A multi-disciplinary artist, Nathalie Béasse founded her company in 1999 in order to design her own shows blending theatre, dance, and visual arts. In advance of her next project, ceux-qui-vont-contre-le-vent (those who go against the wind), she recounts her creative process and its importance in relation to the stage.
Director, visual artist, choreographer, and scenographer, your career is made up of diverse experiences and multiple collaborations. Can you tell us about your career path in a few words?
My path began with cinema. After secondary school I was really drawn to images, photography, framing, and editing. Since I wasn’t able to go to a film school, I went to Beaux-Arts d'Angers and chose an audiovisual option because I wanted to create films. I discovered performance in Berlin during an exchange in Germany, and in particular a project run by students of Marina Abramovic, during which I worked on the body and material. Back to France, I started to put myself on stage in my installations, then I joined the regional Conservatory. I definitely didn’t take the direct route of the major arts schools but I did take other paths to get experience in the visual arts and theatre. I went abroad for six years with the ZUR group then created my own company to bring together dancers, actors, and musicians in my shows.
During your training at Beaux-Arts d'Angers, you discovered the performing arts at the Braunschweig University of Art. What pushed you to add performance-based elements to your visual practice?
After this experience, it was no longer practicable for me not to imagine the presence of the body in my work. Before even having text, the relationship to space, to objects, to the scenography was an extremely important raw material. Everything is connected when I work, there’s resonance everywhere in what I see and hear and feel. Seeing shows like Choral by François Tanguy or Iets op Bach by Alain Platel at the Beaux-Arts d'Angers showed me that it was possible to mix these forms. I wanted to tell stories with text, sound, and images all at once, depending on the artists encountered and the emotions felt on stage. I needed to create a connection with the audience in a way that wasn’t linear but rather fragmented and organic, as sensory as it was emotional.
Your personal work and your company’s work combine theatre, dance, and visual arts. How do you envisage these disciplines and how they interweave in your works?
I don’t even think about it. When I’m immersed in my creative process, everything is already all mixed up. I can think of a scene and go two days working with actors on the scenography alone. I take everything and put it on the same level: the form often provides the substance for me so I trust my sensory and visual intuition. Everything intersects all the time, nothing is left to chance and even the tiniest details are important, from the colour of a tablecloth to that of a curtain. The actors with whom I work rehearse very quickly in costume, which helps me to nail down materials immediately. It requires very forthcoming actors who are promptly brought into my universe. I ask them to forget where they’re coming from and let me muse on them. Even if I have ideas and desires, they’re the ones who inspire me, who give rise to the scenes with their bodies and energies.
You develop your creations in different forms, from poems to frescos, using materials like water, earth, and the human body. How do you choose your media depending on your subjects?
My projects are a kind of continuum; I don’t see my shows as separate entities. I feel like I'm building the story of a house with rooms and people that move from one space to another. I often tackle themes very close to one another – but with different colours – and each time I delve into lots of things that I’ve skimmed from previous creations. There are experiences I no longer want, like blends of video and cinema. I love directing actors and doing scenography but video techniques and their relationship with the audience don’t fit with my instincts. I’m more mindful of colours, I have light-filled shows and others that are darker: their tones are directly linked to feeling.
You’ll be on stage again this July to preform your show ceux-qui-vont-contre-le-vent at the Festival d'Avignon. How did this project originate and how did it unfold?
After working on aux éclats... for a year — which had magic-infused burlesque elements — I wanted to go to the other side. My shows are often tragicomic and I think that there’s a lot of lightness in tragedy. In ceux-qui-vont-contre-le-vent, I wanted to talk about absence, about disappearance in every sense of the word, about how things fade away. I again wanted to evoke the family and brotherhood often present in my shows. I discussed connections during an internship with young actors a while back. They sat around a table and wrote 16 letters on lack and absence which ended up making one and the same story. And of course the pandemic and the very real absence of the team bubbled up without me having to really talk about them. By interweaving different atmospheres, I invite the audience to tell themselves their own story, to let themselves go in contemplation and the present moment.
Since 2005 you’ve been developing performances in situ or you commit to spaces, different environments, whether urban or natural. How do you think of the stage? How do you imagine the space in which you let your stories evolve?
I listen to my environment and when I set myself up in these spaces I’m listening to hear them speak. It’s important not to hide what’s around us, to see how one thing can lead to another, particularly in my shows. With regard to landscapes, there’s a certain frontality when I work. In situ performances are high points since we play with the components without technique and without lighting. This is the connection that feeds creation and what we want to relate on an open stage like this. I don’t want to recreate a small stage: the stage is already the landscape, a wall, a shrub whence an actor can emerge. I look for the child inside me to help compose a narrative with the singing bird or the plane passing overhead by looking differently at the space in which we’re walking.
At the heart of these universes and forms that are sometimes very far from one another, what is your relationship with the spectator’s gaze? Do you imagine their immersion in your creation?
I put myself in the spectator’s place when I create. I need to have a very physical connection with what I’m creating. I always try to be directly connected to what’s happening on stage: I find it impossible to succeed if I can’t make this connection. It’s important for me to thread invisible wires from the stage to the audience and back again for a direct and generous exchange. This is why I avoid techniques and technology, so as not to create distance. I work a lot on that which is unintended and my texts are little bubbles that open up, homages to authors like Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Rilke, and Duras. Otherwise, it’s the body that speaks above all, with objects and lights in dialogue with it. Text is everything, everything I see on stage is a source of narrative and when an actor appears there’s already a kind of resonance around them.
In partnership with the Blast collective, you’re sharing a residency space in Angers, la cabine, au pad – Pépinière artistique daviers – to bring artists together around moments of creation. How are these residencies and meetings organised?
With Blast, we don’t choose the artists together but we host them for two, even three weeks. The project was born ten years ago in an empty workshop and we decided to create this residency space as a place for experience and discussion. We have a gentle approach with figures who are at the start of their project and we offer them opportunities and discussion. It’s an idea for building projects and connections between the arts. We want to preserve this hybrid relationship between two distinct spaces, two studios where real connections are established in search of generosity and interaction. We’re adamant about building bridges with other organisations, and personally I love attending these moments of discovery, research, and rehearsal. I like to ask questions of the stage, its relationship with the audience and the subject matter, so I welcome lots of artists who question themselves in the same way.
Do you have any new projects in mind after your new show? Do you already know what theme or subject matter you’ll work on next?
In principle, I always find it hard to think ahead, all the more so since aux éclats... didn’t really get going because of Covid and ceux-qui-vont-contre-le-vent hasn’t been performed yet. It’s a period during which things emerged without really blossoming even though I’ve just received a new commission from the Théâtre National de Strasbourg and the Comédie de Colmar. It will be a travelling project with actors from the Ier Acte programme launched by Stanislas Nordey to help artists from diverse backgrounds. We’re going to travel to all the little villages in Alsace in the autumn then go on tour again in spring 2022. It’s a well-timed creation since I was hoping in the future for a more intimate performance than ceux-qui-vont-contre-le-vent, which involves a team of eleven. I’d also like to create a scenographic performance without actors, an installation in an exhibition gallery. I have lots of desires to do with theatre, scenography, and even photography.
ceux-qui-vont-contre-le-vent will be presented to the participants of the Spectacle Vivant Focus, organised by the Institut français in Avignon from 7 to 11 July.
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