Interview with Aurelien Bory: On stage puzzles and space formulas

by deborah on 10/11/2009

During this year’s edition of Eurokaz – The International Festival of New Theatre I had an opportunity to interview artistic director of  CIE 111 Company,  Aurelien Bory…

aurelien_bory_1.jpgAurélien Bory in Zagreb, photo taken from SEEbiz (c)

CIE 111 performed the ‘Seven Boards of Skill’ which was really great chance to talk with Bory on his aesthetics, directing methods, usage of new technologies in art and the trilogy itself…

Aurélien Bory studied film, then acoustic architecture before turning to theatre. He has been heavily inspired by circus and juggling since he was a teenager.

The Company says about the trilogy: ‘Since its creation, CIE 111 has been aiming to the development of a poetic writing, using juggling, acrobatics and music and exploring scenic language as a whole.

With this point of view, the matter of space appeared obvious, on one hand because juggling and acrobatics are tightly linked to it and obey perfectly to its regulating laws and on the other hand because theatre is considered here like the art of space as defined by Oskar Schlemmer himself.

Therefore, the concept of a trilogy about space is imagined declining its dimensions. Three-dimensional space (the volume), two-dimension space (the plane), one-dimension space (the line) become the themes of the three respective episodes IJK, Plan B and More or less infinity.

That way, the fact is to question the relationship between man and space, from its more daily form until its conquest. Imagined as a poem in which the addition of simple forms produces, by layers, a complex structure, the trilogy suggests to the spectator’s imagination to proceed with ideas associations, recognition or projections of their own references and experience of today’s world. This flow of sensations becomes movement of thought. The elsewhere is in the core of our relation to space whose quest is endless, in loop, vain. Trilogy seems to be this: three dimensions, three elsewhere and three impossibilities.’

a._bory.jpgPhoto by Mihail Novakov taken from flickr (c)

Your stage work is always designed as a sort of a puzzle, there is always some kind of construction we have to build up our imagination… you’ve  studied cinema and physics and there are so many elements included in your performances… we have to solve something at the end of the performance…

AB: Yeah, you’re right (laughs). I like very much this idea. I didn’t put it that way before, but I like it now,  doing this puzzle. Like in this show. It’s right what  you just said. I’ve always  done puzzles (laughs).

You were also inspired by Bauhaus, Oscar Schlemmer and all these geometrical constructions. … but it’s not only about the geometry…

AB: Yeah. You know, I wanted to make theatre with everything. I think everything could be theatre. Everything that fits on the stage could be theatre. In the past, I worked a lot with different elements: slides to scenery, new technologies like video for example, which is not really NEW, but for theatre it’s new, you know (laughs).  For example, I have done more then four performances with video. And for the show ‘Seven Boards of Skill’ I wanted to do a show without video, because it’s not a necessary tool. I wanted to come back to something more basic as blocs or architecture. Not to go in all directions, but to focus on one direction. But, it’s still, of course, a mix of things.

I’m trying to find for each projects specificity. Not to be very specific, not to be too general or to do as I already did. I’m trying to do something new. As for my last performance, I’ve tried to do something with the architecture and the geometry. I wanted the show to be dead and it’s a change, because people on the stage are only doing architecture. They are trying to explore where could be their body in that architecture. So, the performance is questioning the place that we can build for ourselves in the world.


But in my last two performances, which are part of the trilogy inspired by Oskar Schlemmer, it’s difficult after that to say what is it exactly. If it is dance or circus… even in this show you can say that it is circus. There are very scary balances with architecture, it’s like these blocs are doing acrobatics by themselves, you know.

So, it’s mixed and people usually ask, what is this? I answer  them: It’s theatre! Of course, we  can do theatre with dance. For example, the biggest choreographers like Pina Bausch, before everything she was an excellent director. For me, being a theatre director stands before being a choreographer. They are doing their work for stage. First of all, they are excellent stage directors. I follow these ideas – the idea of theatre, the idea that we  can do everything with theatre, circus, architecture, music, images, shadows… like shadow puppetry, you know. When you really want it, you can do theatre with these things and the only important thing is to respect the rules of the stage. They are complex and each performance is an opportunity for me to get something new about those rules.

It’s interesting that you have found inspiration in street  art… basically, circus and jugglery are ancient forms of street art…

AB: I wouldn’t say street art. Because I’m not very connected with street art, but I’m very interested in acrobatics, juggling and these kind of things. They interest me because they’re very connected with physical rules and gravity. Falling ball, the body… to do acrobatics is to define the gravity, to dance also means to define gravity. And at the same time to listen the gravity, to let it be in our body or in the object.

So, because of all these I’m interested to be connected with the physical world. Theatre is the only place where gravity is for real. You know, it’s the only art, not the place, but the only art where gravity is the part of the game. If you write a book, or make a movie there isn’t gravity. You can lie with gravity… Gravity is a part of the space, part of what you are doing. That’s why all things that I have chosen are connected with this direction – the art of the space.

This trilogy is about the space and this piece is simply an extension of it. In this performance I’ve applied all what I did in trilogy to make something different. It is a little bit more philosophical then the whole trilogy. There was also philosophy in the trilogy, but in a very specific way: form, subjects, volume, playing, laying. In the Chinese show there is more about the WORLD. I’m talking about the world in a sense of humanity.

