Disturbing presences

"How is reality all of a sudden turned into
a form, taken hold of by it? Maybe it's that too,
falling in love, being disturbed by the movement in a human being, 
his unique way of being alive."

Anne Longuet Marx, L’actuel et le singulier.

 

That was a long time ago. Agadez was a village lost in the sand of the Sahel, not yet the hub of human trafficking it has become today. I was twenty-three years old. For me dance barely had any meaning anymore, after training in the Mudra Stables, Maurice Béjart's school. And then I saw blue men of the desert go by, with their proud bearing, their faces hidden by the burkas. I stopped walking, sat in the sand to look, to feel what was moving around in me. Yes, really, there was, in the beauty of wandering and the way he held his head, in the enigma of their presence, something which spoke to me and which I wished to extend, not in imitation of course, but in a quest which would lead our European bodies to be inhabited by unspecified other places.

I needed a few more years, and the encounter with the director Patrick Bonté, whose preoccupations fell in line with my own, to try to put bodies on a stage under the eyes of spectators who in turn could be affected, as I was as sat in the sand.

An exercise that we practice during workshops is called Leaving. Of course presence can't be taught, it's a little bit innate. On the other hand you can try to develop it.
It’s about moving forward in a straight line from the bottom of the set, by leaving your conscience behind you. By taking on the feeling of leaving someone dear to one’s heart behind, a city, sleep, or more prosaically – on a case by case basis, the load can be made up of images and real memories, or remain entirely factual – to move away from the back wall. Then something moves in the eyes of the actor, in the rhythm of his steps, his verticality, which makes his presence accessible to us, without it being imposed, which enables us to penetrate these eyes which are hollowed out as they insist on looking behind.

Elsewhere, later: a memory of Hong Kong. Every day of the week at dawn, residents head towards parks surrounded by fast roads. They gather together on paths, respecting the lawns, and practicing Taï-Chi, creating silence in the din of the city. And then on Sundays, nobody. Or even if, a big muscular blond parades around right in the middle of the lawn, alone, a lion. Conscious of being looked at. At that very moment I grasped the lack of understanding, which could stem from our cultural impregnations. I realized that his kind of regal presence could never shake me. I am attracted there where there's a gaping openness, as though nothing worthwhile emanated from the body, and that only the energies, the forces which it is subject to and which it doesn't display reach me. I choose withdrawal over royal presences.

Being present would be displaying space around you, or even: the self can only exist if it is in relation to its environment. Transcended by the intangible around it, that it would render tangible though its gestures.

This is why it’s important to grant yourself escape points, focus for the eyes or extension of the movement in specific directions, in an expansion of what the simple contours of the body appear to indicate. Offer interpretations that are more open than those that our single envelope determines, get the air moving.

In a situation in which two or several players are involved, they shall focus on the interstice. The space between them becomes a sounding board, becomes the spectator's space. Aware as they are of being seen, they grant us permission to penetrate their relationship, as intimate or tinged with secrets as it might be. Whether they look at each other or not, whether they touch each other or not, there is always an opening for the onlooker.

Meeting with figures or marionettes – in 1994, in the show Twin Houses – fully brought to light the question of the being on stage, making it even more vital. Just like the manipulator who, whether dissimulated or not, shares himself between the marionette and himself, every actor can play with the complexity of the intentions and the states which cross it. His arm will not necessarily act in accordance with his gaze, his seated body, his solid anchoring, can still result in lightness. A dialogue can be set up between one part of his body and the other, creating a real dialectic.
The spectator will let himself be penetrated from one side or the other, will be touched, will recognise himself in one or the other aspect of what moves the actor. There’s no point in forcing a unilateral understanding upon him, the presence which suggests more than it reveals awakens areas in him, the emotional potential of which he cannot predict. He has the upper hand, he can (choose to) reconstitute the missing parts of this network of impulses, periods of latency, assumed deviations, layers of sedimentation which accumulate by interpenetrating one another: under the veneer, the fever of the depths.

And thanks to what the marionette or even the simple object teaches him, it will be down to the actor to become a figure, more than a body and less than a character. A figure which can be penetrated, nourished by the spectator, a figure from which this identification trouble that the animated form naturally brings about, can arouse. It's down to him to explore these games of presence-absence, disembodied embodiment.

If the facial expression doesn't provide a commentary on what is currently going through the entire body, the spectator will have greater fields of interpretation; he will find words and images which are not necessarily part of the lexicon which was behind the creation. His language, his culture, his immediacy will create new leads, enriching the corpus of the play. The incompleteness of the signs leaves room for its own interpretation.
Recognising itself in the figure that has become the actor, it nourishes itself with that: a devouring by fascination… In attraction: a feeling of appropriation. Like when you're in love: the intuition of a loss of your own limits, and that of the increased limits of the other.

There always needs to be a fragility which comes along to taint the wording of the acts: the uncertainty of the instant that will follow, the probable appearance, the feeling of being the prey of the living. Everything is written, no doubt, spaces, actions and rhythms, but the actor walks in the pseudo-misconception of what will follow. What is referred to as sequence, in the vocabulary of dance, a pre-established succession of gestures and postures, is reproduced like a stutterer who suddenly discovers he can enunciate, a fluidity of language, when a song or a text captures it. And it's on the edge: the tiniest thing could bring him back to his inhibitions. This danger reinforces, just like the possibility of a fall increases the skater’s power.

A recurrent dream: I act or try to act alone on a stage. But either a chasm borders the sides of the stage where I could get crushed immediately, or else it is the stage itself which is unstable, or else full of holes, incomplete. Incomplete like the gestures that I will make, threated by extinction, fallible, but moving forward in spite of everything towards an indistinct mirage with, underfoot, the intense burning of the sands of the Sahel.

Published in « Poétiques de l’illusion » Co-dédition Alternatives Théâtrales - Thema - Iim - Cnac