How does the word “poison” resonate with your show?
Paracelsus said: “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not poison.” Here, the poison is deceit.
Dissimulation may save a partisan’s life, but could just as easily lead to its loss. An individual infiltrates a place to enact a gesture of resistance, but should they wait too long, there will come a moment when they can no longer remove the mask from their face. In this way, for example, people who had infiltrated centres of power, who had learned all their ways and formed friendships there, suddenly found themselves accused of abandoning their mission. It’s awful to be condemned for treason after sacrificing so much to strike a blow that was never made. But sometimes, they actually did switch sides. How can we know?
We deal with extremely toxic accounts and must be careful not to poison ourselves. The dejection and hostility that we absorb when tackling these subjects are highly toxic; that’s why we stage our works in a theatrical space. Others might reproach us for moving away from the barricades and turning them into objects of contemplation, but this isolation is necessary, and the distance is salutary.
What we’re offering is not peaceful contemplation. We invite the audience to take a risk, to share the responsibility of translating—through our bodies, our personalities, our questions—the accounts that have been entrusted to us without betraying them.
What was the principal challenge arising from your decision to address subjects that you yourself describe as “non-theatrical” in a theatrical setting?
The challenge is to share complexity which is truthful—in other words, shaped using the model employed by researchers that we aim to copy, which involves identifying the standpoint from which we’re speaking and having the honesty to verify that the factual elements we’re bringing forward correspond to reality, even if sometimes they upset us.
However, the subject matter that we’re addressing—resistance movements and the issues of propaganda and seductiveness associated with them—already contain plenty of theatricality in their own right.
Sharing complexity also means relying on a detached perspective, but that doesn’t prevent us from drawing a historically validated line between unjust power and legitimate resistance. On the other hand, we can ask ourselves what errors should not be repeated within a resistance movement. Asking how one can guard against betrayal does not necessarily mean one is interested in betrayal as a romantic notion. As long as we do not discuss certain consequences of infiltration operations—the psychological impact of waiting, the seductive appeal of promises made by the enemy in extreme situations such as torture—and minimize these consequences for fear of tarnishing our reputation, these scenarios will be reproduced. In this sense, our theatre is militant: it seeks to draw lessons from history.
How have you approached the challenge of not reproducing colonial constructs in your artistic practice?
We try to stay vigilant. On stage, we bring together different people who each have their own writing, directing, and choreography projects that reflect different priorities.
It’s easy for me to say that I don’t want to reproduce certain constructs, but I can’t do that alone: it takes a community of perspectives who share this concern in the right way. Our little community notably includes people born outside of Europe or from families belonging to various diasporas who have the patience to put up with our missteps and blunders during the creative process. They are kind enough to point them out without getting up and storming out of the room.
We’re also very careful to consider which bodies represent which kind of stories and to leave the “door ajar,” as the philosopher Vinciane Despret puts it, so that those to whom we turn our back to tell a story know that they can come back inside, that we are not turning our back on them definitively. While I sometimes compare my situation with the European anarchist, Trotskyist, or Maoist artists who went and put their knowledge at the service of liberation movements, I never forget that it’s not the same in terms of sacrifice and danger.
However, like them, I feel responsible for the image I give of the non-European world, and sometimes, a willing hostage, I repeat what “must” be said. The work we do as a team liberates our words from my own desire to harp on about politics.