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Tripping the light fantastique.

WHEN France's entertainment artists went on strike last year, theirs was considered a suicidal act that would lead to the demise of France's national pride and joy, the great diversity of its cultural scene. Nevertheless, when the enormous new Centre National de la Danse opened its doors in the northeastern Parisian suburb of Pantin last June, the event confirmed the dance industry's determination, longevity, and most of all, its optimism.

This building might flatter the ego of any young dancer. Designed to bring dance professionals and lay people into contact with one another, this former home to the administrative services of Pantin has since undergone a 15-million-Euro transformation into an inviting mecca for movement.

"It began in 1992 as a dream whose goal was to fill a void," commented CND director Michel Sala in his bright white office overlooking the Ourcq Canal. "France had suffered a series of major losses in the dance world, including the deaths of Rudolph Nureyev and Dominique Bagouet." Their absence clarified the country's need to record dance history and to keep dance alive.

Sala, co-founder (with Regine Chopinot) of Ballet Atlantique in the port city of La Rochelle, further noted that theirs was a "very French situation. Whereas in the United States, [modern] dance was born in the universities, here, it was born on the stage, in the theaters, keeping it at a distance from any academic approach or perspective."

The Culture Ministry thus decided to enhance its dance patrimony with a new project. While contributing to the preservation of dance history, the CND would also be a cultural crossroads and information resource. It would be a meeting place for performers, choreographers, and other dance professionals as well as the general public. The project would eventually include a vast library, studios for teaching, training, and workshops, and performance spaces open to public view.

The CND was officially born in 1998, but it functioned for six years throughout various venues in Paris and its suburbs. It wasn't until last September, when the first public performances were held in the freshly inaugurated building, classes began, and the library, with its collection of over 20,000 works, opened to the public, that the true nature of the project could be appreciated.

The sprawling building is home to 11 working studios, three of which have public seating and are equipped with hi-tech performance lighting. Sala hopes that the studios will function for 12 hours a day, 300 days a year, and predicts that in two to three years' time, a new performance space with a seating capacity of 400-500 will be added to the existing edifice.

The CND is also a vast information mecca. The Professional Resource Center occupies a small third-floor office. Here dancers can consult the latest in auditions, employment, training, and nutrition, or get advice from a staff member. With 170 shows this season, not to mention the colloquiums, and the exhibit on "Femininity and Dance from the 15th to the 18th Centuries," the CND is set to become one of the country's prime dance destinations. Its presence confirms the nation's determination to nurture the vibrancy of dance.
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Title Annotation:Dance Matters
Author:Bauer-Prevost, Karen
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:522
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