Interview

FACT Chats: Déborah Smith Cabrera, Founder and Director of PERSEÏDES

FACT catches up with the founder of PERSEÏDES to talk about the arts, cultural institutions and aerial performances.

What was the inspiration behind creating your brand PERSEÏDES?

I worked alongside artists and cultural organisations for about eight years in photography, contemporary arts and multidisciplinary projects. After that, I started feeling the urge for independence within my artistic choices and the projects I wanted to support. I also wanted to work with choreographers and street art performers. 

Furthermore, I quickly realised a genuine need among artists for production, development and communication methodology and tools. Some don’t have the time for this work as creativity and inspiration already submerges their brains. Most have remarkable capacities to tell a story through image or their bodies but cannot develop professional presentation documents to “sell” their projects. Therefore, a natural “tandem” complementary relationship has to be built between artists and me. 

PERSEÏDES

What is the significance behind the name of the brand? 

Perseids are prolific meteors and showers of shooting stars. The point from which they hail lies in the constellation of Perseus. Beyond the fact I am fascinated by the sky and mythology, I liked the idea that each artist comes up with as many ideas and projects as shooting stars, and I will stand alongside them to help reach their goal. In French, the word sounds like the verb “percer”, which means to “understand” or “reveal” the needs and find solutions.


PERSEÏDES supports artists, companies, agencies, associations and cultural institutions. Which has been your favourite collaboration that you have been involved in?

It’s tough to come up with “favourites”, as I adore all of the projects, companies and artists I work with. However, the six years I spent with French-Vietnamese contemporary photographer Jean-Baptiste Huynh were probably the first most significant experience for me in the artistic world and the beginning of a passion for light, contrast, black and white shades and photography.

Môm’en Danse was the first dance company to trust PERSEÏDES and bringing dance performances and practices to children in schools and on stage remains my “mascot” collaboration. But, working with the two aerial dance companies Les Passagers and ADE Company, is an absolute pleasure. Every day, we share energy and original ideas. Thinking of residencies and performances on an international scale is very exciting for me.

PERSEÏDES

Have you always had a keen interest in the arts? 

Two visual artists raised me, so we can say the influence started early. My parents always encouraged (but never forced) music, dance and drama, which I enjoyed during my childhood and teenage years. Likewise, my sister followed the visual arts pathway and is a fantastic painter and illustrator. So becoming an artist myself never crossed my mind. However, working within an artistic environment and in direct contact with creatives was a true ambition. 


What drew you specifically to vertical dance, and how are the performances planned and executed?

The so-called “aerial” dance, often called “vertical” dance, consists of professional climbing and speleology rigging material and tools to hook onto buildings and walls, or natural surface areas such as rocks, trees or mountains, or even being hung from huge scaffolding structures. The use of the rope or elastics allows the aerial dancer to evolve on a vertical surface with a pendular movement or to dance in the open air in suspension. 

I first met a vertical dance company in Paris in early 2020. Compagnie Les Passagers conceives, produces and performs contemporary dance, aerial dance, theatre and visual arts in public spaces within a vertical universe. Scaffolding, pyramids, cables, ropes, and nets make up the scenic structure of this original work, where urban architecture lends itself to its evolution. From a dance solo in a tree to 16 aerial dancers performing on a 15-meter high metallic structure.

The introduction to Philippe Riou, the founder, choreographer and director of the company, was great. Philippe gives his performers creative freedom, and I feel deep mutual respect and trust in our collaboration.

I also work for a young Italian contemporary dance choreographer integrating video, mapping and photography into her creations. Alice Delva of ADE Company is unique with her work in that she concentrates on rooting her performances in natural sites, such as mountains, rocks and climbing spots. It’s very challenging to organise, produce, and even bring an audience to see, so it’s interesting. 

I try to find residency partners where the company can work, create and rehearse, and at the same time, I look for partners sponsors and institutional funds to help finance the creation. We also try to “sell” the performance to festivals or producers on the same schedule even though the show has not yet been created.

PERSEÏDES

Please tell us about your day-to-day role and what keeps it challenging and exciting?

I naturally adapt my methods and communication according to different artists and disciplines. I like this diversity. Some will let me be as free as a bird and take all initiatives in the commercial approach and the creation phase. Others will feel much more relaxed brainstorming with me on all aspects, including documents and strategic e-mails.

I usually try to share my time equally between projects. I prefer to start the day with brainstorming or project meetings and then go on to production work. I like to attend at least one rehearsal or creative session during the week. I save time during weekends and evenings to attend the performances.


What memorable responses have you had to your work?

In July, we were proud when we confirmed an artistic residency within three libraries in Paris, supporting creativity for children inspired by books. This project was partially financed by Ville de Paris and the Cultural Ministry. Managing to get approval from a partner supporting the creation of a project is such a reward, as it is pretty meticulous work. We constructed the residency project for four months before it was confirmed. Nevertheless, it was quite a victory as last year the company has created two shows with almost no finances, and this year we managed to launch a new creation with public funds.

PERSEÏDES

What are the most typical client requests that PERSEÏDES receives? 

  • Putting into words their artistic project. Setting up presentation documents and adapting different versions according to the target audience.
  • Sponsor/partner coordination and negotiation.
  • Provisional budget realisation and updating.
  • Application to public and foundation fund programs.
  • Searching and coordinating rehearsal places.
  • Contributing to newsletters, social media content and press releases
  • Planning production, creation and rehearsal schedules while coordinating with directors, artistic and technical teams.

Since the pandemic began, how has PERSEÏDES adapted to service its clients? 

We managed to present Môm’en Danse shows in schools as soon as they reopened in France, as theatre remained closed for so long. So this was quite an opportunity for the company and the kids to have more direct access to arts inside schools. 

I did not need to adapt that much as we already worked with our phones and online meeting platforms. On the other hand, the artists I work with never stopped creating, dancing, or practising. During that period, I took more time for preparing strategies and writing documents.

PERSEÏDES

With large-scale events such as Expo 2020 Dubai taking place in the GCC, can you see PERSEÏDES being involved in forthcoming events such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar?

Definitely, especially with a big company such as Les Passagers, who can prepare a performance of up to 15 artists and offer a great experience in important outdoor festivals and across the world. 

The aerial shows and dance performances for the public are destined for a vast audience. These formats suit significant cultural or sports events in cities. The company has been performing quite a lot in the GCC, including the Dubai World Cup. 

We are positioning ourselves for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. So naturally, we would love to be part of the artistic and entertainment activities, just like we are preparing for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. Les Passagers have often gathered around sports as a central theme for its artistic projects and event performances. Its big new aerial show in creation right now is called SPORT(S). It will be a series of dance and aerial dance performances in public spaces. The core of this project involves the construction of a large format aerial dance show involving 16 performers, ideal for stadiums within cities or green spaces.

PERSEÏDES

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