Material/Space/Body: the spectator’s place is in the empty spaces
David Lippe - Is the form seen in Light! characteristic of the Company’s work?
Nicole Mossoux - It is, in the way that each performance gives rise to its own very specific form: each theme we address engenders a very different formalization of the various elements related to the performance, whether it is the gestural language, the light or the scenography… Here in the relationship between the body and the light, between thought and blackness, it is the reality of the shadow that must come first: gesture, light, organizations of the space, all are adapted to highlight this priority.
D.L. - What kind of dialogue did you have with the light designer for Light! ?
N.M. - When you look at the credits for Light! you can see that the post of “light designer” isn’t listed, for the simple reason that the whole team collaborated on this aspect of the performance. Early on I tried to experiment alone, intuitively, in order to understand something of the phenomenon of shadow, without any technical baggage, to find a “basic”, almost naïve relationship with it… Then, from our technical director (Pierre Stoffyn) to our costume designer (Colette Huchard) along with the stage manager (Mikha Wajnrych), everyone brought their little stone to the edifice, not to mention Patrick Bonté, the metteur en scène, who creates the light for most of our performances… We also asked Marc Elst, from the Théâtre du Tilleul, for advice, as he is a specialist in shadows. Yet it was essential in this case for us investigate the fundamentals of shadows, without relying upon the technical know-how of the theater. What is a shadow? How is it charged symbolically, phatasmagorically? How does it affect us in daily life? We created our own techniques, even if they are closely related to preexisting ones.
D.L. - The audience doesn’t always understand whether the body is behind or in front of the screen….
N.M. - In fact the body is never behind the screen… What interested us was the confrontation between the character that circulates and the shadow it produces as if in spite of itself. The character and its shadow are almost always present.
For the costumes, we wanted a certain independence, in order to differentiate as much as possible between the shadow and the body, to render each autonomous: the costumes are very colorful, while the shadow is “dressed” in black. Also, we noticed how a detail in the costume could amplify or completely modify the part of the body that produces the shadow. There was also the idea to oppose the contours of the body with the flatness of the shadow…
All the very seductive and accessible video techniques were discarded, in order to conserve the live aspect of the changing relationships. With the video techniques we risked losing the through-line, the thread that connects, the relationship between solitude and its double negative. All we see is the story of a body-obstacle that creates, between light and screen, another body more phantasmic than itself. And it’s this relationship to power that needed to be the focus.
D.L. - The body creates its own limits…?
N.M. - Yes, and how it over-flows from these limits, like when the shadow, too big, and expands beyond the screen, in this no-man’s-land of the set. Currently I’m interested in experimenting with proportions, size and scale, through the manipulation of objects, in relation to the human body… this premise exists in Light!
D.L. - This relationship pervades your research. It seems that in Générations the bodies protect each other, each creating the limits for the other?
N.M. - They don’t protect each other, they expose each other. Générations is an installation/performance of two hours and thirty minutes intended for industrial spaces, and is sometimes performed outdoors, as we’ve just finished experimenting in Périgeux. The twelve dancers are placed on luminous slabs, indicating the place where they’ve fallen, a bit like meteorites. The audience has the possibility of seeing each dancer from all sides, which may induce a feeling of vulnerability on the part of the performer… They can also “zoom in” by moving closer up or move through and around the performers. The audience is free to install themselves close to one or another of the dancers, to see the eleven others or not. Some audience members read this as a great solitude, while others first perceive the connection, which is real, between the dancers.
D.L. - Would you say that in your work there is a specific method for approaching the space?
N.M. - Each time that decision has to be made. In Générations, we tried to create contrasts with the natural world. Audience member and dancer alike, everyone is lit, is visible. The only frontier, the only distance created between the transposed body, the body in movement and the audience is due in part to the light and in part to the slab on which the dancer is placed. Each audience member is free to circulate, to come in and go out. Which brings their role into question. It’s not obvious for the audience to permit themselves to circulate around something living, around human presence. People have the tendency to sit down, to stay in one place.
D.L. - In this “framework”, is the dance in opposition to the space?
N.M. - In any case the aim is not for it to be integrated into the space, which is of a different nature each time: after an abandoned industrial zone, we found ourselves at the very end of the Thiers pier in Arcachon…
D.L. - In regards to Jonction Nord-Midi, how was the project of itineraries between the three train stations of Brussels conceived, as far as the urban scenography, the scenography of pre-existing places?
N.M. - The train stations are really astonishing places, by their density of presence, the ambient sound… They exude a force, such that the preparatory work in the studio had to be tried out each time on-site and often needed to be greatly modified. Moreover, each station in which Jonction was presented, corresponds to different choreographic writing, an appropriate scenario… Stylistically, the rule was: keep it simple, if not nothing was visible given the complexity of the place. We systematically had to abandon what was small or confidential and develop very open gestures that were directly readable.
