Always Dreaming, Ever inventive
A New Theater
“Theater must be what theater is not.” [Pier Paolo Pasolini]
Theater needs to embrace memory, both personal and shared memories, and convey a story, a shared, collective story. Such is the vision that has prevailed for the work undertaken at the Théâtre de la Ville. It was not simply a matter of renovating the site, but rather of transforming it to make something new, for it to become what it had not yet been. In 1871, after the theater went up in flames in the events of the Paris Commune, it was rebuilt exactly as it had stood before. Nearly a century later, in 1968, the inside was demolished leaving only the four walls dating from the Second Empire; then the new interior featured impressive raked seating. Today the walls have been set another challenge housing the theater of our dreams.
THE LOBBY is more than just a lobby. It is now an agora bathed in light, connected in space, a chronotope in space, continually changing according to different uses. The venue here is intimate, a local site open to the arts, for performances or for balls, for concerts or for conferences, providing a link between the theater and the city, an invitation to attend, and also to walk outside into the street and the Place du Châtelet.
THE PLACE DU CHÂTELET is indeed a “new stage” for artists from all corners of the world. The space around the monument, the Fontaine du Palmier, is part of the city now restored and alive, where events will be presented, making the public domain an area that is open to all audiences and all forms of artistic expression.
THE CUPOLA beneath the rooftop will be the setting for art forms to be featured, an invitation to dream and explore the mind, reminiscent of Bachelard and the attic as a haven for poetic reflection, an area for escape where the interior can merge with imaginary realms within.
THE AUDITORIUM has maintained the now famous raked seating opposite the stage, but the technical facilities have been redesigned to cater to major art forms: theater, dance and music, plus all possible combinations and permutations. The artists programmed will include established names and new faces from around the world, reflecting the profile of the present age in this third decade of the 21st century.
Theater in and of questions in a transdisciplinary shift What is a theater? What is a theater venue? What latent tension emerges when a play or a choreography encounters a real-life situation? Whether Shakespeare or Vercors, how can a human being be seen in relation to a work of art? How can the world of the imagination be seen when confronted with reality?
I would like to see the stage as the setting for everything a human being can do, expressing strength and weakness, mystery and strangeness. Here is the quest for light and transparency, moving towards the essence of theater, the essential as advocated by Jerzy Grotowski, in theater aspiring to be ecological and esthetic.
When confronted with these questions, and inspired by the concept of the “Whole-World” as espoused by Édouard Glissant, our ambition has been to build a venue for intercultural dialogue, fostering creativity, understanding and otherness. The shift to an interdisciplinary forum is a desire to embrace poetic expression emerging from unexpected encounters. A movement is captured, a glance and beauty can be apprehended, and there is the learning process with everyone who has a quest, who is creative, in the arts or in the world of science. Here the mind is open to digital leaps and bounds into the future; the mind is curious when imagining challenges suggested by such progress. Quite clearly, the realm of poetic expression cannot be separated from the world of science.
Our ambition was scaled to a multitude when developing projects and plans across different domains: a Health-Culture Academy, Arts and Science meetings, Arts and Sport meetings, plus “Poetry Consultations” covering the full scope of the world with the Troupe de l’Imaginaire emerging during the pandemic; we revived the Danse Élargie competition; we changed the name of the festival Chantiers d’Europe which is now Place à l’Europe. The idea has always been to foster productive dialogue between the world of the arts and the world of knowledge.
Theater must thus be a forum for change, embracing iden¬tities and differences, taking on the struggles of workers, citizens and society, issues relevant to the present age, including the environment, intersectionality, gender equality and gender studies. To do so, theater must foster lively dialogue with other disciplines and other continents, in particular Africa where we are developing stronger relationships. The pursuit of such challenges and dialogues has determined the way we designed the project.
Teams on the Move
We learned a great deal from the experience of being based at the Espace Cardin where we had both facilities and a labora¬tory, and we gained an understanding of what is involved in taking the concept of the Theater in the City and putting it into practice. The Espace Cardin provided us with the opportunity of working in a warm, small-scale setting, beside the magnificent garden on the famous avenue des Champs-Élysées where the young Marcel Proust once liked to stroll. Over the seven years, our teams saw changes; long-term colleagues were joined by new arrivals, and together we developed new ways of working and thinking.
It was here that we built a theater in contact with people and communities, devising new forms of presence in the public arena, at a site where an infinite range of practices and combinations became possible. Yet it was also the time of the pandemic with so many repercussions, a time for reassessing our working habits, for confirming the raison d’être of our mission as a publicly funded theater. We became more mobile, swift and agile, seeing the other side and other people as a source of strength and also a challenge.
I wish to say how grateful I am to all the teams at the theater for their outstanding work, their total involvement and extraordinary ability to adapt to circumstances over the course of these seven wonderful years.
On behalf of all, I would like to express our sincere thanks to the 38 partner venues and their teams for their support over that period.
Theater of Bodies and Dreams
Theater can present and express rebellion, such rebellion as seen by Albert Camus. Theater is a forum for taking a stand, for revelations, where a solitary presence confronting another can rebuild the world, somewhere between a physical presence and a dream. Pina Bausch turned theater into a sensual and political body, a body in movement, a crowd in movement, a social body created. Music from different parts of the world can transport us into extraordinary universes, with some concerts appearing to be in a dreamworld far from the real world.
The tension felt between physical bodies and dreams, between fantasy and mo¬vement, led me to choose Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream for the troupe that has been with me for more than twenty years now. The characters are there in a fairytale world where the dividing line between dreams and reality is fading, where situations become burlesque and tales of love ever more complex. A midsummer night, while obviously short, holds endless prospects, and once again as reality encounters the realm of the imagination, the very essence of human existence is revealed.
The same spirit is behind a new quarterly to be published by the Théâtre de la Ville, following the example of my predecessors Jean Mercure and Gérard Violette. It will be a platform for discussions, questions and sharing, looking at works past and present, in the arts and in science. Articles will cover performances, literature, science, sport, dramaturgy, poetry and, of course, current projects and plans.
The 6.30pm meetings are being revived presenting artists and ideas to discover, and discussions open to everyone, with an opportunity to spend an hour together as part of theater in the making.
As we embarkon a new journey, my mind goes to Shakespeare, to the play (or the theater) within the play, and I recall Love’s Labours Lost, the first play performed by our company at the Théâtre de la Ville. Today we shall set sail in our vessel now given a new lease on life.
“The ship is under sail, and here she comes amain.” [Love’s Labours Lost, Act 5, Scene 2]
Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, May 2022