them
Parvathi Ramanathan

Dancer and writer Parvathi Ramanathan reads through Fabien Prioville’s La Suite

Show Us Some Moves: Small and Silly Dances
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth gets the festival team dancing

do you believe what you hear? do you hear what you believe?
Ian Abbott

Dance writer and producer Ian Abbott chronicles the origin and execution of an interview with ‘silence designer’ Marcel Zaes

Review: Ronita Mookerji's Who?
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth reflects on this Bangalore choreographer and dancer’s latest work-in-progress solo

What Do We See And Feel While Watching Dance?
Himalaya Gohel

Dance researcher and PhD student Himalaya Gohel examines two works at the Biennial to talk of the audience’s role in the reception of each of them

When Does A Dance Piece End?
Sheetala Bhat

Actor and writer Sheetala Bhat analyses the relationship between performer, audience, and time through Mandeep Raikhy’s Queen-size

ShowReel : Bhinna Vinyasa
Darshan Manakkal

Bangalore’s Attakkalari Repertory Company presented Bhinna Vinyasa, choreographed by Jayachandran Palazhy, on Day 4 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Time Takes The Time Time Takes
Darshan Manakkal

Spanish choreographers MC Guy Nader and Maria Campos presented Time Takes The Time Time Takes on Day 5 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Liquido
Darshan Manakkal

Italian choreographer-dancer Luisa Cortesi and music artist Gianluca Petrella presented Liquido on Day 6 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Closeness
Darshan Manakkal

Poland’s Zawirowania Dance Theatre presented Closeness, choreographed by Tomas Nepsinsky, on Day 6 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : La Suite
Darshan Manakkal

German choreographer Fabien Prioville presented La Suite on Day 7 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017


To pick up and run with a magazine that has had another life is never easy. There are those conflicting desires to find close continuity and to just scrap it all and start anew. Ligament 2016-17 reemerges from a half-way point. We want to build on the investigations and insights of the magazine’s past contributors and also find ways to say what they perhaps had wanted to say but could not, or forgot to, in that moment.

Ligament was founded to facilitate the articulation of an evolving language that encompasses the impulses of contemporary dance. The idea of “contemporary” is inherently bound to time, to a sense of history, rather multiple histories unfolding. In its 2016-17 iteration, we hope that Ligament can grapple with the idea of how dance might hold a place in-step with the patterns of active and forming histories, rather than remaining a canonised and pondered response to a bygone world. We’d like to embrace the immediacy of “contemporary”, and invite contributions from dancers, choreographers, arts practitioners, scholars, audience members, readers. In this way, we hope to reach for the intimacies, resistances, and fragilities that permeate the developing field of South Asian contemporary dance.

Articulating a medium as visceral, visual, and ephemeral as dance requires making connections to methods of thought and critique that lie outside evaluative language. So for Ligament 2016-17 we welcome, of course, the critical essay, but also audio, photographs, ekphrastic poems, interviews, and hybrid media of various kinds that might speak to us about dance, carefully and proximately. Like the anatomical connective tissue for which it is named, Ligament, we hope, can help us locate dance in tandem with the many bodies that produce and encapsulate it.

To those who find themselves here for the first time, welcome. And those whom we have met before, we are glad you are back.

—Poorna Swami, Editor

Get in touch with us at ligament@attakkalari.org