Invited to create a production for the Oiseau-Mouche company, choreographer Michel Schweizer arranges with the mentally disabled professional actors a diabolical ode to resistance and difference.
Michel Schweizer, all of your productions deal with encounters. How did the meeting with the actors of Oiseau-Mouche company go?
M. S.: «I am interested in relationships and alterity, it’s my driving force. My productions thus come from intense encounters that will most likely turn out to be an absolute experience for me. Most of the time, I am not sure that I will be able to go through with the projects. About the Oiseau-Mouche company, it was Stéphane Frimat, the former director, that offered me to come lead a workshop. Holding a class for twenty-three actors was too much for me because I wanted to make sure to really feel where I was, to understand the personalities and how they worked in a group. I came three times (in 2016, 2017 and 2018) before considering creating Les Diables (The Devils). Then I had to select only seven actors and it was terrible. The work with the Oiseau-Mouche company was really specific so much so that I asked myself if I could ever work again with ordinary performers. The actors have a unique relation to work, to time and to ego. The degree of humanity is so powerful in each one of the personalities.
Do you think that today theatre remains an interesting place to explore the question of the other?
M. S.: « Theatre remains a public place where we are in extremely good perception conditions because we take ourselves out from our daily life and from the rumble of the world. We see and hear very well, and we have time to reflect. I am interested in bringing other worlds in this place. Teenagers for example, as it was the case with Fauves (Wild Beasts), a few years ago. Looking at these young people so true and inhibited, I was asked: where is the work? But it actually requires a great amount of work to reach this. Theatre kills authenticity. The place is unbearable for that: as soon as we step in this context, something changes.
In the end, working with professional actors, as the ones from the Oiseau-Mouche company, is rare for you.
M. S.: «It happens. And every time, I realize the extent of how much undoing you have to do. They have so many strong beliefs about what must happen in this place that you have to reassure them and say: you can forget the craft for a while. When someone comes to see a production of mine, I don’t want them to come to appreciate a skill. I am mainly interested in the human being. In return when I invite non-professionals in my shows, I have to make sure to really make myself understood, that make sure they understand my ideas but also the benefits and profit they will gain from their involvement. Basically, I have to make sure not to instrumentalise them one way or another. It is also the reason why the people I put on stage always have some kind of a demonstration practice even if it might not be on theatre stages. They are skilled with language and dexterity.
In Les Diables (The Devils), the eyes are central. The way actors look at each other but also the games that happen between the stage and the audience.
M. S.: «I always tell the people that will appear on stage in my productions: “there is no reason for the group of anonymous people in the audience to allow themselves to look at you and that you shouldn’t find the space to also look at them”. You have to consider the people gathered as a show to watch. The human diversity that gathers without unpleasant consequence, without any hostility because there is a broadcasting centre in the middle – the stage – that fascinates everyone is quite odd… I also often say something tougher to the performers: “you are not there to make a spectacle of yourself”.
The need for the gazes to circulate doesn’t make you want to go out of the theatres?
M. S. «The place gets a lot on my nerves. I go back because I have always worked there and in spite of that I find that the theatre remains an incredible place in the city where anonymous people gather to consume something living and to feel the assembly of the living. The question about the gaze goes further than the theatre. That’s what Marina Abramovic said after her very well-known performance in New-York: a lot of people are unhappy even if they hold it together. And most of the time it is because no one takes a true interest in them, no one really looks at them and there is not a real degree of recognition. Today the relationship is quite quickly troubled, we don’t have time and it’s terrible.”
Interview by Aïnhoa Jean-Calmettes