Interview by Noémie Solomon
Who is this mysterious woman called Gustavia? Is she laughing or crying? Or is she just being cynical on inexhaustible topics such as womanhood, death, theater, the arts and the artist’s position in society? Gustavia brings together two extraordinary choreographers of different artistic trajectories who share similar concerns regarding the future of performance art.It is a performance that draws on traditional burlesque by appropriating inventively some of its characteristic codes and techniques. Elements of burlesque which run through film (Peter Sellers, Tati, Marx Brothers, Keaton, Chaplin, Nanni Moretti…), theater, performance art (Leo Bassi, Anna and Bernard Blume…) as well as the visual arts (Bruce Nauman…), are transformed into a kind of “body-burlesque” which is rooted in squandered energy, repetition and accident. While humor is conspicuous in burlesque it is hidden in dance, and this is precisely what the two choreographers aim to extract.Gustavia will be performed on 27/28.10.2009 at iDANS International Festival of Contemporary Dance and Performance organized by Bimeras Cultural Foundation. Noémie Solomon interviewed Mathilde Monnier about Gustavia and her collaboration with La Ribot.
N.S: You have collaborated with many artists, and created several ground-breaking duets (with Christine Angot, Katerine or Jean-Luc-Nancy, among others). What would be the singularities of your collaboration with Maria La Ribot in Gustavia?
M.M: I have worked with writers and musicians before, but the collaboration work with Maria is quite different because we are both choreographers, and we worked together on the direction, conception, and choreography of the piece, and we both perform it. This means that we shared everything. To collaborate isn’t to merge two universes, but rather to find another space foreign to each of us that will displace us, move us away from our habits and working modes. Throughout the collaboration with Maria we were both on the same level because there was no outside observer and we were both at once author and performer; we thus had to trust what we were feeling in making the piece over than what we could see of it.
We each had very different ways to work: Maria usually in solos, and me with a team. For this piece, I put myself in a position of a dancer and an actress, and we established a copying system between us where each action that one would propose, the other had to copy it, to imitate. This gave a structure to the piece and created a common language which invented this common character: Gustavia, that woman artist who brought us together.
The piece experiments with the burlesque, the comical. Could you say a few words about the relation that dance has to such genres? More precisely, how did you choreograph these passages within the making ofGustavia?
Burlesque really was our support in its form and its content. Its use allowed us to elaborate the performance as a series of scenes which are at once acts and choreographies. We used many tools coming from the burlesque genre: repetition, the idea of failing, faking, fighting with overwhelming elements (rain, curtains, storms, etc…), humanity, contradiction.
Gustavia depicts two strong and beautiful women. In this respect, it plays with some clichés, yet powerfully disturbs and re-invents the traditional image of the dancing woman with a series of thoughtful redundancies, accidents, comic effects. How did you approach the question of femininity in the piece?
We worked a lot with the fact that we were both born into feminism and that other women before us (in the 50s or 60s), other generations fought and struggled in Europe for feminist values. Today’s perspective allows us to have more distance and humoring on these questions. Indeed today there is even a form of regression of the feminist movement, brought by liberalism and the consumption society, in which women are again submitted to certain criteria of beauty and to a normative system that are both implicit and powerful (particularly the question of staying young, of youthfulness). All these elements gave us material for making our voice, by creating a very paradoxical image of a woman. It proposed a form of funny post-feminism, full of contradictions.
You have been touring extensively throughout Europe and beyond. What is for you the significance of presenting — and performing — your work in such a location as Istanbul?
I have performed in Istanbul before (with a piece called Lieux de là in 1999), it is a great memory for many reasons: the warm response of the audience and also because I have met fantastic dancers and choreographers (Filiz Sizanli and Mustafa Kaplan, and then after other dancers) who opened up my perspective on this country, this culture. After this first encounter with Istanbul, I invited several students and artists in Montpellier to work there. I also very much like Ceylan’s movies. I came afterward to visit the city to enjoy its atmosphere, its people. I am thrilled to perform Gustavia in the iDANS festival.
Mathilde Monnier & La Ribot / Gustavia