Boris Charmatz is a radical innovator of dance. Over the past two decades, in his work as a performer and choreographer, he has explored the relationship between art and philosophy, challenging preconceived notions of dance in the process. Subverting the expectations of his audience, he often breaks with formal rules and procedures of the theatre in order to expand the potential of choreographic space. For Charmatz, a simple idea frequently takes centre stage, serving as a framework for all subsequent movements, which in turn are taken to the limit of their possibilities.
In 2009, Charmatz became director of the Centre Chorégraphique National de Rennes et de Bretagne in France, declaring the institution a Musée de la danse (a dancing museum). By using an institutional framing device for movement – that most ephemeral and least collectible of cultural forms – Charmatz redefines the very notion of ‘museum’ and ‘collection’. This museum-in-progress is a place and a platform where artists and thinkers from different disciplines can reimagine how art is perceived, displayed and shared, all from a choreographed and danced perspective.
For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Charmatz presents manger, 2014, a piece for 13 dancers. The word ‘manger’ literally translates as ‘to eat’ in French, which is central to the provocation that the work also takes as its starting point: what role might the mouth, and specifically eating, play in choreography, dance and performance? Presented as a dispersed version – where viewers are free to wander in and around the zone of performance – the work offers an intimate relationship to the audience, with the art of dance lingering within the bodies of those who observe it.
And yet, manger does more than simply take up the metaphor of eating as a vehicle for choreography. The work shifts the focus to the mouth in a broad sense, investigating a range of movements and sounds it produces – breathing, chewing, chanting, singing. In between crunches and coughs, gulps and gasps, the performers intermittently sing snatches from songs – drawing together a motley assortment of musicians, from Daniel Johnston, Legeti and Aesop Rock – and recite spoken word passages from Le Bonhomme de merde (the good man of shit) by the late Christophe Tarkos.
Coming from a position where dance is treated as a mental space, and not just a physical practice, manger ‘marks out a general field of orality: dough chewed and swallowed is physical matter become a proliferating concoction. It swells, it sings, it is savoured, it blends, it spreads mouth to mouth until it invades the whole space.’1 Moving seamlessly across and between boundaries, this work is at once an embodied installation and a durational performance, a living exhibition and a dance. It offers a piece of what Charmatz has termed a ‘swallowed reality’: a slow digestion of the world.
Boris Charmatz has presented numerous solo and collaborative works internationally, with major presentations including ‘If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse?’, Tate Modern, London (2015); ‘Focus Boris Charmatz/Musée de la danse’, Foreign Affairs, Berliner Festspiele, Berlin (2014); and ‘Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures’, MoMA, New York (2013).
 Gilles Amalvi, in the program of Festival d’Automne in Paris, Théâtre de la Ville-Paris, www.borischarmatz.org/en/savoir/piece/manger, viewed 24 December 2015.