What was the origin of this project?
It’s a commissioned work. The project started with a proposal by Les Subsistances creative research lab. It was very precise and very indefinite: do something with The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer. I had never approached a project in this way and it has given me totally unexpected freedom.
First of all, the freedom to draw the substance of an action, of a dream, from this immense and multi-faceted work. And the freedom to not adopt a pre-conceived shape based on a supposed affiliation with one register of expression or another. They didn’t ask me to do a theatre play, they didn’t say anything about dance; they opened up a space – in me, for starters – where figures, time and emotions could emerge and perhaps come together in an unhurried manner.
It so happens that I have always loved The Iliad. When I think about that story, the first thing that comes to mind, and which blew my mind when I first read it and still stirs me today, was the encounter between Priam and Achilles, in the last book. These are the two antagonists, the two opponents, the two arch enemies. It takes place at night, concealed from the sleeping Greek camp, concealed from the world, in silence and calm, in complete betrayal of the violent commands and the ingrained resentment; it is a pure anomaly, a pure gesture of freedom as well. They meet under extremely strange and exceptional circumstances.
Priam is about to lose the war; he will soon have lost everything; he leaves his palace alone at night, after 11 days of fasting and sleeplessness, since the death of Hector; with a mule he heads out from the walls of Troy and into the Greek encampment, and slips with mysterious ease into the heart of the enemy ranks. A startled Achilles turns to find Priam on his knees, begging, pleading. From that point begins some of the most surprising pages in the history of world literature.
The performance will be given during the Dance Biennale. What is the connection between The Iliad and dance?
I don’t know how The Iliad concerns dance directly but I think that it is above all a story of bodies. Before that night scene I just mentioned, The Iliad is about bodies out in the glaring sun, in action, !ghting, chasing each other, desiring each other. It is about relations, distances and lines. The war has been going on for so long that it has become abstract. It is a series of mechanical movements, a living machine in which the pierced, cut and dismembered body appears in all its great and trivial materiality.
I tried to extract from the epic poem all of the passages which describe the action of weapons on bodies, eliminating the adjectives and stripping away the attributes that decorate the story. What’s left is a string of incomplete fragments, with purely objective violence that is so raw it is nearly unbearable. The result is harsh and terrifying but somehow preserves its poetic nature.
That is what I want people to experience: a puri!ed material, like an illumination. Laurent Poitrenaux, with his surgical precision, will transpose this to the body of Thibault Lac. Then, in a perfect counterpoint to the rest of the story, the brief nocturnal instant when the old king and the young warrior meet will consist of a succession of silent actions, an ode to insigni!cance. It is at this juncture, in this complex exchange of gestures and words, that something perhaps resembling dance will appear.
There is also a scenographic action on the body, which is very particular. What’s the idea behind this?
The main question about staging The Iliad concerns the landscape and, more specifically, staging the in-between or non-place nature of the area. Everything happens in the space which separates the besieged city of Troy and the Greek army’s camp near the river. There is a plain where the battles take place and the river flows. It is also a stretch of land littered with bodies, asleep, in conflict, dead, or loving. The scenography of the space will encompass the audience because there will be no seating, and people will be able to move about freely in the space of the hangar where we will have scattered large quantities of gravel and some concrete blocks. These inorganic materials will evoke destruction, vestiges, disappearance.
With no predefined direction and no identi!able centre, the performance can come from anywhere. But the main idea is to make the audience feel, in the middle of this unmarked plain, all of the magnetic tension of an uninhabitable space haunted by violence. And through some kind of reversal of proportions, I want to highlight the importance of the miracle that occurred that night between Achilles and Priam.
Piece for 1 dancer and 2 actors — 2014 — Time run 1h env.
Conception, mise en scène, scénographie : Daniel Jeanneteau
Création : Daniel Jeanneteau — Danseur : Thibault Lac — Comédiens : Gilbert Caillat, Laurent Poitrenaux — Assistant : Damien Schahmaneche — Lumières : Anne Vaglio — Son : Isabelle Surel — Assistant : Damien Schahmaneche
Daniel Jeanneteau sera en résidence de création aux Subsistances à Lyon, du lun 7 au ven 11 juil et du lun 25 au ven 29 août.
Photo © DR