Dancing with the wind – an interview with Phia Ménard
Following last years’ Total Theatre Award winning production of ‘L’Après-midi d’un Foehn Version 1’ at the Edinburgh Fringe, Company Non Nova return to the UK for the 2014 London International Mime Festival with two more shows from their I.C.E. series. Here company founder Phia Ménard discusses her work.
'L’Apres-midi d’un Foehn' and 'Vortex' are both part of the I.C.E project, and presented in tandem; have the ideas from the first been developed further into the second, or are the two presented together for another reason?
Both projects were born out of L’Après-midi d’un Foehn Version 1, which was created in October 2008 for the Natural History Museum of Nantes.
The shows are inseparable more for commercial reasons than artistic. I.C.E. stands for 'Injonglabilité Complémentaire des Elements' – or ‘Complementary Unjuggleability of the Elements’ – and is a project of exploration into our relationship with the transformational elements of water, ice, vapour and air, manipulating that which is considered 'unmanipulatable'.
The 'wind plays' all have the same starting point: the construction of a plastic shape that is given movement by wind. They can be seen in any order, and the main connection between them is the use of wind and plastic.
'L’Après-midi d’un Foehn' is advertised as ‘for children’ – that is an interesting categorisation! What prompted that decision? Does that mean 'Vortex' is not for children?
For me, the categorising of my work is just something that happens in the business. I try to create work without worrying about how it will be defined. This is the only way to remain free to think creatively. 'L’Après midi d’un Foehn' wasn’t intended for an audience of children any more than 'Vortex' was created solely for adults.
The way they have been categorised is purely a distinction made by the industry, which is a real shame because it seems to divide them somehow. I feel that the plays I create are not didactic objects, and do not have boundaries. I find the cultural practise of categorisation for the public damaging, in the sense that it compartmentalises artistic forms.
You performed for many years as a juggler, before expanding the scope of your work. How do you feel your juggling skills inform your creative processes and ideas today?
Juggling is a really important creative tool for me as it fuels my imagination. In my creative process today, I no longer incorporate juggling with objects, but it still feeds into the way I work with material and the world around us. I’m interested in creating a different relationship between actors and their audience, so I try to work with materials that create interactions between the actors and their spectators.
The first impression with the work is that the wind is manipulating the objects. That is, of course, true but it is humans manipulating the ‘unjuggleable’ air currents. Who is the puppeteer?
I don’t know if it’s the puppeteer that interests me in this work. I am very sensitive to the idea of dispossession, that of the human being who can’t escape the human condition.
In 'Vortex', the relationship between the artist and the puppet is a one of jealousy, the idea of not being able to enjoy the freedom of escaping its condition. In 'L’Après-Midi d’Un Foehn', the puppeteer plays the role of manipulator, set apart from the elements and the tamer of an uncontrollable gale. This is what interests me: the visible control of an object which the puppeteer doesn’t control!
How did you first begin your experiments with wind?
I started this research by experimenting with using wind as currents of air to move material. I was working with ice, and desired to move the blocks using air currents. Through the force of this research I arrived at the idea for 'Vortex', generated by six fans.
What have been the most magical moments for you working on the two pieces?
For me the most magical moments have been, are, and always will be, watching the wind control the plastic materials. At each performance, new unexpected behaviour appears, reminding me of a magical interaction that is also very simple: some plastic and some wind.
As part of the I.C.E. project you have experimented already with air, ice and water as elements – do you think you will turn eventually to fire?
Fire is not an element that interests me because it has strong attractive effects and the transformational possibilities are restricted, which also restricts its potential for the imagination! Air requires a particular sort of focus in order to accept its existence and can only be noticed in its movement.