Cie111_skills.jpgSeven Boards of Skills, Cie 111 (c)

It’s very obvious that you tend to create a small microcosm, this time you have picked up a huge civilization. Chinese philosophy, art, theatre are massive and complex systems…

AB: Yeah, I found  very interesting the fact that China is the world itself. Basically, they had put the whole during years and years, being separated from the rest of the world. So, I didn’t want to say that in my performance, but I used this fact that it’s a world by itself. I wanted to put this on the stage: A WORLD. And the place of human beings in that world. Of course, I was very inspired by Chinese philosophy because it was very important to make some connection with that. It’s very important to respect the context of the performance. Chinese audience makes its connections, while Western audience makes other connections. It is not about China, I think it’s universal. It’s not about THE World, but A World. A construction of that, with some absurdity, with serious things, with humour, with poetry. Of course, poetry is something what I’m doing.

It’s  a stage poetry…

AB: Yes, it’s stage poetry. As for poetry and myself, you know, I don’t have a message. Let the audience enters into this poetry and make its own message.

Your are relaying on the audience… it’s a very opened structure… it’s about that what they see and how they perceive shapes and spaces…

AB: Yeah, it’s an opened structure and if it works, the imagination is very active. If it works! If it doesn’t work, well, then you can get bored (laughs). In this kind of connection, I call it art. Art is not the object itself; art is relationship between you and whatever you are watching. That’s art. If it’s working that’s something incredible. You think that this painting, or film or performance have been made for you only. If it’s working really… It’s for me, it’s talking to me! (laughs). If it doesn’t work you don’t feel connection with that what you’re watching and it’s just boring.

Can we go back to the human body, and the thing  you’ve said previously that you are interested in these balances on the stage… Do you allow the actors to reveal themselves within your guidelines or you are directing them in which was they should be going? I don’t think in a sense of choreographing…

AB: I’m trying to find all strategies to discover something that will surprise me. All strategies are good. Sometimes you don’t know what the exact strategy to find something is. I’m very interested to discover what I didn’t know before and it’s very difficult, because you don’t know how to get that. For example, I wanted to experiment with some kind of movement on these blocks. What I’m doing is that I’m trying all combinations. I’m interested to explore everything of this triangle, everything. OK, could you walk on it?! Could you climb on it?! Could you slide, jump or run?!  What could you do?! What is the connection between you and this object? What is the connection between the bodies? What can you do with your body?

It’s always a dialogue between the body and the space. This dialogue is infinite. I’m always trying to find little discoveries, you know. For this performance I needed that. Not discoveries that I already made in my paper book, while I was working prior going to rehearsals. I’m not looking for discoveries in that moment. I just make repetitions with the actors on the stage, then I’m searching to discover some new things. Something that I haven’t had thought about before. Sometimes nothing happen… Some days can happen something incredible by chance or something else…

Cie111_skills_1.jpgSeven Boards of Skills, Cie 111 (c)

Let’s switch now a little bit to this element of sound, and the perception of sound in your work… after all these elements we had mentioned before, sound could be the last layer in your work…

AB: Yeah, yeah… you know, light and sound… I’m trying to make them acting to provoke things. So, the sound goes parallel in real time with actions. I’ve asked a friend of mine who lives in Paris to make some sound with Chinese elements like gongs. I said to him: I need the sound of the Earth and the sound of the Sky! GO! (laughs). After that, I’m cutting it with the sound engineer and technicians in order to make it adaptable for the stage. Exactly the same is with the light… I really want the light to follow the action and to be part of the action. So, at the beginning I only thing about the action, what’s the action and what is part of the action? Is light a part of the action?! Yes / No?! Do we need sound?! Yes / No?! I like silence, too.

Silence is also a sound…

AB: Yeah, exactly. I don’t like when music is an obligation. I don’t like when people are using music  in theatre to be decorative or to make it beautiful.  I like the action on the stage, so if the music could be also a part of this dialogue on the stage, that’s good. We don’t need necessarily music. Sometimes silence is more powerful. When I’m saying that everything could be theatre that means action. Everything could be part of the action, not decorative.  Not to make it beautiful. I’m not interesting in making things beautiful. What is action and what could be part of the action?

Could you describe me a bit your working processes…

AB: I’m trying to make the concept of the product. It takes about one year of work. During this year I’m trying to answer questions: What is it about and what for? On first question you have to answer very clearly, if you can’t that means that you don’t know. If you don’t know, it means that there is no project. What for means why? What’s interesting in that you want to do? Why do you want to do it now? Why do you want to try that now? You have to answer to these two questions. So, my concept is to have an idea, to have those two answers. For example, I decided to make a trilogy about the space, because theatre is space. Theatre is the art of space. You have three, two and one dimension in theatre. Zero dimension is not a space, not space that we now in our physical world.

