This past fall, students of the LINES BFA Program studied under the French born dancer and choreographer Sandrine Cassini. A veteran of such companies as the Paris Opéra Ballet, the Monte-Carlo Ballet, and Bejart Ballet Lausanne (where she performed a piece created on her by Alonzo King), Cassini spent several weeks setting work on the young artists of the BFA Program for their fall showcase. During her time in our studios, Cassini came to be loved by all of us for her generous spirit and considerable gifts.
We asked fellow dancer Paul Knobloch to interview Cassini on her experience.
Paul Knobloch: How did you come to choreograph for the LINES BFA Program?
Sandrine Cassini: Choreographing for the BFA was such a gift of life. Fate brought me to the right place at the right time. I came to San Francisco in October to visit my friends, see Alonzo's latest creation, and it happened that the choreographer meant to create for the BFA showcase got injured the same week. Alonzo put me in touch with Marina Hotchkiss, the BFA Program Director. I tried some movements with the students the following day and we all felt good together and willing to go on. I'm so thankful for Marina's trust and the experience I had the chance to live.
PK: You titled your piece "Watching Waters." What was the inspiration behind this title?
SC: The theme for the BFA's showcase was nature and I chose water. I wanted to include the word water in the title and the opening position of the dancers, slightly bent forward and looking down, like looking at their reflection into the water inspired me to call the piece “Watching Waters.”
PK: You have worked with Alonzo King before on his creation for Bejart Ballet, "Figures of Thought." What was this journey like for you? Did the experience inspire your own choreography?
SC: I’ve worked with Alonzo several times in my career and it's always an exceptional experience. He made me change my perception of working, dancing, performing by inspiring me with two essential words: better and more. When Alonzo came to Lausanne, it felt like a breath of fresh air. The company does a lot of repertoire and it's always such a wonderful, inspiring, unique time to be part of a creation. The process was so fulfilling. We all pushed our limits so much, gained confidence and truth in our movements. Since I first met Alonzo, his movements, his philosophy, his quotes, are a constant inspiration, and I definitely feel it reflects in my way of creating.
PK: What was the studio experience like for you? Did you work a lot with improvisation on the students or did you come into the studio with a prepared idea and set goal?
SC: The studio experience was wonderful. The dancers are so eager, hungry, and passionate; it’s a real pleasure and treat to work with them. I always came with prepared phrases or ideas of patterns but gave them total freedom to make my movements their own.
PK: What was your experience of working with the LINES BFA Students?
SC: The experience was unforgettable and I've been missing it so much since I left. The dancers gave me so much and it was an incredible emotion to see them perform the piece, I felt so proud and touched by their commitment. I can't wait to work with them again for their shows in April.
PK: You built a strong rapport with the dancers in the studio during the creation process. How did they help inspire this creation?
SC: Each of them was an inspiration for the creation, as they all have their own way of moving, their unique, strong personality. I wanted to create immediately a fearless, safe, inspiring atmosphere, so all of us could be open, trusting, and we could go far together without any inhibition or shyness.
PK: You used the score " Tabula Rasa" by Arvo Part. What impact does music have on your choreography?
SC: Music has always had a huge impact when I choreograph. I spent an afternoon in my favorite music store in town (I'm still loving buying CDs!!), picked a few options, but as soon as I listened to Tabula Rasa, I knew it was the one. I loved the strings, the repetition in the phrases, so I'm a huge fan of Arvo Part or Philip Glass. While listening, I saw tides and liquidity, the music was powerful without being too dramatic; it definitely had an essential part in creating the movements.
PK: You have trained and danced in some distinguished companies, and performed in the works of many great choreographers. Who are the choreographers that have inspired and influenced your own journey as a choreographer?
SC: I worked with lots of choreographers during my career and I will say 3 of them influenced my journey as a choreographer. The first one is William Forsythe, learning how to deconstruct, take risks, always pushing the human body to a point of almost falling had always fascinated and inspired me.
The second one is John Neumeier. I learned how emotions on stage have to be real and simple, brushed of any pretending or acting. I never did a story telling piece, would love to do one someday and he would be then a major inspiration.
Finally, Alonzo. With all the inspiration he gave me through my dancer's years, he trusted me and offered me this incredible opportunity to choreograph. There are some people we meet who will forever change our life; and Alonzo has guided mine.
There's just so much I want to give, to create, I hope this journey has just begun.
Below, the students of the BFA Program rehearse and perform work by Sandrine Cassini. Photographs of rehearsal were taken by Paul Knobloch. The performance shots are by Weidong Yang.