Knowing, understanding, and mastering your body’s movements will liberate your creative potential. These are the fundamental principles of contemporary-dance groundbreaker Martha Graham. At the Paris Marais Dance School, Maggie Boogaart, one of the few certified teachers in the Martha Graham Technique, preaches and practices all of them.
A tall and thin woman with a sophisticated hairstyle holding together her thick red hair arrives. This is Maggie Boogaart, though her most recognizable feature is certainly her gracious dancer gesture. In the middle of her full day of classes, I met her in the restaurant Grand Coeur, located in the courtyard of her school. Her comfortable jogging clothes reminding me that contemporary dance is a fully-fledged sport.
Maggie Boogaart and her husband Ghislain de Compreignac, a classical ballet dancer, founded the Paris Marais Dance School in 2009. They now intend to bring it to a higher level with the implementation of an intensive program that has nothing to envy to those of the London Contemporary Dance School. The story of this dancer exemplifies the capacity that artists and dancers have to reinvent themselves and extend their creativity following their need of expression. Martha Graham declared “I want all of my students and all of my dancers to be aware of the poignancy of life at that moment. I would like to feel that I had, in some way, given them the gift of themselves.” It seems like Maggie Boogaart applied this statement through all her life no matter how hard managing an artist status can be.
Before creating this school Maggie Boogaart had about twenty lives. Along her soloist career, Maggie worked with 17 choreographer. The determination with which she chose this life path never left her. Today she commits to transmitting Martha Graham’s technique and values she believes in to her students.
From Education to Creation
The Martha Graham technique is based on the idea that discipline enables freedom. To be able to fully express all the inner-self nuances, dancers need to have the knowledge, the understanding and to master their physical abilities. In her quest for creative expression, Maggie Boogaart was aware that she needed to polish her technique. At 18, she left the Rotterdam Conservatory for the best European school in her domain : the London Contemporary Dance School. Her creative energy propulsed Boogaart on the other side of the ocean. When she arrived in New York to enter the New York Martha Graham School, the only Martha Graham Technique school in the world, she started to open her horizon to other artistic media. « I started to work with my boyfriend who happened to be a film director. I starred in about thirty of his movies, either with dance, performance or behind the camera when I was helping the technical team ». New York’s tempo is known to be very fast, just enough to fit with Boogaart’s rhythm. This interdisciplinary approach hatched out during her education in London. Jane Dudley, a Martha Graham technique teacher played a part in this. « She made us work in museums to see the connection between a painting, the feeling it triggers and to what extend can it influence us to create a choreography. »
Completing the construction of a strong technical base enables to liberate creativity. This is what Maggie did in New York. Back to the Netherlands she started to work with Martha Ruba in the Dancer Studio where she started exploring her inventiveness in choreography. « When I was 24 I was part of the dancers, but I had so much energy that I was ready to explode! From that moment on I became simultaneously a choreographer and a guest soloist for other choreographers.» To explain her life choices she simply says « I never thought about having my own company, opening a dance school or participating in theatrical creations, I just did what I could not stop » Hearing this reminds me of what Graham declared in her time : « You don’t build on security. You risk. Everything is risk. You use everything you remember as a part of the present, of the now. »
Outside Boundaries is Where Discoveries Are
Exploring one’s creativity requires looking for inspiration in other artists’ work. With enough techniques to explore her creativity Maggie Boogaart found new paths in artistic collaborations. She worked with Judith Bernard in « Bienvenue dans l’angle Alpha », a play the latter had written and directed: « I choreographed a piece that illustrated in a clear manner the scenario. Many members of the audience told me that my work enabled them to understand better ».
Contemporary arts all work closely together. Contemporary dance and performance are particularly related. Maggie instantly seized the occasion to create. In 2017 Maggie Boogaart and her students participated in Lee Mingei’s performance in the Centre Pompidou. The performers created patterns in slow motion on the floor with rice and a traditional broom. « When we auditioned with our school, Mingwei was immediately open. He is very specific and knows exactly what he wants and how to make it come out of you. » Maggie Boogaart closed the piece with grace and pride for a last performance. Martha Graham transmitted her the idea that the freedom to spontaneously express herself through dance could only be achieved with a strong disciplined background. The mastery of her art is thus possible.
Night Journey is a ballet choreographed by Martha Graham in 1947
Because you can do anything you want with it, technique is a language that eliminates tensions. Practicing dance with another culture challenges communication and promotes the exchange of different visions. Living in France pushed Boogaart to diversify her practice. « In France cultural policies are much better than in the Netherlands. Moreover there is such a rich heritage of dance here, even the king Louis XIV dances! There’s so much freedom, appreciation and respect for the art of dance here ». France has this image of a free place for the expression of extravagance in comparison to the Netherlands. It is very attractive for foreign artists living in countries where cultural policies are not as developed and do not provide subsidy for cultural development.
« Hey! I Can Teach! »
Being a professional dancer does not always provide for a living and is a short-lived activity. Although it was not something she had ever thought she could do, Maggie started teaching. « I actually had prejudices about teaching, I always thought I would never want to teach.» Not only did it provide herself with a stable monthly income, but it turned out to be another great discovery about the potentials of dance: « I instantly loved it. I was amazed about the response of each individual to what I would say. I discovered that teaching could bring me with all the creating potential necessary for my fulfillment. I find it fascinating how you need to adapt differently to each student to enable the best of them to come out. » Being one of the very few dancers to have inherited Martha Graham’s valuable teaching, Maggie immediately fitted in the dense French market of dance training.
What Maggie Boogaart transmits is not solely dance techniques, but a whole vision of the discipline. Throughout her life she always practiced what she preached, and it can be found in her classes today. As her story unfolds, one strong idea comes out: « I was always guided by a strong energy ». She let her inner-self guide her through life. Although to succeed in every step of her way, a strong mind had to be maintained. « To be a dancer is to be a realist. You need to make a lot of sacrifices. If you start skipping class, getting drunk, staying late in bed when you attend a dance school, you fail. I had to be very independent and professional right away because nobody was going to take me by the hand. » Having such a vision makes her the worthy successor of Martha Graham.
After an hour of talking, Maggie kindly invites me to follow her to the studio and watch a part of her class. It actually enables me to understand better what she was telling me about for the past hour. 10 teenage girls are getting ready for their class. As they begin, Maggie invites them into her world with metaphors, descriptions, feelings and sensations guiding them towards the most accurate representation of the teacher’s own creation.