So, I wanted to work with the space because theatre is space and what is space actually? It is volume – plain, line. You know, theatre is not only about space, but also about life. Space is maybe the most important thing is our life. We follow space, we live in space. We are very sensitive to space. If we feel good in the room or not we know that immediately. Human beings are very space animal. And we are always looking for new spaces. Now, we have to go to the moon. So, this was very interesting subject and I wanted to make three performances about that. So, then when I realized and had answers to my questions, I decided to put space, plain and line on the stage.

aurelien_bory_erection.jpgFrom Erection, photo by Pierre Grosbois (c)
Taken from Sofia Dance Week

Then I’m trying to find the good scenery. I always work with the moving scenery. Now, it’s a part of my aesthetic. Scenery that you can move, not fixed scenery. Scenery that could be transformed. For example, if you remember Plab B performance, there were scenery and worlds designed completely vertical, not horizontal. But, it’s the same object. I work with object. Scenery is not a scenery that you are looking at, because scenery is part of the action and object. At the same time, the scenery itself is an object of the show. If it is a plain, I’m putting there a plain. Basically, if it is an tangram, I’m putting at the stage an tangram. It means, my work is very very basic. You know, the word tangram has been given to the game by Westerners, but the original translation from Chinese qi qiao ban  would be the ‘Seven Boards of Skill’. I like working with that, which means that I believe in simplicity. But, I hope that after the whole process I would find not expected things. I want to create real surprises.

Have there been other contemporary artists in particular that have had a strong influence on you, or whose work you admire?

AB: I really believe in contemporary art today. Some artists are very inspiring. Of course, you have mentioned constructivism and Bauhaus… but I also like Op Art from the sixties, cinematic arts, then minimalism… But now, I’m also very interesting what is going on with photography, artists that cross the barriers of art. For example, I’m interested in contemporary artists which are doing now street art. I like artists which are combining architecture, street art and old monuments, statues, churches. Objects that have now different functions and meanings, and you feel like watching with new eyes. My question is: what is it about the art? Well, I think you have to give the eyes to the audience. For instance, there are a lots of photographers now, which are interested in bodies and dance…

Cie111_skills_2.jpgSeven Boards of Skills, Cie 111 (c)

Oh, sure… you mean Denis Darzaq

AB: Yeah! Darzaq is doing something I would like to do. This is definitely my style. (laughter) Darzaq and other photographers are now crossing the fields of dance, acrobatics and photography. It’s now a mix. Today, you can see a kind of mix of things. The artists of today are like that, mixing different things. I think I belong to them, too. I want to try new things that provoke something and refreshing a little bit. But, at the other hand, it’s not necessarily inspiring, because I don’t want to make all these arts. I want to enjoy in it as being a part of the audience. In cinematography my favourite film maker is James Gray. It has nothing in common with my work. For me, James Gray is like Dostoevsky, you know. He is an incredible film maker.

There are lots of ideas in the moment that I really like in contemporary art. Very good ideas…

What do you thing about technology usage in theatre? Affordable technology is developing faster and faster… lot’s of people are trying to play with it, some good… some less good…

AB: You know, I think technology is not a subject, it’s a tool. If you get to make technology as art, that’s OK. But, if you make only technology that’s bullshit. There are also many rubbish things by many people who are ‘amazed by technology’. There are also people who are doing real art with technology. I like the work by Daito Manabe. He is making the sound with impulses from his face. I saw his work at Youtube.

He does a kind of dance of the faces. He is using four different faces, and the result is the same dance because he uses electronic impulse. So, this is a little piece of art for me and it’s interesting because you see very passive dance. No will, just moving about our body. It’s talking about the fact that we are passive in a way. We just let technology enter our body. This is very interesting to me. But there are also many artists that are doing interactive arts with very sophisticated technology. When somebody is amazed because he moved his arm and made some sound from a machine I don’t find it an art.

Do you think that this could be described as tech mannerism or baroque?

AB: Yes. It’s only technological. Yeah, you moved your arm, and there is a sound behind. So, it’s a technological curiosity. It is only a gadget. It could be the first step, but of course it is not enough at all. For me, interactivity need this answers: what is it about and what for?

aurelien_bory_robots.jpgPhoto: Compaignie 111 – Sans Objet
Taken from Contemporary Performance Blog (c)

Do you desire to do something more with technology in theatre?

AB: I’m in repetition now. I will have a new performance in October… It’s soon, yeah. It will be something with robots, old industrial robots. You know, robots that we use in car industry. I will stage this robot who has nothing to do and actors with their bodies. So, it’s a dialogue between them. It’s also based on sculptures. The subject is what is alive and what not? These barriers between alive and not alive. The relation between technology and body became so blur.

Before, we knew robots were not alive, now it’s becoming a little bit blur. I’m talking about that. Also, it’s very inspired by Kleist’s philosophy. It’s inspired by Kleist’s thought’s on theatre and puppetry. So, it’s a kind of Kleist’s theatre of forms, because the robot is capable to take big objects, so I want him to take floor and build monoliths. This is a poem about inutility and useless activity, which is art and also a lot of things in human beings experience. Why do we need useless activities? And at the same time old robots are now useless. He built cars before, but now he’s is unusable. So, being useless is a little bit closer to human beings (laughs). So, I’m going to do that!

Aurelien, Thank you very much!

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