Bonnefoux finds inspiration in spirit


Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

At age 10, when most kids pretended to fight fires or dreamed of performing surgeries, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux decided he wanted to be a dancer.

Since then, Bonnefoux has accumulated countless awards; performed with the Paris Opera, Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets; and choreographed for the New York City Ballet. He co-founded a dance company that toured the U.S. for four years. He has taught at prestigious dance schools, and he now is the artistic director and president of the North Carolina Dance Theatre.

Since 1983, Bonnefoux has served as the artistic director, resident choreographer and principal teacher for the Chautauqua Dance program.

But none of these accomplishments could have come about without Bonnefoux’s deep connection with one thing: his spirit.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Bonnefoux will add another element of art to the theme “Art and Soul” in his lecture “Inspiration and Passion.” Great dancers should be in constant connection to their soul, he said.

“I think to be able to get to that level of dancing, you need to be inspired, and you need to be more in the spirit than you have to be in your head,” Bonnefoux said. “You have to do the work very well, you have to show up … but you have to go deeper; you have to commit to the spirit.”

Like Bonnefoux, many dancers decide at a very young age that they want to pursue dance. Then, they draw inspiration from the places they dance and the people who have danced before them, he said.

The dancer is inspired, internalizes that inspiration and then draws from it while he or she is dancing. This search within is vital to the creative process of dancing, Bonnefoux said.

“That’s what’s really unique for an artist,” he said. “Creation doesn’t come from the conscious mind. To create is really to go into the subconscious and what you have inside of you, that spirit.”

This explains why often, at the close of a performance, dancers may not remember how they danced or what happened around them. The dance was a deeply personal experience for them.

At its core, dancing is a soul search. Spirituality and religion can play a role for many dancers, but the spirit is the driving force, Bonnefoux said.

“For many people, the soul, or the spirit, is sacred and comes from a deeper place that many people call God,” he said. “My lecture is about creation, but also the spirituality of the body, the spirituality of what we do as an artist.”

When Bonnefoux dances or choreographs, his faith is part of his inspiration. He said he finds God in his spirit, from the same place that he finds inspiration for his dance.

Dance also is directly related to his faith in a physical sense. Though some religions condemn dancing, Bonnefoux said he uses it as an expression of his religion.

“Its such a natural thing to be moving,” he said. “A direct way to express yourself is through dance. It’s strange for me to hear or to know that there are religions that don’t think that you can dance, because I think it’s a celebration of the body, a celebration of the God who made you.”