For Générations, I wanted to put the dancers in the fore, with more distance between them and the audience in order to freely develop the strange states of being, inherent to our language. In the stations, so much is ruled out: a body lying down is out of the question… people simply look away….
D.L. - We find ourselves in a real place, where life goes on, I’m thinking of the train stations… In this sense, today we’re given an enormous amount of images to take in, more and more often without being able to perceive their meaning. In your work with the company, what precisely is your relationship with the image?
N.M. - For us, to work with an image or from an image is completely natural. Belgium is above all else a country of painters… We’ve used the “black box”, a frontal vision, for a long time. But without it being flat, as the light, coming laterally, creates contours. At a certain moment we needed to break this window, the protection offered by traditional theatrical techniques: the audience in the dark, the actors in front of them, often slightly raised up, isolated by the light… We realized that the relationship with what is strange, with violence, becomes completely different.
The image that circulates “these days” is often framed on a screen… there one can “let themselves go”, one feels, as a spectator, totally protected. But when this violence or simply something off-kilter introduces itself into the territory of the quotidian, it changes everything… Even the suggestion of this, if it’s not covered by a marked sense of humor, is inadmissible, at least not well accepted…
D.L. - You worked quite explicitly on painting, with Les Dernières Hallucinations de Lucas Cranach l’Ancien, and with Light! we can follow a bi-dimensional development. How did painting influence this bi-dimensional approach?
N.M. – In Light! the fixed plane of the shadows is obvious, but in Cranach… The action takes place on a large wall, pierced with windows in which the bodies appear. The light, which often captures the figures from the side, creates the contours: it’s through this aspect that the intervention in relation to painting is situated. What can we show of Cranach after Cranach? His paintings are so very magnificent: why not send people to see his tableaux? Our role was to communicate, to share the sensations that we, today, may experience in front of one of his oeuvres: we imagined the characters of his portraits in what they might have lived, just before or after, we fantasized around their immobility… In fact the performance speaks about what can happen in ourselves when our vision is troubled. In the title of the performance there is “hallucinations”…
D.L. - It’s through the departure from a flat plane that one may extract a vision, of something living?
N.M. - Yes, that’s it…
D.L. – And in Twin Houses?
N.M. - The set design for Twin Houses, in which I am in the presence of marionettes, had these very same origins. At first there were stairways hung from the rafters, set down onto the ground and there were pedestals everywhere. Such a complexity was in line with the phantasm of the characters, those vixen-like women, who wandered about a labyrinth of hallways. We performed the show like that three times. At the avant-première we understood that something wasn’t working, even though in rehearsal it seemed to. We threw everything out, keeping only two pedestals and the performance seemed to catch its breath. That is to say that in working with human-like marionettes and playing with the illusion of living bodies- who is the doll and who is the dancer? – it was absolutely necessary that the action not be situated in a realistic or defined space, because everything was intended to take place “inside one’s head”…
It’s an extreme case, but we’ve often opted for the simplification of a scenography and the same goes for objects: a large number get passed around during rehearsal and finally we only keep one or two. Why? To allow the spectator to fantasize about the relationship one may have with the object and the space and to let them imagine, to dream about what’s in between in the spaces left empty for them.
D.L. - It’s then a question of the material needing to be filtered, before arriving on stage and becoming a concrete part of the piece’s framework?
N.M. - Yes, but contrary to “pure” dance, we need to first confront the material in order to find this simplicity. It has to be measured, understood. We are not in the air, like dance can be. We are in a very concrete relationship with the elements and it’s only little by little that we extract the object/prosthesis. We stay like that, missing one arm, with a kind of handicap, a lacking of. It’s probably what animates us on stage. The object is no longer there, the partner is not there – or without us looking him in the eye, without him being there, we engage with him and have the impression that he is there. As if we asked the audience to tell us where he is, why he is there and let them find the answer. They have the job of executing a sort of re-creation. If there are two actors, or an actor and an object, and their relationship is too direct the audience is excluded. It’s necessary for the relationship to be sufficiently open, free, so that the audience may slide into it and not feel like a voyeur of something that doesn’t concern them but rather personally implicated.
D.L. - Finally there is also a sculptural aspect to your work: taking away the material and leaving the audience to the work of re-composition….
N.M. - We never know in which present audience members find themselves or where their imagination may lead them. In Générations we saw that it’s either the proximity or the solitude that’s evoked, two very different elements.
D.L. - What is the relationship between visual artists and your work?
N.M. - Anthony Gormley greatly inspired Générations. We were supposed to work together, and then finally his work was so akin to our work with the body that there was no need to show it at the same time…
With our collaborators, be they musicians or visual artists, there is both a balance of power and mutual respect: how to be complimentary without saying the same thing, how to not stifle the voice of the other with our own words? To not be redundant … It’s necessary to create tension between us but also room to breathe…
One must create a void!
Interview by David Lippe with Nicole Mossoux • 2004