Cie Mossoux-Bonté (…) have a particular and peculiar affinity with the weird and the eerie, realised through uncanny fusions of the human body with costumes, puppets and prosthetics, and supported by canny stagecraft using light, sound and a conjurer’s way with misdirection to accomplish tricks of disappearance and transformation.
There’s a concept behind their 2019 piece The Great He-Goat: gallery attendants in a museum are gradually consumed by the images of Goya’s celebrated Black Paintings. You don’t, though, need to know that to feel the force of this spookily unsettling work. At the start, there’s a row of people in formal dress; but only later do you come to realise that only some of them are alive. The rest are the dismembered heads and limbs of puppets, their faces dreadfully lifelike, artfully deployed by the performers so that they become active parts of the surreal scenes that follow. Two women in deathly white seem to have eight legs between them. A face floats in the shadows, transmigrating from body to body. Several times, figures fuse such that you can’t tell which parts are flesh and which prosthetic, until the illusion is suddenly and shockingly ripped apart – only to form another illusion.
Into this disturbing world wanders the figure of a young girl – which only increases our unease. There are scenes of unnerving interrogation, of monstrous voluptuousness, of ritual flailing and finally a kind of black sabbath. If the piece lacks narrative drive – it works by accumulation, not progression – each unnerving set-piece casts its own black-hearted spell upon the audience. The weirdest thing: walking back outside into real life after the show, and finding it other-worldly.
Sanjoy Roy, Springback Magazine / February 2023
A magnificent nightmare
(...) In a succession of moving, dark and powerful frescoes, the choreographer and dramaturg give Goya's work a new artistic, visual, sound and movement dimension. Museum guards mingle with the characters in the paintings, confront them, manipulate them or are themselves manipulated by them. Performers and puppets (made by Natacha Belova) merge in a disturbing way, the limbs multiply - four arms, four legs - and are sometimes torn off without care or emotion. Piety, suffering, poverty, fury and despair manipulate bodies and minds alike.
This fantastic universe is also supported by the vocal and sound creations by Jean Fürst and Thomas Turine respectively. Sounds produced live by the performers themselves, breaths, onomatopoeia, rales, are captured by their microphones and amplified, distorted and moved to other places on the stage, which produces a strange, disconcerting, unreal effect. Added to this are "special effects" - levitation, apparition, illusion, doubling - masks and rich costumes that compose a ritual, both frightening and fascinating, punctuated by mass graves, dances, light or macabre, marches with sticks and kneeling processions.
Didier Béclard, demandezleprogramme / June 2022
The famous “terrible sublime”
Francisco de Goya painted The Great He-Goat – or Witches’ Sabbath – for his dwelling, the Quinta del Sordo. The painting fit amongst a series of “black paintings” that he accomplished between 1819 and 1923. Two centuries later, the choreographer Nicole Mossoux and dramaturge and director Patrick Bonté have seized this tortured and hallucinated imagery to serve it at the theatre feast that is their The Great He-Goat. This piece of visual theatre is absolutely sublime and crushing at the same time.
One had lost memory of Goya’s universe, of a body of work so tormented and images so horrific. If the vision conjured up by the Mossoux-Bonté company is terrifying, it is also outright magnificent, to put it mildly. Under the lens of the Belgian troupe, Goya’s strange creatures become fabulous and fantastic. During this guided tour into the entrails of the Spanish master’s oeuvre, it is a spectacular world – in every sense of the word - that opens itself up to us.
In their numerous productions created over the last 35 years, Nicole Mossoux and Patrick Bonté have consistently inspected the frames of obsession, cornering our sensibility to expand on the subconscious and drag out its unexplored hidden recesses. Not without humour, fineness, a certain sculptural quality and mastery of the aesthetics of beauty, their artistic association leads the spectators to the confines of their imagination, forcing or inviting them – depending on who is watching – to admire the strangeness, the physical as well as psychic inconsistency and to have an experience outside of the realms of what is known and inhabited.
And there, on top of the powerful aesthetic and psychanalytic discourse distilled by the pair, comes the new sensational and lunar theatrical instalment that is The Great He-Goat. The piece is so terribly overwhelming that it will never leave us. This is due partly to the fact that the visual worries that emerge are gripping and mostly to the natural and very intelligent progression of this pictorial tale. To this day, no one had found reason behind an ensemble interpretation of Goya’s black paintings. Yet, the Mossoux-Bontés have pulled off the magic, picture by picture, even if they are mute, to tell a story, finding its characters, landscapes, premises, actions, triggers and mechanisms.
As we witness the dislocation of Goya’s paintings, the narration takes shape with the moving tableaux, compiling the languages of (dis)articulated bodies, of manipulated mannequins, of over-performed moods, of onomatopoeias echoing and screams resonating everywhere in the theatre. The performers build the set with their bodies used as all-purpose tools to create the dramatic quality in its entirety. However, if masks, fabrics and puppets, illusions and concealments, levitations and dismemberments shape the bewitchment of the play, it is its inhabitants that lead the ceremony.
