French choreographer Mylène Benoit and German puppeteer Julika Mayer created Georges in 2018 in Avignon as part of the “Sujets à Vif” festival. From this piece came the idea of a participatory project, Moving through time, involving children from a primary school and elderly people from a retirement home in Slovenia. A powerful experience for Mylène Benoit, who dreams of seeing more retirement homes linked to schools and crèches.
What attracted you to the idea of intergenerationality for the Moving through time project?
The idea of intergenerationality came to me after the production of Georges: this piece features inert bodies, the puppets, that we animate to create living bodies capable of dancing. Moving through time continues this reflection on what makes us alive. This time, the puppets are joined by living bodies: bodies at the start of life – children – and bodies that understand themselves to be at the end of their lives – the elderly. Together, these bodies pose the same questions about life, each from a different perspective.
Have you ever worked with both generations? What do you feel you brought to them?
I have been working for several years in France with groups of around 20 people, bringing together participants aged 7 to 75 for the Votre danse project.
In the case of this project set up in Slovenia, I think the children came out of this experience with greater capacity to listen, and to manage time and space. This also applies to the elderly. One of the participants came to see us at the end of the work, very surprised by what she had experienced: she did not think, at her age, that she could learn something new. A gentleman who a few years ago had a stroke which left him with significant after-effects found that during the three weeks of work with us, not only whole sections of his memory but also a level of motor skills that had not been achieved in years were revitalised!
When we become involved in participatory creation as an amateur, I think we do not necessarily measure the extent of the necessary individual and collective work, or the rigour required. Conversely, having nine people on set writing a choreography that is outside their professional scope is an essential experience for us.
How was the piece received?
Moving through time was initially presented to students in the primary school where we worked. Reception of the piece was extremely joyful, just like the audience. We then gave a performance at the retirement home. It was here that we were able to measure what these three weeks of work had brought to our participants: this project had literally resuscitated them and their interaction with the other residents gave us the measure of this transformation. A fourth performance took place in the deconsecrated church next to the Puppet Theatre in Maribor. Everyone in the audience was very surprised. Because in Moving through time, the question of what is common ground, and what keeps us alive, keeps going round in a pervasive manner...regardless of age.
Working in a Slovenian context raises the question of the working language… how did you overcome the language barrier?
The project took place mainly in English, as all the children were bilingual! Two interpreters accompanied us to translate from English to Slovenian when necessary, mainly for the elderly people. This trilingualism was one of the most exciting aspects of the project for me: I really felt that by engaging in this collaboration between France, Germany and Slovenia, we were giving substance to what Europe could be.
Does Moving through time represent your multidisciplinary approach?
In my work, each sign – object, image, colour, shape – serves to contribute to the stage space. On stage I work more around the human presence than a choreography. Depending on the project, this presence relies on different media, which can be light, the object, the puppet, or even the voice.
In Moving through time, we reconstructed a fictional space in which the bodies of puppets could be reanimated through a sung and danced ritual. The articulation between space, sound, and the presence of rituals is intended as much for the bodies of the puppets as for the human bodies that reflect this multidisciplinarity.
How do you choose between concrete materials (cardboard and in particular fabric) and the virtual, which you combine in your creations?
I studied the visual arts in London where I was trained mainly in the practice of contemporary media. When I was working on video in the early 2000s, I realised that the images produced by contemporary society informed and transformed the human body. It seemed to me that the only way to put the body in the foreground, to remember it, was to work with dance.
Little by little, the visual image has disappeared from my creations in favour of weaving new, multisensorial images, summoned by light, sound, puppets, text, or even song. This polyphony is the basis of my choreographic writing: it allows me to show in all possible ways what is indestructible about the human body.
Mylène Benoit's project is supported by the Institut français in partnership with the Région Hauts-de-France.
The Institut français partners with 21 local authorities to develop international artistic exchanges.
Moving through time, by Mylène Benoit also received support from the Franco-German Cultural Fund.
Managed by the Institut français, this fund promotes Franco-German cultural cooperation abroad by supporting projects carried out in close collaboration with local cultural actors.
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