The Unconsoled Alain Buffard
Four years after his death, PI:ES, the company set up by choreographer Alain Buffard (1960-2013), is still active. Christophe Ives, Matthieu Doze and Fanny de Chaillé are keeping the memory of his pieces creatively alive. They are now reprising and transforming les Inconsolés (2005).
Alain Buffard ‘s play Les Inconsolés was first staged in 2005. It was performed by three men of different ages—Christophe Ives, Matthieu Doze and Alain Buffard himself—wearing masks that covered their faces. The play begins in darkness as Goethe’s poem “The Elf-King” is read in German. Not another word is spoken until the end when the poem serves as an epilogue, this time sung (in the Schubert setting) by Georgette Dee. We see a naked body stretched out on its belly stage right, alone, and stage left a noose awaiting the next hanging. Meanwhile, the three adults have been playing children’s games. Meanwhile, in 2013, Buffard died. His theater company, PI:ES, lives on. No new plays, strictly speaking, but Fanny de Chaillé, his official heir, Doze and Ives keep the memory of his plays alive and bear witness while they’re still with us. Several plays are being revived for a retrospective initiated by the Centre National de la Danse this fall, among them Les Inconsolés at the Centre Pompidou. It is a play of reference for many people because of what it conveys, what it teaches us about the work of its author(s) and what it reveals about contemporary dance in France during the early 2000s. RECONSTRUCTING THE SUBSTRATUM Les Inconsolés is unabashedly a hard case. Three men perform a “play” about pedophilia, incest and homosexuality, where several stories are superimposed and fit together like pieces of a puzzle to produce narrative constructions. The original idea, Doze recalls, was to do an adaptation of James Purdy’s Narrow Rooms, a novel about the relationship between two brothers, but the book’s images were much too strong and lyrical. And yet, when watching the final scene, it’s clear that Purdy’s novel impregnated the narrative. To understand what this transmission means, we have to understand what Les Inconsolés constitutes. Beyond its literary references, the play is a “stagnant soup of our most private thoughts,” Doze explains. “Alain delved deeply into other people’s most private recesses; his work is charged with an incredible subconscious power.” Buffard was very influenced by psychoanalysis. Several projections, literally and in Freudian terms, take place in Les Inconsolés through the interplay of shadows on a canvas. A man eats another, lets himself be covered up… How can this play be transmitted without Alain? At one time it was agreed that Doze and Ives would dance it again, but not play the same roles. That would have required finding a third dancer who could have reorganized the casting, but the disequilibrium would have been obvious. The dancers in this new production, Bryan Campbell, Mark Lorimer and Miguel Pereira, never met Buffard, which means they will weave together something new. What interests Doze, who worked with Buffard for eighteen years, is not revisiting the original choreography but the reconstruction of its substratum, which was based, from the start, on each man’s most private recesses. During the initial rehearsals in December, the three dancers did not actually perform the piece but rather danced around it, so to speak, so that an encounter between them and with the piece could emerge. “We started with exercises, long improvisations around animals, undressing and so on. We were really searching,” Campbell recounts. The exercises approached the forms of the piece without ever taking them up directly. No plagiarism, no reproduction. Just how much does the choreography of a body determine a form? “Just how much are these things our things, or are they, ultimately, forms?”(1) After thoroughly revisiting the archival videos, Doze worked with Ives and Fanny de Chaillé on the method to adopt. During residence work sessions, Matthieu and Christophe went over their memories and emotional states while Fanny took notes. They came up with a formal script to structure the raw material produced by bodies, but this form could be changed by the new substratum that would emerge. “There are times when the forms are less important than what underlies them.” How much will things change? This is like the problem of translation, which betrays as well as respects. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” TRANSMISSION To connect with something is not to remake it. The problematics of revivals and transmissions have already led to many days of reflection and are related to the work of the Knust Quartet(2) (in which Alain Buffard was a performer) and the Carnets Bagouet (3) (of which Doze, one of Bagouet’s great dancers, was a cofounder). “Unlike Bagouet, who seldom spoke, I talk a lot. I don’t impose any limits on myself in speaking about that personal dimension, because that’s what gives rise to the forms. At what point does one’s own story become the driving force for something bigger?” The dance critic Gérard Mayen has remarked on the Bagouetian aspect of Les Inconsolés, both because the performer becomes a character, implying a sort of “auto-fiction” insofar as he plays the part of himself, and because there is no intrigue regarding the characters or theatrical drama. This analysis of what he calls a blind spot goes against the image of an association with the U.S. that Buffard himself created through his work with Yvonne Rainer and his film with Anna Halprin, My Lunch with Anna (2005). The artist and researcher Pauline Le Boulba, who was close to Buffard artistically and is doing her own performance about his Dispositif 3.1 (2001) and My Lunch with Anna,( 4) sees his rapprochement with Halprin as a kind of redress to make up for the violence in his other works in which the relations of dominators/dominated are often markers. The covered faces in Les Inconsolés recall those hidden under the blond curls of a wig in Dispositifs 3.1. Trios reappear in piece after piece: three men, three women, two men and a woman in INtime/EXtime-MORE ET ENCORE (1999). Le Boulba argues that these hidden faces and recurring trios are concretizations of the concept of multiples and variations that was a constant theme in Buffard’s work, which, like the work of transmission itself, is freighted with invisible iterations. 1) Unless otherwise indicated by the author, the following phrases in quotation marks are from telephone conversations with Matthieu Doze. (2) Founded in 1993 by four dancers (Dominique Brun, Anne Collod, Simon Hecquet and Christophe Wavelet), the Albrecht Knust Quartet has participated in the recreation of historic dances such as Nijinski’s Après-midi d’un faune. (3) Established in 1993 following the death of the choreographer Dominique Bagouet, the mission of
Les Carnets Bagouet is to coordinate and carry out initiatives in the domain of the transmission of the dance repertory. (4) Pauline Le Boulba was invited by the Centre National de la Danse to present La Langue brisée,( 3) a piece on the reception of these two pieces.
Charlotte Imbault is an art critic. Alain Buffard Né en 1960 à Morez et mort en 2013 aux Rousses. 1998 Good boy 2001 Dispositifs 3.1 2001 Good for… 2003 Mauvais genre 2012 Baron Samedi (New Settings #2)