Edited by Ludmila Patlanjoglu
216 pp.  Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, in association with Nemira Publishing
In Romanian, French and English

Reviewed by Călin Ciobotari*

There are books one awaits as a major cultural event and this is one of them. Gigi Căciuleanu: The Dance Man, created by critic Ludmila Patlanjoglu and published in Romanian, French and English by the Romanian Cultural Institute and Nemira Publishing House, with the corporate support of Japan Tobacco International and Art Production, is an ambitious and a necessary project about one of the world’s great choreographers. This exciting book delivers him to us from a multitude of perspectives.

“Flying Man” was Romanian Gigi Căciuleanu’s one-time sobriquet, and Mme. Patlanjoglu’s poetic yet realistic evocation of the name references both his symbolic and physical take-offs. One of the great ambassadors of Romanian and French cultures, he has stood out as a choreographer by “stepping out of canons,” renewing these works through a “postmodern crossbreeding” and through his “delight in playfulness, his comic fantasy and . . . ferment of freedom,” through the “state of emergency” in which he always seems to work, and through the generosity with which he passes “on the torch of the profession.” These are exact and eloquent descriptions quoted from Patlanjoglu’s excellent introduction, an essential summary of the pure outlines that make up the man.

His beginnings unfold from his formative experiences with Miriam Răducanu, “the Maestra, the consummate teacher and choreographer . . . the one who fundamentally shaped me . . . in my . . .  high school years.” We then meet him in Nocturnes 9 ½, staged at Țăndărică Theatre, led by Margareta Niculescu. The study notes his work even after midnight when he would improvise dances at a students’ club.

In 1972, he left Romania, a country smothered artistically under Ceaușescu’s rule; a move which opened new horizons for him. His exile (or, as he himself terms it, his “departure”) was a disquieting time during which, he says, he often recited Romanian poetry to himself, perhaps accounting for the deep and huge sense of poetry that defines the essence of his art. It could be that this particular proclivity for poetry—he writes much poetry himself—was what made him ultimately also reject Paris as a homeland and turned him to Europe itself.

Gigi Căciuleanu

What he saw as “fated” encounters are another sequence in the volume, the most important being his meeting with Pina Bausch, who later described him as “a rebel, a volcano of energy, a huge talent with flashes of genius. His attraction towards freedom in dance contaminated and inspired.” He later collaborated with Maya Plisetskaya in his masterful Madwoman of Chaillot, after Jean Giraudoux—first staged at the Bolshoi Theatre and then in a long and triumphant tour of four continents.

The five years in which he served as ballet director at the Grand Théâtre of Nancy are warmly recalled, alongside his adventures in the “loft” of that company, where, in workshop mode, he developed a second company. That was followed by his directorship of the National Choreographic Centre of Rennes, where he developed his own Gigi Căciuleanu Company, again settling in Paris. It was there that he began his long collaboration with Dan Mastacan and Ruxandra Racoviță. Of them he says, “I cannot work with people that I do not love and who do not love me. What we are doing is so intense that it does not work if you remain only on a cerebral plane. Dance requires total involvement.”

Later becoming director of the National Ballet of Chile, El Banch, he actively contributed to the artistic life of that country for many years. Still another essential encounter was with Pierre Cardin, “a man at the same time very simple and very complicated,” who strongly believed in Căciuleanu’s talent and offered him both moral and financial support.

And then, he returned home to his native soil and to the people who made it possible, relearning to dance in the Romanian language, to teaching choreography. We find here his musings on the deleterious “institutionalization” of contemporary dance, his thoughts about what he calls the “Dance Actor,” a term he uses to describe the performers of his company.

Gigi Căciuleanu and the Romanian Dance Company

The universal relevance of this artist is nothing if not daunting. A dancer, choreographer, visionary manager and exemplary educator, Căciuleanu—with over 250 choreographies to his credit across the globe—also has an impressive track record of awards and accolades. Most comment on the humanity of his work, a characteristic of the man behind the artist. Patlanjoglu, aware of this, opts for the portmanteau word “Dance Man” even in the title of the volume.

The visual content of the volume is also quite remarkable (graphics by Bogdan Căpîlnean), incorporating real information about the extraordinary range of movement Căciuleanu explored at various stages of his work. Personal images alternate with professional ones, reflecting the perpetual interplay between his amazing life and his impressive art. Each chapter is also poetically and expressively announced by Căciuleanu’s own drawings.

In the end, this volume is an exceptional cultural gesture by Patlanjoglu, which offers a generous portrait of a complete Artist. Gigi Căciuleanu, equally earthly and celestial, dances on the pages with the same grace that he creates dances on the stage: carved images “made up of fragments of life, of fragments of body, of shreds of dreams and drops of abyss.” 


*Călin Ciobotari is a playwright and cultural critic based in Bucharest. He has been working both as a tenured Lecturer at the School of Theatre Studies in the George Enescu National University of Arts and as an associate professor at the School of Philosophy in Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iași. He is a member of Romanian Section of IATC, UNITER (The Romanian Association of Theatre Artists) and the Writers’ Union of Romania.

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