Philippe Quesne, the Artistic Director of the Nanterre-Amandiers theatre in Paris, is our 2015 international guest artist. He directs the UK premiere of La Mélancolie des Dragons, an enigmatic and breathtaking collision of theatre and visual art coming to our stage this October. We go behind the scenes of the history of the production…
HOME: What was the starting point of La Mélancolie des Dragons?
Philippe Quesne: Our starting point came from the title, and from the ability to activate a group. I also often use a domino effect: the beginning of La Mélancolie des Dragons starts with the last minute of L’effet de Serge (a previous production). This conceptual play on writing defines each piece within this idea of a saga with episodes. I love Star Wars for those same reasons.
HOME: You refer to Dürer’s painting La Mélancolie. What is the significance of this?
PQ: I have always approached the idea of melancholia in a rather direct fashion in other pieces. It is very much linked with the artist creative block: how does one manage to seize it poetically and to find his way? Dürer’s painting portrays an individual surrounded by knowledge who nevertheless feels stuck. La Mélancolie des Dragons asks similar questions: how do we create a piece in our days? What is wonderful? Why can we not believe in it anymore? What does a show that starts with actors out of gas in a beautiful theatre scenery mean?
HOME: You stand for a very minimalistic vision of the wonderful. Why is this?
PQ: I stand for the idea of amateurism. Everyone can invent for oneself an attraction park. In L’effet de Serge, the main character created small special effects for his friends. It is the same idea in La Mélancolie des Dragons, but with a collective dimension: at the beginning, the two pieces were actually two parts of the same project. We also speak about theatre, the joy of representation, but also about the mute threat and the dark side of humanity. I thought of monsters and demons, which can be found in Goya’s paintings.
HOME: You started as a set designer. How does it influence your work as a director?
PQ: I like to think of a stage as a landscape. The space feeds the writing, but not only as a visual support. For instance, the cotton snow creates a particular relationship to sound, some sort of quietness that allows people to move around silently and to be in a parallel universe. The main principle of my work has always been to immerse actors in a natural environment.
HOME: Speech is often absent of your work. What is the reason for this approach?
PQ: I don’t believe that words are always useful. They can be important, but so is silence. All of this takes part in a global score, composed of different sound levels, light, movement and words. It is extremely precise. For instance, Samuel Beckett is the absolute master of theatre scores and of relationships to space. He commands such rigor in composition.
HOME: How important is music in your work?
PQ: It is very important in order to create a climate, a colour. It allows the actor to not be in charge of psychology, it shifts images, and lead the spectator towards an imaginary different from what he sees. It also gives different layers of what is at play. Music from the middle ages is present because I had first thought of setting this piece in that era.
HOME: The theme of community is at the heart of La Mélancolie des Dragons, and all your other works, from La Démangeaison des Ailes to Next Day. Is this a deliberate approach?
PQ: It is rare to find a place in which we can share a common enthusiasm. It is often the utopian or political part of shows: to be moved together in front of a balloon being blown up is at the same time absurd and wonderful. It is also the reason why I want to show what happens behind the scenes, to unify a community. I often compare work to entomology: in the theatre we get to watch a first cousin on stage struggling in a poetic manner, the same way we would watch ants, stick insects or termites.