A Dancer Pays a Gravity-Defying Tribute to Claude Debussy




Most dancers have an intuitive understanding of physics.

Choreographer Yoann Bourgeois pushes this science beyond the standard lifts, leaps, and pirouettes, drawing on his training at the Centre National Des Arts du Cirque for a piece marking the centenary of composer Claude Debussy’s death, above.

Given the occasion, the choice of Clair de Lune, Debussy’s best loved piano work, feels practically de rigueur, but the trampoline comes as a bit of a shock.

We may not be able to see it, but it plays such an essential role, it’s tempting to call this solo a pas de deux. At the very least, the trampoline is an essential collaborator, along with pianist Alexandre Tharau and filmmaker Raphaël Wertheimer.




Bourgeois’ expressiveness as a performer has earned him comparisons to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. His choreography shows that he also shares their work ethic, attention to detail, and love of jawdropping visual stunts.

Don’t expect any random boinging around on this tramp’.

For four and a half minutes, Bourgeois’ everyman struggles to get to the top of a stark white staircase. Every time he falls off, the trampoline launches him back onto one of the steps — higher, lower, the very one he fell off of…

Interpret this struggle how you will.

Psyche, a digital magazine that “illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophical understanding and the arts” found it to be “an abstracted interpretation of a childlike experience of time.” One viewer wondered if the number of steps — twelve — was significant.

It’s no stretch to conceive of it as a comment on the nature of life — a constant cycle of falling down and bouncing back.

It’s lovely to behold because Bourgeois makes it look so easy.

In an interview with NR, he spoke of how his circus studies led to the realization that “the relationship between physical forces” is what he’s most interested in exploring. The stairs and trampoline, like all of his sets (or devices, as he prefers to call them), are there to “amplify specific physical phenomenon”:

In science, we’d call them models – they’re simplifications of our world that enable me to amplify one particular force at a time. Together, this ensemble of devices, this constellation of constructed devices, tentatively approaches the point of suspension. And so, this makes up a body of research; it’s a life’s research that doesn’t have an end in itself. 

The relationship with physical forces has an eloquent capacity that can be very big; it has the kind of expression that is universal.

Watch more of Youann Bourgeois’ physics-based choreography on his YouTube channel.

Related Content: 

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One of the Greatest Dances Sequences Ever Captured on Film Gets Restored in Color by AI: Watch the Classic Scene from Stormy Weather

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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