Combining ballet and rave culture, the collective gives traditional choreography a much-needed update
The French DJ, producer, and artist Rone plays atop a pile of concrete rocks arranged to resemble a quarry, beer cans lining the booth. He’s surrounded by dancers dressed in clothes you would see at a Berlin nightclub—parachute pants, bra-tops, T-shirts, and hot pants. If not for the stage, one would question, Am I at a rave? This was Room With a View, which French collective (LA)HORDE performed this past October in New York as part of Van Cleef & Arpels’s Dance Reflections festival following the show’s 2020 debut in Paris.
The collective—founded in 2013 by Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer, and Arthur Harel—is creating artistically serious choreography fit for the TikTok generation,. As artistic directors of the Ballet National de Marseille, (LA)HORDE has presented contemporary dance to 20,000 people at the Old Port of Marseille, sold out shows around the world, and worked with pop stars like Madonna. Even with their position at the storied Ballet National de Marseille, (LA)HORDE considers themselves artists over choreographers, and their formal training is a departure from typical artistic directors of the past. When I asked Brutti—the designated voice of (LA)HORDE because of her skill in speaking English—about the group’s educational background, she responded, “It’s irrelevant. The way we are organizing our thoughts and movement through the dancers in the company has nothing really to do with our training.”
(LA)Horde’s consistent references to nightlife are a strong example of how they aim to remix tradition. In fact, the trio met in the literal intersection of rave culture and the art world, during an exam for Haute École des Arts du Rhin (HEAR) in Strasbourg, where they studied together. After they moved to Paris, they encountered Harel at queer parties like Possession at Club Zero or Flash Cocotte, dancing the night away to techno, disco, and house. As their collaboration continued, they decided they needed a name. They settled on (LA)HORDE because that’s what they are—a hoard. At the Ballet National de Marseilles, they champion diversity: of the 22 dancers that make up the company, 16 of them come from outside of France, and the performers range widely in age, from their 20s to their late 40s.
Ideation for Room With a View started in 2019 when Paris’s prestigious Théâtre du Châtelet gave Rone, the DJ whose given name is Erwan Castex, carte blanche to plan a 10-day production. He had been following (LA)HORDE’s work on Instagram, and approached them about collaborating. “What if we actually wrote a show together?” (LA)HORDE asked. At the time, they were in the middle of the application process for The Ballet National de Marseille’s open call for a new artistic director. After much discussion, they landed on a theme for the production: climate change. “We had riots in the streets against global warming and trying to change strategies and politics around how we use the Earth and how we consume,” remembered Brutti. “The youth [were] very afraid for their future and very pissed at the older generation.”
The group knew that a show inspired by climate change had the potential to turn out cheesy, and it was important for Rone to ensure that the performance’s narrative didn’t end on a negative note. Room With a View premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in March 2020 just as the world entered lockdown. Performances resumed the following year. Anybody going in with a preconceived idea of dance—whether stuffy ballet, or minimalist Modern movement—would be proved wrong. Combining classical and contemporary techniques, Room With a View presents ballet movements with a modern twist, peppering in the sharp repetitive motions of a raver.
“(LA)HORDE shares a clear lineage to a time when Yves Saint Laurent and Gianni Versace designed pieces for Ballet National de Marseille founder Petit, or when Halston created costumes for Martha Graham in the ’80s.”
In one scene, fish fall from above, “like an omen coming from the sky,” said Brutti, who compared it to the Lluvia de peces in Yoro, Honduras, an event which (depending on who you talk to), is either a miracle, or a disturbing result of climate change. But the heavier movements in the performance serve as a precursor to a more positive finale—the company completes the performance by slapping their hands against their chests to an upbeat synth-produced melody from Rone. And this hopeful vision for the future wasn’t just narrative: Even the costumes for Room With a View were sustainably made, assembled by Salomé Poloudenny from upcycled garments.
(LA)HORDE frequently collaborates with friends from the fashion scene, including Poloudenny, Courreges’s Nicolas di Felice, Glenn Martens, of Y/Project and Diesel. For Marry Me in Bassiani, a 2019 piece inspired by Georgian wedding rites that debuted at SommerFestival in Hamburg, the collective worked with Martens on their costumes. “It’s a simple pleasure,” said Brutti of the process. “We know him. We knew his vision. We love his work. We’re friends. It makes sense.” Whether collaborating with colleagues in Paris or brands like Burberry, (LA)HORDE shares a clear lineage to a time when Yves Saint Laurent and Gianni Versace designed pieces for Ballet National de Marseille founder Petit, or when Halston created costumes for Martha Graham in the ’80s.
The title of Marry Me in Bassiani refers to the Georgian club of the same name, which Brutti described as her favorite place to dance. “It’s mesmerizing,” she said. “It has one of the best sound systems on Earth.” But while they often frequent techno clubs like Bassiani and Berghain, (LA)HORDE also has an ear for pop music. Madonna tapped the collective to oversee the artistic direction of her Celebration tour, which features the work of a multitude of choreographers, including Travis Payne, Megan Lawson, and the Belgian duo Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet. “[Dance] is the heart of her origins,” said Brutti. “This is where she comes from. She has a taste and a love for dance… For performance, and for the discipline of it.”
(LA)HORDE’s newest piece, Age of Content, conceived as a performance based on how technology has transformed daily life, debuted last summer at the International Summer Festival in Hamburg, Germany to sold-out crowds. True to the attention-challenged, content-hungry social media audiences of today, the piece saw (LA)Horde experiment with video in various forms, even creating shorter pieces for those unable to attend in-person.
“The ideas of transmission, sharing, and showing are very important to keep the movement alive,” reflected Brutti. “Dancing is a living art. It feels like embers [that] need people to blow on [them] to not let the fire die.”