The ballet continues and the fabulous establishes itself on stage to invade the spirit of those sitting in front of it. If theatre were a dream, this would be a beautiful nightmare which one would want to put on paper upon awakening. There lies the paradox of the show. Audience members may feel manhandled by what they see, but they are also drawn to and hypnotised by the effect the scenes produce. The Great He-Goat is an ode to Goya’s precious and revered pictorial vision and sets up the painter as a god manufacturing worlds that are as obscure as they are luminous.
Laureate of the Maeterlinck award for best dance performance, it is hard to stick a genre to this piece that rubs shoulders with them all magnificently. In any case, it is this kind of piece that is a delight to watch, but which contains this subtext, making the brains of the greatest philosophers burn. All of this goes well with Goya's state at the time of his black series: deaf, feverish, foggy and hallucinating. From his visions will come others, captured on stage forever in The Great He-Goat. The latter is in fact a double artistic experience: entering a part of Goya's work and living its scenic transformation operated by "the Mossoux-Bonté". All of this requires unfailing self-sacrifice whether on the stage or in the auditorium... A certain strength is necessary to enter this "terrible sublime", another artistic dimension, from which few will return as they entered it.
Godefroy Gordet, Lëtzebuerger Land / March 2021
Dance of mirages and mysteries
The unadorned and the immoderate have always gone hand in hand in the work that Nicole Mossoux and Patrick Bonté have been building together for over thirty years now. They have kept on examining everything human from unprecedented angles, plunging their hands into "layers of fuzziness". The unsettling quality of the onstage presence, the instant, the assemblage, "actors and spectators (come together) in some sort of giddy existence".
This immediacy, as Patrick Bonté calls attention to, is coupled with "the distancing that art implies". It is put in perspective "in such a way that the memory retains from this moment both its emotional impact and its calling to think about our condition and to make our past intelligible".
Drawing on pictorial inspiration, in the same already-skilfully-explored vein as in Les Dernières Hallucinations de Lucas Cranach l’Ancien (The Last Hallucinations of Lucas Cranach the Elder) or Simonetta Vespucci, Nicole Mossoux and Patrick Bonté have plumbed the depths of the production’s "phantasmagorical substance"1 in the work by one of the great masters in the field: Francisco de Goya. Considered to be one of the major forerunners of contemporary art, the Spanish painter (1746-1828) has left behind an œuvre marked by the agitation and the darkness of his time. "The sleep of reason produces monsters" is the title he gave to a series of his engravings.
Deaf, alone and convalescing, Goya is over 70 years old when he paints a cycle of terrifying scenes that will later be referred to as Pinturas Negras (1819-1823) on the walls of two rooms of his small house near Madrid. Amongst them is the Witches’ Sabbath, otherwise kown as The Great He-Goat.
A row of silhouettes emerges from the darkness. Sober suits, white shirts, uniforms of the everyday occidental life. Muffled, almost liquid, sounds occupy the space. The frail figure of a child soon comes to the fore. She will be the observer and the guiding thread of the universe that is going to deploy its mirages and mysteries.
Juan Benítez, Dounia Depoorter, Thomas Dupal, Yvain Juillard, Frauke Mariën, Fernando Martin, Isabelle Lamouline, Shantala Pèpe, Candy Saulnier, Fatou Traore and the young Eva Ponties-Domeneghetty (alternating with Marie-Lou Adam) inhabit The Great He-Goat and constitute its shifting and plural body. Together they dig the sinuous tracks of the piece and its multiple languages : rythmic, visual, sensual, resonant, vocal, physical.
The performance features recurring traits of the art of the Company Mossoux-Bonté : mannequins, masks and doppelgangers. Levitation, duplication, dismemberment and illusions build and populate this organic and orgiastic succession of tableaux in a nightmarish and fascinating ritual. This ceremonial borrows from sacred imagery as much as from the codes of cabaret. Its powerfully visual character never neglects our other senses.
The creation has met with its first – enthusiast - audience in Charleroi Danse’s Ecuries for two performances (on the 15th and 16th March 2019). We are hoping for many more tour dates on our stages for this masterful opus.
Marie Baudet, La Libre / March 2019
1 All quotations are drawn from "Philosophy’s stage is philosophy without a stage" by Patrick Bonté, published in "Philoscène. La philosophie à l’épreuve du plateau." / Alternatives Théâtrales n° 135 (2018)
« The Great He-Goat », a dark Sabbath of dancing figures
A fascinating succession of sombre, surreal, and powerful tableaux, where doubles and barely made-out presences roam in the shadows.
Ten performers extract themselves out of the shadows to give flesh and lend their voice to characters, before becoming one with the shadows again. Without words but with their body as their only means of expression, they are trying to reach the right state, somewhere between madness, mystic trance and possession, to find their place in the tableaux conceived by Nicole Mossoux. All of this under the eyes of an eleventh performer, a young girl in a blue coat who acts as a witness throughout the different scenes (…).
