|Anfang der Arbeit mit Pina Bausch
Born in 1954 in Lille, France. She began her ballet training at the Conservatoire National de Paris in 1968. After graduating, she spent three years as a dancer at the Ballet de Lyon, under the leadership of Vittorio Biaggi, before returning to Paris in 1975. There she studied under Peter Goss, whom she regarded as one of her most important teachers, and who invited her to join his company. During this time, she also worked with other choreographers, such as Dominique Bagouet, in whose award-winning piece Chanson de nuit Billiet danced at the Concours de Bagnolet; Claudine Allegra, with whom she danced en pointe; Lauri MacLean, where she learned to move like a wave; Jean Gaudin, with whom she improvised dance outside the Centre Pompidou; and François Verret, through whom she discovered the world of movement that is contact improvisation.
To Wuppertal and back
One of the people Billiet worked with in Paris was Dominique Mercy, who introduced her to Tanztheater Wuppertal. Experiencing the two Gluck operas in Wuppertal – Iphigenie auf Tauris and Orpheus und Eurydike – made a deep impression on her, as did The Seven Deadly Sins. While she couldn’t see herself dancing with the company just yet, she felt that she had found a direction, a vision of how she would like to express herself. Two years later, when Tanztheater Wuppertal held auditions in Paris, Billiet auditioned, but Pina Bausch felt that she lacked sufficient clarity as yet. It took two more years before Pina Bausch invited her to join the company in Wuppertal. She debuted with them in the 1981/82 season, dancing in repertoire pieces such as Kontakthof und 1980 – A Piece by Pina Bausch , and gradually feeling her way into the work process. Pina Bausch’s method – asking many questions, partly with the aim of drawing out each individual’s personality – was quite challenging for Billiet. She also had to learn how to dial down her emotional intensity – the motto being “less is more”. Suggestion, rather than explicit expression, was the supreme art, and the only way to give the audience enough space to form their own associations. Billiet collaborated in the creation of six pieces up to 1989: Walzer, Nelken (Carnations), Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört (On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard), Two Cigarettes in the Dark, Viktor und Ahnen. After a year’s sabbatical, she returned to the company in 1990 as assistant to Pina Bausch. The work was exciting, if very time-consuming.
A long break, then a return
In 1992, Billiet became pregnant and took a long break so that she could devote herself fully to family life. She returned to Tanztheater Wuppertal in 2001, as assistant to Pina Bausch and co-director of rehearsals, especially with Jo Ann Endicott. They started with Kontakthof. With Ladies and Gentlemen over 65, and later Kontakthof. With Teenagers over 14. Given the largely amateur cast in both pieces, they presented particular challenges for rehearsal directors. Naturally, the focus could not be on finessing dance technique – instead, it was about trying to communicate the spirit of the work, and letting each performer shine by bringing out their particular qualities. The same applied to restagings of these and other pieces with professional members of the company. Apart from the fundamentals of dance technique, it was always about being a hundred-per-cent present as the person you were, with all your strengths and weaknesses. The pieces revealed themselves to you as you rehearsed, as you worked on them, neither over- nor underdoing it. Since 2020, Billiet has been freelance. She and her daughter Sophia Otto co-created Entre-temps au grenier, a piece not so much about the mother–daughter relationship as about exploring their origins in different times and different circumstances, rummaging in the “attic” of inherited body language and memory, exploring how movements channel their way from body to body in different eras.
Text by Norbert Servos
Translated by Rachel McNicholl