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Johan Amselem, Paris-based French choreographer and dancer, was born in Toulon, French Riviera. He began to learn ballet at age 6 years-old at Toulon Opera House Dance School, and then modern dance at the National Conservatory of Dance in Avignon and National Center of Contemporary Dance in Angers, directed by L’Esquisse Company – Joëlle Bouvier and Régis Obadia. He worked for five years as a dancer with Laura Scozzi (known in France and abroad for her directions and choreographies of operas) and was also her choreographic assistant on tour on Platée, an opera-ballet produced by Opéra de Paris – Palais Garnier. Johan also works as a dancer for Da Da Dans Company with choreographer Helle Bach in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Johan Amselem

Johan Amselem

Johan is a choreographer of many modern dance solos and duos, often performed in very atypical ways such as choreographic walks around gardens and others public spaces. He also choreographs for popular performances in theaters such as the musical Froufrou les Bains, which won the Moliere Award in 2002 for best musical. Johan has also choreographed and directed a musical produced by Vidy Theater in Lausanne, and participated in the first big national celebration of dance last September at the Grand Palais in Paris, organized by the famous Spanish choreographer Blanca Li.
He creates dance theater performances, participative events such as an electro couple dance ballroom with a DJ, gives workshops for professionals and amateurs, adults, teenagers, and children, and creates customized events for enterprises and municipalities. Johan has been working with Opera de Paris on a pedagogic program for schools. He works on raising public awareness of dance virtues. Notorious French institutions such as Atelier de Paris, directed by Carolyn Carlson, support him. His company, La Halte-Garderie, (The Nursery) is sponsored by Paris City Hall.
Johan is Mediterranean, and born of a North African Jewish family. His work is sharp and full of joy, rituals, flesh, and spirituality, along with emotions, pleasure, and greed.

INSPIRATION:

AWP: Name the books and movies, works of art and music, fashion or cuisine that have inspired you.

JA:I have been inspired by the following books, movies, works of art and music:

Books: Notre besoin de consolation est impossible à rassasier, by Stig Dagerman, Le sourire au pied de l’échelle, by Henry Miller, Les stratégies fatales, by Jean Baudrillard, Génie Divin, by Guillaume Dustan, Le zen dans l’art chevaleresque du tir à l’arc, by Eugen Herrigel, Sur le théâtre de marionnettes, by Heinrich Von Kleist, La confusion des sentiments, and Vingt-quatre heures de la vie d’une femme, by Stefan Sweig, Le funambule, by Jean Genêt, Tao-Tö King, by Lao Tseu, Œuvre complète, by Tchouang-Tseu, Le vrai classique du vide parfait, by Lie-Tseu, Gosho, by Nichiren Daishonin, Lettres à un jeune poète, by Rainer Maria Rilke, Le fusil de chasse, and Histoire de ma mère, by Yasushi Inoué, Les belles endormies, by Yasunari Kawabata, Siddharta, by Herman Hesse, Tout est illuminé, by Jonathan Safran Foer, Journal de Nijinsky, Ferdydurke, by Witold Gombrowicz, Le bonheur des tristes, by Luc Dietrich, L’écume des jours, by Boris Vian, Stupeur et tremblements, by Amélie Nothomb, Ma vie, by Isadora Duncan, Les particules élémentaires, and La possibilité d’une île, by Michel Houellebecq, Aimez-vous Brahms, by Françoise Sagan, and Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.

Movies: L’année des 13 lunes, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Marie-Antoinette, by Sofia Coppola, Le mépris – Pierrot le fou, by Jean-Luc Godard, Casanova, by Fellini, Qu’est-ce que j’ai fait pour mériter ça?, by Pedro Almodovar, Dogville, by Lars Von Trier, Edward scissorhands, by Tim Burton, Mon oncle – Playtime, by Jacques Tati, Belle de jour, by Luis Buñuel, Les demoiselles de Rochefort, by Jacques Demy, Le bal, by Ettore Scola, La grande bouffe, by Marco Ferreri, Théorème, by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Epouse et concubine, by Zhang Yimou, Monster, by Patty Jenkins, Careful, by Guy Maddin, Le bal des vampires, by Roman Polanski, Alice, by Woody Allen, Mary Poppins, by Robert Stevenson, Le petit monde de Don Camillo, by Julien Duvivier, Rabbi Jacob, by Gérard Oury, Female Trouble, and Hairspray, by John Waters, and Elvira maîtresse des ténèbres, by James Signorelli.