The Great He-Goat abounds in abnormal states of the body. They can levitate. Hide between worrying masks and costumes. Mostly, they can be distorted, multiplied, become mixed up with the help of prostheses and hyper-realistic half-mannequins that are grafted on the performers’ limbs.
If, after a while, you do get used to differentiating between humans and puppets, the first minutes of the show are absolutely staggering, when you realize that the uniformed horde of men and women that emerge out of the dark stage background are missing several pairs of legs given the number of heads in the crowd (...).
Overall, the staged paintings are superb and the group scenes impressive. The richly-coloured costumes, astutely lit, stand out from the shadows. The assembly gathered here is giving us a lesson in the theatrical potential of the movement.
The treatment of sound deserves a special mention. For the most part, it is produced live by the performers gurgling, murmuring or wheezing. The recorded sounds are then amplified, sometimes distorted or postponed, before being reinjected on the stage via loudspeakers that do not necessarily stand near the source of the sound… All of this contributes to the strange, unreal and worrying quality of the piece (…).
In essence, this is not a work of joyfulness and light. However, contrary to what one might think when first faced with the esthetic of the piece, it doesn’t mean that it is morbid. There is hope, moving and poignant scenes, and links being established that can comfort us in the heart of darkness.
A beautiful, symbolically-charged, powerful and strongly incarnated piece composed of dramatized movements. Those looking for pure dance are in for a surprise (…). Definitely a must-see.
Mathieu Dochterman, TouteLaCulture.com / March 2019
(...) a dizzying maundering around Goya’s blackness.
Nicole Mossoux’ true skill here lays in the substitution of the manipulation of the minds by the manipulation of the bodies, to the point that the spectator’s senses are dazed. A vivid demonstration of how easily-manipulated we can be! Where we think we see a puppet, the ostensibly light body of a woman hauls herself out the arms supporting her. Another person vanishes into four arms or walks on artificial limbs, their own legs having somehow disappeared. And, between all these paradoxical and sometimes Kafkaesque images, even where our brain clearly detects, seeing a mannequin’s head, the missing lower limbs, our mind willingly grants it a full human status. The company does not do otherwise: these puppets, fashioned by Natacha Belova, all have stage names that only the artists know about.
For Nicole Mossoux (directing in collaboration with Patrick Bonté), Goya is not so much the point of destination as the point of departure. The goal is not to recreate the painting, but to evoke the universe in which the painter was navigating, namely a profoundly clerical and aristocratic Spain, a war-torn country whose people suffered through the Inquisition and the occult beliefs they were sensitive to. The Great He-Goat draws upon this historical backdrop as a metaphor of our present times, when manipulative minds are back to steal from our very souls (…).
The images in The Great He-Goat evoking piety, inquisition, suffering or poverty come from elsewhere: primarily from the other Pinturas Negras, but also from everything Goya did not put in his emblematic body of work, as well as from today’s world. Dreamlike images, danses macabres and baton dances expressing fury and despair, jerky gestures, violence of war and social game taking their cue in particular from Goya’s moral commitment. Nicole Mossoux is finding her way ahead setting a very personal, unique and brilliant path, once again in the company of a great master and in a moment of perfect complicity.
Thomas Hahn, Danser Canal Historique / April 2019
The Company Mossoux-Bonté’s attraction to paintings has been no secret ever since one of its founding productions “Les dernières hallucinations de Lucas Cranach l’Ancien”. Another of its defining features is the doppelgänger motif famously explored in “Twin Houses” where Nicole Mossoux, soloist, was struggling with the obsessive presence and harrowing fantasies of her mannequin-double.
By infusing into her work one of Goya’s darkest paintings “The Great He-Goat” or “The Witches’ Sabbath” and thanks to her ten dancers/performers (a rare luxury) – at the height of their expressiveness and togetherness -, Nicole Mossoux turns her doubles into a multitude of ghosts, a worried, troubled and troubling people (…).
In this rich production, replete with a limitless pictorial and musical imagination, the individual wrench becomes a collective, devastating, self-destructive tear. Nicole Mossoux imagines the anguish of a deaf and aging artist in the face of his physical misery and the rift among a society beset by civil war.
Ten museum guards are engulfed by the nightmares that haunt Goya’s frescoes in full view of a young girl who acts as a retentional connecting thread throughout the piece. Little by little, the group turns and divides into tormented live pictures, roving among the painter’s dreams and fantasies and gradually creeping in our own. Here, huddles of warriors armed with threatening sticks evaporate in grotesque images. There, women convulse in pain increased by the doubles that colonize them.
The symbiotic and intimate link to the project the team of performers offer us largely contributes to the success of the piece, as well as the superb (modern and period) costumes and incredible “double”-mannequins by Natacha Belova, also responsible for the sober scenography. Jean Fürst and Thomas Turine build the soundscape and Patrick Bonté nuances the density of its layers with an intense chiaroscuro.
All in all, a masterly homage by Nicole Mossoux to Goya, the torn illustrator of our inner conflicts and the absurd ravages of our martial spirits, the sower of destructive distresses.
Christian Jade, RTBF.be / November 2019