Claire Le Michel, French contemporary dancer and poet, uses poetry to peek into the kaleidoscope of life

Claire Le Michel, who was in Thiruvananthapuram for a workshop and performance, explores a plethora of themes in her long poem ‘A Dancing Cow’ through the coming-of-age story of a six-year-old girl

Cows don’t dance. Or do they? In six-year-old Lea’s life, they certainly do. They don’t just dance but also form an inviolable bond with humans. For French contemporary dancer and poet Claire Le Michel, “abandonment of dreams” marks the true end of childhood in one’s life and she chooses to call attention to this idea through the life of the fictional six-year-old in her fantasy-ridden long poem A Dancing Cow.

“As we grow up, we let go of our dreams. Look at children, they are full of life, full of hope and love and laughter,” says Claire. In A Dancing Cow, written in free verse, we follow little Lea’s adventures and her share of joy and sorrow as she comes of age. “The story begins in France when the girl is six and we get a sneak-peek of her eventful life till she’s 92 and the narrative ends in Chennai,” says Claire. Here, we get a reflection of Claire’s own experience and perspectives about life, having travelled in Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the years.

Claire describes the poem as “a love story” between Lea and her cow, Limo, who, in the little girl’s imagination is a “red-haired limousine” she first meets in the lap of nature. The Paris-based poet’s idea of Nature is perhaps not what Alfred Lord Tennyson meant when he said “red in truth and claw.” Rather, it exists for humans to be in communion with it. Nature is nurture for her. As if to drive home the point, her poetry workshop for school students held on Thursday was conducted at the city zoo.

Claire Le Michel and school students during the poetry workshop at the zoo  
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

“All I told them was to open their eye a little and observe, not just see or see through. If you slow down and take a moment to think, you’ll realise a certain sense of oneness,” she says. Shifting “the point of view” is key in getting the right perspective to develop empathy, “to see the other side.” “I told them (children), now be the hippo. Try to see how it sees the world. The perspective of the animal kept in an enclosure may be the polar opposite of ours,” she says.

Slated to be published early next year, A Dancing Cow is interspersed with illustrations by Elenore Rimbault, a French anthropologist doing research in Kozhikode, which complement the magic realist setting. On Friday, Claire, also a theatre director, gave a “performance version” of A Dancing Cow that incorporated elements of dance, music and storytelling at Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum.

Explaining why she chose the story of a girl to elucidate on universal themes such as nostalgia, coming-of-age and passage of time, Claire stresses that “every person has a child in him/her no matter hold old the person is.” And she feels poetry is an effective medium to convey the message and can even “make the world a better place.” In her view, the music of words and the deep tenderness their meaning can evoke when chosen artfully and honestly is enough proof.

A photo poem
| Photo Credit:
Harikumar J S

Though her mother tongue is French, Claire says she started writing in English after staying in Kerala for a few months years ago. “It was a phase when I couldn’t use French for my daily communication. I had ample time to develop my English. Creative writing is one good way of improving one’s language skills. I felt writing in English also gives me more scope to reach out to more people,” she says.

Claire is also exhibiting some of her “photo poems”, which is on till Saturday (November 30) at Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum. The framed works are in both English and French, quick “word sketches” that resemble haikus with an accompanying photograph Claire took. “They are vignettes of some fleeting experience captured spontaneously in words. It’s almost like a meditative experience. Such moments, that are otherwise gone in a jiffy, sometimes need to be chronicled.” Perhaps, carpe diem is Claire’s mantra for life.

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