Painters: Hans HartungGeorg Bazelitz, Aurore Marette, Jérome Bosch, Mark Rothko, Otto Dix, Botticelli, and Basquiat.

Danse: Grand MagasinHofesh Shechter, Pina Bausch, Josef Nadj, L’Esquisse, Trisha Brown, and Merce Cunningham.

Video, sculptures, and photography: Pipiloti Rist, Michal Rovner, Jeff Koons, Cyndi Sherman, Damien Hirst, and Helmut Newton.

Music: Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Bjork, Matthew Herbert, Beethoven, Brahms, Fauré, Schubert, Caetano Veloso, Nina Simone, Thom Yorke, Chloé, Dop, and Sei A.

AWP: Do you have any role models?

JA: My role models: Jesus Christ, Bouddha, Robin Hood, Gandhi and Dominique Dupuy.

AWP: What is the last book you read?

JA: La lamentation du prépuce, by Shalom Auslander

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES:

AWP: What childhood experience has served you many times?

JA: Being part of a minority, I learned to be open-minded. Laughing a lot as it was in my family gives me strength. Both my parents had jobs they did not like and made economic choices for their lives. They were frustrated although they would never lose their joy. So I decided that my professional choices would be what I really want to do, nothing else.

AWP: In your youth, what did you imagine your adult life would hold? What influenced this vision?

JA: I always wanted to be a healthy, wealthy choreographic star, what else? I wanted to share joy, optimism, pleasure, making people dance and working for peace. I was born a Jew and gay, so I was conscious of discrimination and persecution very soon. I was praying for a world of peace and tolerance. I was born in a family who ran away from Algeria, so the fear and trauma of the war was even more present. My family ran away with nothing. They were poor. And their pride suffered a lot because of that. So I wanted to be rich to buy them castles. However, it was a very joyful family, singing and dancing while working, cooking, and doing housework. My will to dance comes from this oriental happy ambiance.

My father had a band when I was a little boy. So I could go on stage and dance while he was singing. Unfortunately he had to stop to take care of us. It was such a pleasure for me to dance that I always wanted, since I was 4, to be a dancer. One evening, we were at this Tahitian show in a huge public place in Toulon, French Riviera, where I was born. It was a big audience. Then there was a participative time. There was a little girl, my age at the time, on stage. She had to choose a partner for teaching him a Tahitian couple dance. She chose me. I will always remember the huge pleasure I had to dance with her, in front of this audience. There was no fear. Just pleasure. All my work is about that now. Feeling so much pleasure dancing, transforming yourself, traveling with your mind in your body, feeling your dance, that all the fears disappear. And I was a very frightened boy. So the pleasure to dance and forget my fears saved me. And now I also organize big participative events to share this essential feeling.

AWP: What were your favorite childhood things to do?

JA: Family dinners and holidays, dancing, doing shows with my sisters and cousins after Shabat ceremonies and dinners with our parents. Being on my father’s shoulders to watch the fireworks on Toulon harbor with big gulls in the night sky. Being always the best at school, going to pick up fruits, vegetables and flowers at the market with my grandfather, dancing and singing oriental songs and dances with my grandmother while she was baking cakes for Jewish celebrations.

Reading every evening before I go to sleep, watching movies on Tuesday nights, which were the only nights I had the right to stay in front of the TV. To recite my lessons to my grandfather and to see him so proud of me. Going to “Le jardin des oiseaux” where there were a lot of trees, flowers, and animals — deer, goats, lambs, and exotic birds like parrots, although my favorites were the peacocks. Making people laugh and asking a lot of questions of adults. Lying on the floor of the car to feel all my body vibrating. Walking with candles at night all around the house for the closing ceremony of Passovah, singing Jewish songs, looking for jewels and wheat hidden in corners of the house and to throw honey and milk on them as the return of sweetness in the house after we spent 8 days of privations.

AWP: What nourishes your passions?

