Speech of Mr. Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres
Mrs. Judith Jamison honored by the nomination to the grade of Commander of the Arts and Letters
The fifth edition of the « Summers of the dance » gives us the joy and the honor to celebrate once again the Franco-American friendship, and to put it under the most powerful patronage : culture – and especially dance.
The links between our two people are founded and illuminated by artistic exchanges and generosity. On the first hand, I obviously think about the American Friends of Versailles and their strong support to the restoration of the palace. On the other hand, I think about the support in the opening of the French monuments to American artists and movie producer, as I did for the Da Vinci Code in the Louvre.
Once again, Paris is proudly welcoming you, thanks to the passion of Marina de Brantes and to Valery Collin. Marina is a fantastic ambassador, to whom you cannot say no.
For our greatest happiness, thanks to the « Summers of the dance », Paris is opening herself to the world, even during summer, which is not obvious when so many places are closed even though foreigners are visiting our countries and so many French do not go on holidays.
It is a pleasure to reward you with the highest French cultural distinction, the grade of Commander of the Arts and Letters. It honorees a brilliant career placed under the auspices of the excellence of the dance.
By celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with an international tour which had a great success, everything must seem simple for you. Your performance at the théâtre du Châtelet, located to the opposite to the théâtre de la Ville which was inhabited once a year with magic and strength by the missed Pina Bausch, has been a triumph.
But I can imagine your fight during the sixteenth for the recognition and the affirmation of the cultural identity of the African-American community. In this respect, the recent election of Barack Obama constitutes a powerful symbol of the American ability to make the cultural and political diversity obvious and to grant it an international influence.
Dear Judith Jamison, after starting your career as a dancer at the American Ballet Theater in 1964 (nine teen sixty four), you have blinded us in Cry, La légende de Saint Joseph or in the now famous Sophisticated Ladies. You also perfectly combined your talent with Maurice Bejart’s talent at the Ballet of the twentieth century in Le spectre de la Rose in 1979.
I also grab the opportunity of this speech to give an echo to your impressive production as a choreograph. First of all, with your own company « The Jamison project », founded in 1988. Second of all, with your contribution to the success of federative international events, such as the Olympic Games opening ceremony of Salt Lake City in 2002. And I do not forget that you even take part of the job by carrying the Olympic flame.
How could I call up your career without mentioning your meeting with a man I would like to pay homage to Alvin Ailey. As an unquestionable major figure of the dance, he succeeded in generalizing contemporary dance and in giving birth to a fertile dialogue between cultures and communities. Your Hymn, which vibrant choreography touched the audience of the théâtre du Châtelet last Monday and gave them undeniable energy and joy, constitutes a magnificent tribute to him. When you started to speak, a simple gesture of your hand, a simple expression on your face, a simple change in your voice, that was all you needed to electrify the audience and make them travel through your artistic imaginary. And so did your dancers, whose beauty and virtuosity are outstanding.
As the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 1989, you marvelously perpetuates his work. Your most recent ballet Reminiscin has managed to interpret with strength the famous Nightawks of Edward Hopper and to bring great female jazz artists back to live. Rift, Sweet Release, Loves Stories; all of your creations have promoted new talents and contributed to the vitality of contemporary dance.
Already honored by the prestigious National Medal of Arts and by the Kennedy Center Honor, France is not the first country to reward you. Nevertheless, I am pleased you accepted the distinction of Commander of the Arts and Letters as a sign of the gratitude of our country for your contribution to the dance, to the art creation and to the building of bridges between communities and cultures, as an hymn to the cultural diversity.
To give you the savour of a magnificent artistic language, the French one, I am going to conclude with the text of great French poet and politician, Aimé Césaire, from the Cahiers du retour au pays natal :
Comme il y a des hommes-hyènes et des hommes-
panthères, je serais un homme-juif
l’homme-famine, l’homme-insulte, l’homme-torture
on pouvait à n’importe quel moment le saisir le rouer
de coups, le tuer – parfaitement le tuer – sans avoir
de compte à rendre à personne sans avoir d’excuses à présenter à personne
mais est-ce qu’on tue le Remords, beau comme la
face de stupeur d’une dame anglaise qui trouverait
dans sa soupière un crâne de Hottentot? »