Melancholy lies between death and desire;
It is a desire that knows it is mortal.
By what obscure paths, by which secret detours, does a theme become such an obsession that one has no choice but to face it head-on in order to free oneself from it ?
In this way melancholy traverses all our performances, in the same measure as certain ambiguities and humoristic turns: it is never imposed as a subject in itself. Yet suddenly it emerges, so self-evident it demands that we de-bone it, skin it of all appearances, define its origins .
At the same time it becomes a filter that allows us to position ourselves when faced with our own being, faced with our work, faced with the period in which we live. How do we feel about the end of this century? What is the mood, the state of being that characterizes our behavior and our identity ? Is melancholy a sentiment specific to today? Should we let ourselves be guided by it or rather react against it? And: what does it mean to react against something that is perhaps fundamentally part of ourselves?
Hence the title of the performance, and the appeal to Saturn, which governs over the melancholic temperament.
Saturn: the god of time, of aging, of negative solitude.
Saturn: the highest of planets, the coldest and the slowest moving known at the time when humanity began to take an interest in melancholy and to see in it the disposition of men who seek to elevate themselves through the acquisition of knowledge yet are conscious of the inevitable failure that results from such attempts. In other words, during the Renaissance, when Florentine Neoplantonism made the infinite one of man’s natural preoccupations and no longer the privilege of God…
It was not any trouble then, when we set to documenting and analyzing the sense and the evolution of melancholy, to discover that we undoubtedly have more affinities with the manneristic and contemplative sixteenth century, than with more recent concepts, which by all appearances should more relevant (affective, romantic) to us.
Throughout the course of the work, certain recurrent elements and relationships appeared, some times quite automatically and at others rather unexpectedly, which were linked to the function and the image of melancholy established during the Renaissance. And it was as if a historic perspective, which embraced the atmosphere of intellectual contradiction of the period, materialized without us realizing it.
With the actors and dancers, this meant assigning particular importance to duality, allowing the natural development of contradictory tensions for couples who were either in opposition or complimentary. All the while seeking to respond to the following: how to reconcile an affirmation of the self with self-doubt… And how does the conflict of such a duality create a model for a comportment on stage…
The body and melancholy
These questions, finally, are expressed through the staging of the body, in the designation of the body as a place of possibility, like an envelope immune to decomposition and destruction.
Through the course of rehearsals, the body began to emerge as the focal point of our notion of melancholy.
It became strangely clear, on one hand, that the degree to which our thinking was pregnant with melancholy had to do with the complexity and uncertainty of intimate being: the sensation of antagonistic forces, contrary tensions that clash over our identity. And also: with a kind of tearing apart (how to associate a sense of what is absolute with the bitterness that accompanies the incapacity to accomplish anything at all.)
It became strangely clear that melancholy had for some time contributed in a decisive manner to the very nature of our work, operating on its borders, the frontiers between genres, in all that is uncertain, indescribable, unresolved…
On the other hand, beyond any artistic questioning, perhaps there are other reasons for which melancholy to this day embroils us in its contradiction: technical progress and communication between men have never been so far-reaching while at the same time the mind and spirit are confronted with their own barbarism, and human existence, defined in terms of merchandise and profit, finds itself at an impasse, two steps away from both ecological and moral disaster.
Text written during the creation of "Contre Saturn", from which originated "Le corps et la melancolie"
Patrick Bonté • 1996