JA: Reading, meditating, dreaming, curiosity of people’s lives, sociology and politics, writing, music, paintings, pictures, installations, working with amateurs, nature, traveling, having pleasure, and the sun.

AWP: How did you get your foot in the door at the beginning of your career?

JA: I went to the most important modern dance school here in France so it was easy to begin as a professional after that. We created a duo with one of my oldest friends I met when I was 14. We went back for that in Toulon, where we both came from. So we had much support and help.

PERSONAL STYLE:

AWP: Was being stylish important to you growing up in your teens? Is it now?

JA: My uncles were selling beautiful clothes. One aunt was a window dresser for very stylish stores. So I always loved stylish clothes. One of my uncles was very found of art and paintings and would buy a lot of them. I loved to go to his house and see them. Unfortunately my parents did not have money enough to offer me a stylish life.

I’m very found of style, but mine is quite regular. A few original t-shirts and eccentric flowery shirts, some sexy Bermuda shorts for the summer, that’s all.

AWP: How do you define style or fashion?

JA: Whatever makes you and your life original and beautiful.

CUISINE:

AWP: Tell me about your cooking and eating habits and traditions.

JA: In the morning I have first a green tea, then a banana and a kiwi mixed with cottage cheese and oats, then a coffee with a croissant — sometimes eggs, cheese and ham. For lunch I usually have meat, beef or chicken with fresh boiled vegetables, salad and a yoghourt or apple compote. On regular evenings I have a soup, some ham, bread and yoghourt.

But most evenings I have dinners with friends. We love ham and cheese dinners with good wines, raclettes, roasted chicken with potatoes made in the oven, and tortillas. When I cook, I enjoy preparing duck magret with potatoes, bacon and figs. Also pizzaiolo chicken, which is chicken cooked in a fresh tomato sauce with lots of onions and garlic to eat with a very good bread to sauce. My friends love when I prepare my crumble of beef topped with oat, butter and cheddar, with a carrot and mushroom sauce. Perfect with a green salad. I do a lot of curries with coconut milk. My favorite flavours are coriander, cinnamon, ginger and caramel.

For my birthday parties I always serve strawberries with a good champagne soup made of champagne wine, Cointreau, fresh limon and squeezed orange juice and sugar syrup. I love cheesecakes, limon, strawberries, raspberries and pecan pies.

AWP: What was your most memorable meal to date?

JA: A dinner at Georges 5 restaurant.

AWP: What is in your refrigerator right now?

JA: Smoked ham, cheese, vegetables, soya steaks, fruit juices, apple compote, soups, jams, butter, eggs, and crème fraîche.

ART OF LIVING:

AWP: What do you live for? What do you love above all?

JA: I live for sharing joy; spreading tolerance, giving strength to people with my knowledge of well-being techniques. I love to dance.

AWP: What question are you tired of being asked?

JA: Can you still dance at your age?

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Ballet Flats in Paris: And God made Repetto, by Barbara Redmond who shares what she got from a pair of flats purchased in a ballet store in Paris; a feline, natural style from the toes up, a simple pair of shoes that transformed her whole look. Including the vimeos “Pas de Deux Coda,” by Opening Ceremony and “Repetto,” by Repetto, Paris.

The streets of Marrakech, by Jennifer Haug, world traveler and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in Marrakech who writes about the French influence in Morocco and her teaching experience there.

French Impressions: an interview with Master Perfumer Isabelle Burdel, Salon Privé, Cannes, France. Isabelle has offered her rare expertise, making the very complex and marvelous alchemy of perfumes available to private individuals.

Paris: Sketch and paint with Barbara Redmond. When in Paris, Barbara arrives with a theme in mind. Whether it’s a topic she has studied for months in advance or an impromptu search for pétale de rose ice cream, the city of light seems to give up its secrets to her in a new way. Including what she packs and where she buys her art supplies in Paris.

A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre

We are captivated by women and men, like you, who use their discipline, wit and resourcefulness to make their own way and who excel at what the French call joie de vivre or “the art of living.” We stand in awe of what you fill into your lives. Free spirits who inspire both admiration and confidence.

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)

Text copyright ©2012 Johan Amselem. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.
barbara@awomansparis.com

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