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In Memoriam Monika Pagneux

34 years ago, at the prescient invitation of Tim Licata, I walked into the basement studio on the Rue de Courcelles and met Monika Pagneux. In that moment, my life changed. I knew I had found my teacher and I spent the next three years studying with Monika and eventually assisting her. I would return to Paris several times and then travel to Barcelona for her pedagogical workshops. Here was a teacher that did not rely on psychology to teach (or terrorize), whose one truth was the body. The word-phrase I remember her using the most (although she also used many onomatopoetic sounds to teach as well) was “Oui, c’est juste.” Never “that was good” or “that was right,” but “that was just”— honest, organic, truthful.

I could go on and on about growing up in her studio, finding my artistry, having a pedagogical role model and a supportive elder, the alchemy of her leading with an analytical eye and instructive heart… She taught us to watch children and how they move, paying close attention to their sense of discovery of their own bodies, their movements, and curious play. There were students from dozens of countries working, exploring, growing together. She encouraged us to use all the languages and aspects of our cultures in our improvisations and exercises. A truly international collaboration and sharing. All this to say, I am the human and artist I am today due in large part to Monika.

I spent three days at the beginning of August in the mountains outside Grenoble, at a government-run nursing home, holding her 96-year-old hand, rubbing lotion on her hands and feet, feeding her overripe fresh fruit because she would not eat the food they gave her, creating little dances with our fingers and forearms. Zooming with her students from around the world, many of whom had visited and planned to visit again, even though her failing sight could not really distinguish that they were live on the screen. Discovering that, although her hearing was failing, with earbuds she could listen to classical music; and watching her sway ever so slightly to Debussy and Chopin — the traces of the interior dance of this artist who danced with Mary Wigman, taught for many years at the Lecoq school, was movement director for Peter Brook, and apprenticed with Moshe Feldenkrais. It was sacred time.

On August 21 (2023) she completed her journey. I am patiently waiting and praying while Monika locates her new spiritual address so that we can reconnect across realms. As those of us who have lost close relations know, this period of reestablishing connection is a destabilizing limbo that cannot be rushed. I am told she once said that she would be “stardust” when she died, and I am sure she is — dancing, inspiring, loving, and requiring us to see better and do better from her heavenly flight. She leaves here on this plane, in addition to two loving grandchildren, a devoted family of artists, many of whom stay in close contact, and a creative legacy that is impossible to fully comprehend with the thousands of people she taught and raised.

Oui, c’est juste.

(Photos courtesy of the internet and friends)

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