Originally from France, professional dancer Octave Parfait follows a personal philosophy of constant challenge and improvement.
Trained in acrobatics, gymnastics, and dance as a child, Parfait quickly became a talent among the international dance community.
Since moving to the United States, Parfait trained with the Martha Graham School and was later selected to join the illustrious Martha Graham Dance Company.
Parfait has also worked with Hub City Opera Dance Company, Rioult Dance NY, An Nuo Spiritual Dance Team, and is a full member with the acclaimed ARIM Dance.
Artvoice interviewed Parfait recently to learn more about his approach to dance and movement, as well as reaching a better understanding of what it takes to dance at such an elite professional level.
How did working with the Martha Graham Dance Company inform your understanding of dance as an art form?
Working with the Martha Graham Dance Company helped me improve considerably as an artist because the artistry comes already within the movement from the technique created by Martha Graham herself. This technique is based on what we call the “Contraction” and “Release” and it has to come from so far inside of yourself, so deeply to find the right feeling and position that it automatically has to connect with your true emotions.
If true emotion is not involved in the movement, it means that you are not there yet. Also, Martha Graham choreographed her ballets with a lot of different characters, creating stories, so at the same time, you have to work on your acting side within your dance on top of being able to be one with the powerful music that you are dancing to.
Dancing is not just movements and steps, it is much more than that. To be a good dancer you have to be an artist. You need to be able to act and interpret different roles with your body, mind, and emotions. There is a lot of physical work demanded as a dancer but also a lot of mental work to do to be able to be the character.
Dance is way more than just moving and this is why I love it. There is all this work in the studio and at home prior to performing that has to be done before, to really be able to be and know the person you are going to be. You need to know how they react in each situation, how they eat, how they move, how they behave, how they sleep, how they walk, how they do everything to be able to be natural on stage.
Then you also need to make the movement in connection to the music, if the music is powerful like Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” for example, you have to be strong. Dancing includes being a musician, being an actor, feeling and sending true emotions, creating the exact form, shape and line, having a powerful presence, and stamina. The Graham company helped me fully realize this.
What was your first involvement with ARIM Dance? Did you know right away that you fit in well with the group?
My first involvement with ARIM Dance was directly to perform a duet (“Yoke”) with Ari Mayzick himself (the Choreographer, Artistic Director and Founder of the company) on tour in Las Vegas at the Judy Bayley Theater. I didn’t know right away if I was going to fit in well with the group but it was not a problem for me.
Mr. Mayzick invited me to join the company, giving me leading and principal roles right away and I decided to join, not for the dancers who were in the company but mostly because of the work and the repertory and because I was extremely interested to work with such a notable personality in the dance world as Ari Mayzick and learn from his experience.
His work and choreography are extremely challenging and regroup hard steps and fast movements with a lot of stamina required by all the dancers and also the emotional and artistic aspect of dance that I love. His work is hard and makes you grow stronger physically and mentally every day and that’s why I accepted this challenge.
Have you always enjoyed performance? Was there ever a time when stage fright got the best of you?
I always loved performing. I have been performing on stage since I was five years old and after my first performance I’ll always remember myself realizing and telling myself “That’s what I need to do”. You are just so free on stage and free to be yourself and that is what attracted me instantly to becoming an artist.
I need to be on stage, my life is on stage, I have this feeling in me that I only live on stage. The stage is such a sacred space, full of energy and spirituality. Being on stage and performing makes you grow as an artist but also as a person. Of course, I still sometimes get this stage fright before going on stage, but it never really gets to me because as soon as I enter the stage, everything is gone and I am just free.
You can be a bit nervous before a performance, but personally, as soon as I put my first foot on stage, I am no longer nervous and that’s why the stage is so magical and powerful to me, and with more and more experience, you learn how to handle it and transform this apprehension into excitement.
I also enjoy the feeling one has (well at least I have) in the dressing room backstage, while getting ready, putting your makeup on, dressing in your costumes. It’s very spiritual and traditional to me, like I’m getting ready for a ritual, and I love all of that preparation time prior to the performance.
To conclude, the post-performance feeling is amazing, too, because after a performance my body is always super excited and I always feel so powerful and untouchable. Those are all the reasons why I just love being an artist and performing.
Have you noticed any differences between performing in the US and performing in Europe?
Personally, nothing really different that I could think of right now. For me every performance is different even if you are performing in the same theater, on the same stage, the same pieces every night, every single performance will be and feel different.
Because it all comes from your true emotions and every day you are different in your daily life with different feelings, each performance will be different, and that’s what is beautiful with art.
Art always changes, art is always received and felt differently by each person, and even the same person can feel different about the exact same thing on different days. That’s why for me every performance is so different from the others. Every time I go on stage I take it as my last performance and I take every new performance as a different one.
Has there been a single moment in your career where you felt you were challenging yourself artistically?
Yes, every day! Every single day I am challenging myself in my artistry and dancing because it always has to get better and it can never stop getting better. Even if you’ve been playing the same role for ten years, you need to keep challenging yourself every day and make it new every time you perform it.
Personally, I think this is the hardest and most challenging part, having to perform the same role again and again, and being able to make it still seem fresh and new every single time. I am trying to challenge myself as much as I can every day because for me it can never stop getting better and it has to be better today than it was yesterday, and has to be better tomorrow than it was today. You can never stop improving. There are no boundaries and no end when it comes to being better.
Do you still find time to dance purely for recreation, outside of dance companies and studios?
No, I don’t. You see I think that there is a moment in your career that your perception of dance changes. When you are young you see this as a hobby and dance more for recreational purposes, but there is this moment in your life when this perception totally changes and switches from this passion to the professional side of it.
Yes it is still a passion of course, and a pleasure to be dancing every day, but you take it more seriously and professionally. And this changes when you start training professionally and dancing all day long. Like a person working in the office, our work is dancing the same amount of hours or even more every day when you also have to perform.
I love my job for sure, but I totally see it as a profession and not as something that is recreational. Even when I am off, I still need to train in my apartment, do my exercises, my ballet barre, and run to stay in shape and keep the muscles active to be able to jump right into rehearsal without hurting myself when I get back to work.
I also take classes with different teachers at different studios around NYC when I can but I still don’t see it as a recreation, I see it as a way to improve even more and train to get better and better.
Based on your extensive experience, do you have any advice for young dancers looking to become professionals?
My advice for young dancers who want to become professionals would be to never give up. Keep reaching for your goals, train hard, and challenge yourself every day and look and acknowledge your improvements.
Some days are going to be harder than others and it is normal, but you need to find confidence in yourself and trust yourself and your talent. Keep trying until you get it and know that you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will like you and that’s the same in life, you just need to know who are the ones that are going to believe in you and push you to be your best.
But most of all, you first need to believe in yourself and your talent, and compete alone against yourself, to push yourself and improve and get better. Don’t compare yourself to others because what you have and who you are is something that is totally unique since there is only one of you.