Tomeo Verges: From 'life amid meat' to contemporary dance

Mohammed Saad , Thursday 25 Apr 2013

Tomeo Verges, one of the most important coreographers in contemporary dance, reflects on his origins, the human body and his concept of time after his performances in the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival

Tomeo Verges Performance in D-CAF Cairo
One of Verges's performance in D-CAF (Photo: Mostafa Abd Elaty)


Tomeo Verges, the French coreographer, expresses stories and messages through movement of the human body. He is physical, understanding the body as a block of material to be shaped, bent and molded, often in stark ways. To him, his orientation is not strange or unusual, as Verges spent most of his life "in the midst of meat."

Verges, who participated with three performances in the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF) that opened early this month and will close 28 April, was born to a father who was a butcher. He worked with his father for some time, before he took up swimming as a sport, which is a muscular sport, achieving great success in it. He later left swimming to study medicine in Paris, which he practiced for a while before throwing his energy into coreography.

"I believe in the enormous capacity of the body to express. One movement could be equal to 100 words. In my work there is always a story I bring to the audience through the body, which is the key of life."

Verges's work reflects his philosophy of time and the body. For him the body is the key to understanding the world, even though we all have bodies, we are not aquainted with them. We were born with our bodies, just like we were born breathing and we are not aware that we are breathing. This reality moves Verges, and pushes him to coreograph works to bring us closer to our bodies, so we can understand them, and perhaps better feel them.

Time for Verges is not the same concept we have when we look at a watch, as behind this time is another time. Verges believes time is the constant and we are the passersby, not the other way around. According to our feelings, time could seem really fast if we are stressed, or really slow if we are relaxed. He believes time can be divided into parts, and this is exactly what he did for his performance "Anatomia Publica" where he explains time by the decomposition of movement into smaller units, depending on the stops between each small movement and others.

In light of this anatomy by Verges, we are able to understand our bodies, time and place in a different way that cannot be understood in everyday life, when movement happens naturally. This disection is the decoding mechanism to understanding life.

Verges's messages are always "open to whoever wants to understand it," and he does not think his abstract works stop people from understanding them, but that people understand them according to their own cultural, emotional and intellectual baggage.

He makes fun of "those intellectuals" who believe they have the ability to understand more abstract works, or that they are more important than the rest of the audience. He stresses that the mind and theories are not the correct place to start, but that each person understands things in their own way and we all need to learn from each other.

"You will find those who try to understand my work using their minds challenged, because the mind is not the right point to start understanding the art. We have to use our minds in the process, but the starting point has to be the emotion and the body, and there has to be a balance between these three things: the mind, the body and the emotion. We have to end this dictatorship of the mind when it comes to art. The important part is the emotion and the feeling, but we are missing them," he explained.

"We cannot have preconceived notions when it comes to dealing with art," Verges says. "When we stand in front of an art work, a play, we have to be open, we have to feel it in our bodies, because with our bodies we can analyse anything," he added.

Verges gives an example, saying: "When I am in front of a tree, I am standing in front of it, I feel I am in front of it, and what is important is this feeling we have."

He criticises those who leave an art show saying they liked the performance, or they did not like it. The important part every audience member needs to ask himself is "Why did I like this performance, or why did I not like this performance?" because answering this question will bring a lot of things to the surface.

Verges thinks it is hard to define contemporary dance, but contemporary dance to him is speaking with people on how we can be more sensitive to art, and not just to ask questions, but to bring emotion and feeling back. Contemporary dance to Verges is a translation of words, where "we don't speak but we speak."

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