Virginie Dupray: Coming respectively from dance and theater, you’ve developed in tandem since 1985 creations that move between text, image, objects and movement… How did this very personal world come into being?
Nicole Mossoux: We had both already done some work of our own, Patrick in theater and me with dance and we both felt something missing, some dissatisfaction. We found ourselves quite organically at a crossroads where language, a visual one above all else, is determined by very singular aesthetic worlds. What’s important is not to create a language, but many languages, gestural forms, ways of being on stage that are particular to each creation.
Patrick Bonte: We shared a desire to investigate the peculiar zones of the intimate, which didn’t seem possible to explore with only choreographic techniques or theatrical texts, often laden with psychology or realism. We attempted to give the spectator the liberty of constructing their own images, based on their own imagination, with phantasmic openings. Such an undertaking demands appropriated languages, which we have to discover each time. In the act of creation, we work a lot with improvisation, with the actors or dancers, along with a defined dramaturgical canvas, while leaving room for accidents, errors, the unexpected, which allows for the things that escape us, working with a certain ‘‘porousness’’ of being, making what is unknown in ourselves accessible…
VD : From the alter-ego marionettes in Twin Houses, the masks in Katafalk, the actors framed in Les Dernières hallucinations de Lucas Cranach l’Ancien to the fetishist world of Hurricane, the objects, accessories or figures seem to play a major role…
NM: The degree to which objects are present depends on the performance, they are particularly visible in the solos, wherein the necessity of confronting the solitary presence with an object-partner is imposed: a marionette, a figure, a play of shadows in Light!, a cord in Gradiva. It’s a question of putting a certain triangulation in place, between the spectator, the performer and their partner. We also have a certain fascination with the being, void of personal stories, affects, or psychology that is the marionette. The same goes for the overt play of projections and identifications on the part of the audience.
Twin Houses bears witness to the very fundamental relationship with the marionette, for us who are not puppet masters. How can this figure progressively become charged and give the illusion of life? The gestural concentration is directed almost exclusively at the marionette, while my actions take place, as much as possible, at a certain distance.
PB: The anthropomorphic nature of the figures remains undeniably troubling. Freud evokes this very well in The Uncanny by showing how childhood or certain primitive societies cultivate a non-distinction between the animated and the inanimate, by inventing projections of the self (dolls)… and how what is ‘‘uncanny’’ is constituted through the resurgence of such representations in the adult world.
The use of masks or marionettes also echoes our obsession with “the double” and with schizophrenic atmospheres. Our pieces are rife with the notion of separation, of division, both in the intention that lies behind the acting and the dance: bodies pulled between two antagonizing intentions, between two different rhythms…. The feeling of an impossible unity…
NM: The wearing of masks also generates the condition of removing all expressivity from the performers’ faces. If one’s face, with its extreme precision, takes charge of the expressivity, the body doesn’t have much left to say. With masks, the body is able to take over and put into action all the faculties of suggestion it possesses.
VD: Notions of retreat, distance, of stepping back are recurrent in your creations…
NM: In effect, our aim is not to project ourselves toward the audience, but on the contrary give the spectator the possibility of projecting for themselves through the performers.
PB: We’ve been criticized, particularly in France by the way, for a certain coldness in our performances. This touches upon the reality of the relationship with incarnation, which differs according to the sensibilities of different cultures. We recognize ourselves more in the world of suggestion than in that of expressionism. In our performances, doubt is implicit in the action; a distance is taken in relation to the self and its actions… The notion of retreat constitutes a part of what is presented on stage…
VD: The intervention, in two of your creations Les dernières hallucinations de Lucas Cranach l’Ancien and Simonetta Vespucci, of a strong pictorial influence… The performers, by their framing or through the video techniques used, seem to become a sort of effigy. How did these two pieces come into being?
PB: The encounter with Cranach was born out of a mesmeric moment in front of a small portrait of a princess, in London, a portrait of duplicity – she was at the same time innocent, angelic and an assassin; she brought us toward a strange and very troubling theatricality. As if the painter invited us to imagine what had happened just before the sitting or what would happen just after. We developed a way of working based on what is seen and what is hidden and little by little, a sort of frame imposed itself. The gestures of the performers do not borrow from the mechanics of the marionettes. Those characters are there as if having come to life after having been frozen in a tableau for five centuries. They discover an anterior existence in a manner both progressive and abrupt, from where you get the fits and starts, the disruptions, the stops, the sudden impulses….
Simonetta Vespucci marks a return several years later to mannerist images, both savant and ironic. The piece also interrogates notions of portraits, the face, what we give of ourselves and that which escapes us, creating a parallel with our contemporary era, marked by the overabundance of images of ourselves, due to surveillance cameras, photo-booths, reality shows… and the era which gave birth to portraiture: the beginning of the Renaissance.
VD: The costumes and the objects also participate in the creation of very striking aesthetics in the work: the Renaissance for Cranach, the milieu of fetishists, even sado-masochists in Hurricane. Do the costumes, the objects, orient little by little the atmospheres you create or are they chosen later, in order to reinforce a predetermined aesthetic?
NM: It’s the same with the music… We work a long time in certain ‘‘outfits’’, clothes that carry our gestures and fortify a character, an intention… Then comes the intervention of the costume designer (which is feminine in French… we’ve always worked with women, and have a long-standing relationship with Colette Huchard), which consists of bringing the propositions into question, by prolonging them or by looking in the opposite direction. It’s always a delicate moment for the performer, who has to leave their ‘‘skin’’ in order to fit into new forms, new materials; it always strikes at something very intimate…
But this confrontation may allow for them to go beyond the sentiment of comfort created by this second skin that had become so perfectly married with the first.
Rubbing a jacket collar, that’s a bit stiff, can give rise to a wave-like movement in the neck, a movement which will then be executed without the said collar being worn: the memory of the reactivated sensation has a strong chance of making the gesture more visible, in the double movement of relocation and of showing that which initiated the movement in the first place. This agency gives the gesture another dimension and permits the spectator to slide into the interstices. A too-direct relationship with the material may cause a sign to close in upon itself.
VD: In July you led a workshop at the Institut International de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières. Could you speak about that?
PB: It was a workshop that explored ‘‘the object’’, or rather the way of using an object without becoming the object of one’s object. There is always a danger that the object will take all the attention, that its presence may carry one away. How then to give it a particular status without becoming a slave to it? How to render it ambiguous, to transform it into a metaphoric sign? In our performances objects intervene like transient tools. Like the music or costumes, they lend a support that at a certain moment will disappear, to finally open up as much as possible the spectator’s imaginary space without enclosing them in an anecdote. The disappearance of the object marks an interesting moment, it disappears because that which motivated it’s apparition, has become stronger than it and yet if it remains it is because it has become a sign and not a crutch for the action.
As soon as it disappears, an essential question surfaces: how to confront, with bare hands, that which we wanted to say and get at what is essential without unnecessary tools, without assistance?
Interview by Virginie Dupray with Nicole Mossoux and Patrick Bonté • 2008