Whispers is one of those Mime Festival shows that doesn’t quite fit into any category, at once both dance and object animation, it is also neither of these. And, although there is only one performer visible on stage throughout (Nicole Mossoux) she almost certainly isn’t alone. Moreover, though the work originated out of an interest in finding ways for a performer to make their own soundtrack to accompany their movement, it is Colette Huchard’s costumes that appear as chief amongst the expressive tools at Mossoux’s disposal.
Using Huchard’s designs, Mossoux is able to conjure an array of characters, human and non-human alike. Skirts shrink, different jackets morph into strange creatures, whilst headdresses seem to come alive of their own accord. Central to the life of these ‘costumes’ is their materiality: the velvet sheen of Mossoux’s ‘base’ dress, which seems to make her body outline disappear into the blackness of the stage as if in a haze; the pale-pink ruffles of a what looks to be a baby’s jacket but here serves, as first, an elaborate wig before transforming into a curious headless puppet; and a striking red glove, the beak of one-legged ‘goose’ before Mossoux tears it from her hand and discards it into the darkness that surrounds her.
This darkness is key; Mossoux Bonté’ (Nicole Mossoux and her collaborator of 30 years, director/scenographer Patrick Bonté) conjuring the sense of a rich dreamworld surrounded by a bleak and hungry void. The lit areas are constructed in such a way that, as in mask performance, Mossoux only needs to make a small shift in her position to radically change the character she is channeling. It is also clear to see, by in the way in which Mossoux and her animations are made to standout from, or disappear into, the shadows, the company’s starting point of the paintings of Johannes Vermeer. In a way Bonté uses light to achieve a sense of bas-relief, and, more astonishingly, a sense of ‘folds’ of light; folds that seem to release Mossoux from their clutches only to grab her again, pulling her back into the dark.
Mossoux manipulates the folds of her body as expertly as she does the folds of the costumes. Her movement, particularly her evocative facial expression, has at times some of the qualities of Butoh: the disarticulation of a limb, or a rapid trembling followed by stoney stillness. This makes her as mercurial as the costumes, such that the combined effect of costume, light and body is such that Whispers seems to hover in a strange unfixed territory, moving without a singular direction but nonetheless covering a great deal of ground.
But of course, the title Whispers implies that this is a piece about sounds. The soundtrack is produced by a combination of Mossoux’s actions (a scratch here, a tap of the feet there) amplified and engineered by Thomas Turine, and the foley sounds of Mikha Wajnrych (hidden out of sight in the dark void. Whispers then is performed by a trio (Mossoux and her two musician/technician partners), and it is the work of this trio that craft the thread of the work, creating a rhythmic and sonic score that the visual world appears to surf on top of.
Whispers is by turns beautiful and confusing. No single stage image or character remains for long, with a succession of shifting and changing figures created and discarded – there is no character or even motif development here – and as Mossoux arrives in her final position, on the edge of the stage facing out into the auditorium, it feels as if you too are emerging from some strange fantasy.
Thomas JM Wilson, Total Theatre / January 2017
What is indescribable with words is often perfectly expressed through dance or mime, particularly sensations and sentiments. Throughout time the idea of phantoms has frightened man. In effect the white sheet with which they are draped comes from the death shroud that covered the dead in medieval times. In this case it’s much more than a vision simply interpreted as the manifestation of a dead person under the indistinct, luminous, inconsistent thing that could possibly float above the ground and declare itself through the sounds and inexplicable movement of objects. Often transparent and cloudy like shadows, the spectres dissolve into smoke, pass through walls and closed doors. Their coming is most often announced by the presentiment of a presence that coincides with an icy breath, strange sounds, murmurs, whispers or creaking that seemingly come out of nowhere…
These are precisely the enigmatic sounds that this watchful woman, alone on stage in the shadows, seems to listen to and invite us to discover, decipher and share with her. Indubitably the atmosphere is heavy, charged with a certain perfume of mystery, a mystery whose emanations we promptly sense. In effect the space seems to be inhabited by furtive presences, sounds that are muffled like lost wandering souls, phantom-like silhouettes that we perceive without seeing, furtive shadows that appear from we don’t know where and disappear as soon as they materialise… Indubitably, strange forces traverse this enigmatic being, seeming to possess her hair and make it stand on end, as if they wish to enter into her and prowl around us. Are these the dead souls of her ancestors come to disturb our present day in their waltz of recollections?
What is interesting about this performance, half way between the art of marionettes and dance, lies in the harrowing atmosphere created by Mikha Wajnrych’s sounds and sound-objects and the surprising electroacoustic composition of Thomas Turine. Vibrations become living characters both invisible and troubling, while Nicole Mossoux’s body serves as their resonance chamber. A fascinating work, in line with all that the choreographer has concocted for us the last 20 years, and that perfectly evokes the famous words of the marquise Marie du Deffand, “Do I believe in ghosts? No, but I’m afraid of them anyway”*.
Jean-Marie Gourreau, Critiphotodanse / May 2015
*Dictionnaire des mythes du fantastique, by Juliette Vion-Dury and Pierre Brunel, Presses Universitaires de Limoges, 2003, 313 pp.
The innovative, intimate new performance, Whispers, from Mossoux Bonté, is an engaging fusion of dance and theatre. This performance relates a lifetime in sound, light and dance, capturing the shadows and joys, hope and desperation of the solo performer, Nicole Mossoux. Intricate, complex lighting and a hauntingly beautiful soundscape, with live music, ensures that the audience too is immersed in the performer’s experience.
Child-like Nicole explores the limits of her body. Nicole’s movements are, at times, in tune with a strange music, seemingly generating the ambient sounds. Her every movement is echoed in a surreal soundscape with which she must come to terms. The audience learns, alongside the performer, the sounds of a new world and her own place in it. Gradually, Nicole’s persona touchingly constructs a rhythm from the incongruous sounds of her joints, lending a lyrical edge to her dance sequences. Daringly, Whispers suggests that this sound performance is not only a reflection of the dancer’s impact on her immediate environment; it is a magnification of the sounds of the performer’s body itself; her heart and lungs.
Nicole’s dancing seems to emerge organically from her contact with the stark, almost industrial, stage design. Her movements, at first, are primal, instinctual, but they narrate an awakening consciousness of her surroundings.
Soon, however, sound and image lose touch. The sounds of Nicole’s body are not hers to control, and the balance between the music and her motions is upset. Her movements seem to rise involuntarily from the world of sounds that surround her. The dancer is no longer independent, influencing her world; she becomes an object in that world. Objects on stage seem to take on organic properties and human attributes. Whispers questions the source of artistic inspiration through its exploration of this relationship between the performer and the stage. Nicole’s choreography moves between an aesthetic impulse and its dissolution, between control and abandonment.
This performance highlights the rich, moving possibilities of darkness and silence as much as it explores the range of emotional effects produced though light and sound. Whispers is, at times disquieting, alarming even, as Nicole tries to rebel against the orders of the music, as she herself becomes a stage prop, seemingly explored by the objects around her. The versatile, sumptuous costume design is highly suggestive under the low lights, appealing to an otherworldly decadence.
Above all, Whispers is a sensuous performance, demanding that the audience engage fully with the material, tactile stage design and haunting, shifting choreography. The delicate vulnerability of Nicole Mossoux and Patrick Bonté’s choreography, alongside the careful balancing of calm tones and sound driven to a frantic pitch, reveal humanity’s frailty movement in a precarious world, which it is not always within our power to command or understand.
Hannah Connell, Plays to see. International Theatre Reviews / January 2017