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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

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 these 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