Numéro: How did you first meet?
Marie-Agnès Gillot: I heard about Souleymane and went to see him in the ring, during the French championship I think it was. He knocked his opponent out in about two seconds, in the first round – two direct hits, straight to the floor. I realized you can’t blink during one of his fights or you risk missing the vital moment. In fact I was almost disap- pointed, because after waiting hours to see him he was so vigorous that it really didn’t last very long.
Souleymane Cissokho: After that we met when I fought against José Manuel Clavero at La Seine Musicale [Souleymane Cissokho emerged victorious in the seventh round]. Marie-Agnès told me afterwards that she’d liked the sense of poise and gesture in my way of fighting – the artistic aspect of my box- ing. She asked me to work with her on a project, a stage adaptation of her duo with Roschdy Zem in the video of La Boxeuse amoureuse by Arthur H. I immediately accepted, because I’ve no intention of limiting myself to the confines of my chosen sport. And I think that dance and boxing have a lot in common, beginning with the very visual side of these two disciplines.
What would you say to those who simply dismiss boxing as an ultra-violent sport?
M.-A.G.: I actually think it’s a very technical sport that demands a lot of strategy and mental effort. I really don’t think there’s anything brutal about it – on the contrary, it can be extremely graceful.
S.C.: There’s still a lot of prejudice around boxing, which is why I always encourage people to try it, at least once. If they do, they’ll understand that it’s like fencing, only with fists: you have to touch your opponent without being touched yourself. You also have to think out your strategy, and maintain your concentration all through the fight, because it takes only a split second of inattention to get knocked over.
Souleymane, what’s your feeling about dance?
S.C.: Before becoming a professional sportsman, I had a lot of prejudices about it which today have totally disappeared. To become an étoile like Marie-Agnès takes incredible dedication and a colossal amount of work, repeating the same gestures over and over until they’re perfect. Competition is fierce and, just as boxers take hits, so dancers endure intense physical suffering. They are athletes just like us.
The cliché would be to say that boxers shine through their strength and dancers through their grace. But seeing the two of you proves that the opposite is true too.
S.C.: Of course, Marie-Agnès has a strong personality, a lot of character. Her whole career demonstrates that. I think that being like that from an early age must have helped her enormously, and she continues to benefit from it today.
M.-A.G.: Souleymane has a natural grace that’s unique. He’s extremely charismatic, with a presence like a dancer’s. When he enters the ring, all you see is him – absolutely nothing else exists. And that’s what counts on stage.