‘It’s like being on a love boat’: the dance trio embraced by Sam Smith and Madonna

<span>‘Post-internet dance’ … (La)Horde’s Roommates is at Southbank Centre, London, in March. </span><span>Photograph: Blandine Soulage</span>
‘Post-internet dance’ … (La)Horde’s Roommates is at Southbank Centre, London, in March. Photograph: Blandine Soulage

That thing about never meeting your idols? Not true, say (La)Horde. There was the time Madonna slid into their DMs, for a start. She started following the French dance collective on Instagram. “We wrote, ‘Oh la la, Madonna!’ just to test if she’d see it, and she responded: ‘Hey, hi, want to collaborate?’” Marine Brutti is laughing, still a little in disbelief, as she recalls choreographing the Celebration tour.

Then there was the film they made with Spike Jonze, the tours with Christine and the Queens and the time Sam Smith turned up backstage and they ended up making the Unholy video and live shows for 2023’s Gloria album. “Sam honestly is the best ever to work with,” raves Brutti. “The wittiest, funniest, most caring, protective person. It’s like being on a love boat,” she swoons. “I said to someone recently: work with your idols!”

Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer and Arthur Harel are the trio behind (La)Horde. They met 14 years ago on Paris’s queer club scene and, with backgrounds in dance and art, started helping each other out with projects. Over time it coalesced into something official and since 2019 they have been artistic directors of Ballet National de Marseille. Under that guise they’re coming to London with the show Roommates, which features two of their choreographies and four wildly different contemporary works: the cinematic dance-theatre of Belgian company Peeping Tom; a duet from the early 90s by Claude Brumachon and Benjamin Lamarche, inspired by artists lost to Aids; a grime ballet by Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud; and a piece from queen of minimal postmodernism Lucinda Childs.

Even while running a major dance company, (La)Horde keep a sense of outsiderdom and collaborative spirit. They say I can credit all quotes to (La)Horde, rather than individuals, or divide the quotes equally between them – even though Debrouwer isn’t on our video call. The age of the singular auteur is over, it seems.

The trio don’t all have traditional dance training, but “everybody dances, so everybody can make dance”. A lot of their work has been made with amateurs. Their only previous live performance in the UK was To Da Bone, with a cast recruited online who dance something called jumpstyle, to hardcore techno. Their own choreography borrows from every style going, and from the dance floor, the bedroom, real life: they made a piece inspired by ravers protesting against police in Tbilisi; they unabashedly dive into sensuality, and fluid ideas of gender and sexuality. It seems to be about how bodies live in the world, not on stage, and our physical experiences and interactions. “Pleasure, desire, politics, aesthetics,” outlines Harel.

Their work lives in the era that we all do, on our phones, constantly connected, able to read or watch anything from anywhere. That’s referenced in their piece Age of Content – of which an extract, Weather Is Sweet, is part of Roommates. They talk about the advent of Web 2.0, where suddenly everyone could participate, create and share online. “It completely changed the dynamic of what it is to be a creator and we were amazed. For us, it was like a utopia.”

They’ve been reflecting on how much the context, or the platform, defines what can be called art. An example: “We were on a residency in Los Angeles and we went to a strip club and we were saying, this is dance, but because of the context I cannot receive it in the same way that I would on stage.” Put that same movement into one of your music videos and it could be art? “Exactly, but in a music video you can still question it because it’s commercial. But if you put it in a theatre, on a stage you shared minutes ago with Lucinda Childs, how do you receive it?” They’re not telling anyone what to think. “It’s just to train our eye to stay alert and stay critical and widen our perspectives.”

(La)Horde have referred to themselves as “post-internet dance”, acknowledging an era where we’re surrounded by a multiplicity of ideas – you look up “apple” in the dictionary, there’s one definition. You google “apple”, there are billions of results. It’s partly about how borders of style and location dissolve when we’re connected online, and the practical ways you can make art now, communally.

The collective don’t differentiate between high- and lowbrow or accept other divisions. The way they work in the studio in Marseille isn’t much different to how they work with Madonna, they say. Except you’re part of a huge machine putting a global megatour on the road, surely? “But a machine is cold and metal, and Madonna rides emotions with tears and joy and fun and punk,” says Brutti. “It’s more like a big ship and she’s the captain,” she adds, delighted to be among the crew.