How did you develop this artistic project, this two-headed plunge into the personal, as a duo?
Mélanie Demers: Some years ago, I was in residence at Usine C and wanted to create a solo piece to conclude my three-year creative cycle. I started working on it, but at that time I became pregnant. The show therefore went back in the drawer.
When Angélique told me about her doctoral project, the idea of using the performer as material, it gave me the urge to start working on it again. We kept the spirit of revelation and the title, with its broad scope—every show is a public confession! This one is completely focused on the creative material that Angélique provides. With another performer, it would be a completely different show.
Angélique Willkie: It should be said that I often work on Mélanie’s pieces as a dramaturge, so I’m very familiar with her world.
For my doctorate, I’m interested in the dramaturgy of the performer, and I wanted to use myself as a case study, but it was important to not stay within a laboratory framework, to not act as a researcher during the creative process. As a performer, to explore myself in the way I did, I couldn’t be there as an observer. We established a real choreographer-performer chemistry.
Is there an element of fiction in what emerged from your collaboration?
A.W.: There are many truths in the show, but there are also fictions created by both of us, from our relationship. We couldn’t have generated them otherwise. Even if the raw material essentially comes from me, from my experiences, my body, what we did comes from Mélanie.
My on-stage reality is that I’m constantly seeking to connect with her imagination, from start to finish. If I lose that contact, I lose relevance. Not just in the confessions, but in the physical aspect too. It adds a layer of truthfulness. I’d even say that if there is any truth in this show, it’s found there.
M.D.: Angélique is a really generous artist; it’s easy to draw on her resources. So there’s a lot of her in the show, but there’s inevitably a lot of me too, because I’m interpreting and organizing everything with my own sensibility, and that reveals me. I’m asking her to reinvent herself and offer herself up through my labyrinth, so to speak.
There’s also a certain element of unpredictability in the performance. Her confessions are not always the same from one evening to the next. We know which one will be first and which will be last, but the path between them differs based on the spur of the moment. I find the obsession with what’s real and what’s fake to be interesting. But when you think about it, a show is nothing but fake! It’s the feeling of authenticity that matters, and I like playing with this paradoxical notion to create striking dramatic moments.
Could you talk about your use of movement in the show, as well as the forces held in tension?
A.W.: We are not linear beings, and our experiences are not linear either. What interests Mélanie is work, not success. Playing with what’s noble and vulgar in us. Oscillating between brutality and benevolence. Wading into that fertile place known as the “swamp.” Accepting that creation is a series of accidents that may lead to true moments of grace. She asks her performers for total commitment, holding nothing back, in perpetual motion.
M.D.: I like to see them trying to solve the puzzle rather than giving me the answer. Some have told me it’s impossible to rehearse my pieces, because they require always being performative. I look for the subtext, or rather the sub-action, that leads us into the hidden recesses, the shadowy areas, that determine how we move. The idea for Angélique is that she can be a little girl hurtling down a hill on her bike, a caveman, the old woman she will one day become, male and female, white and black, all at once.
To what extent is Confession publique a political work?
M.D.: Perhaps I was more militant at the start of my career. Now, I simply want freedom, a space for openness, for play. And if I were to create a totally abstract piece, white bodies performing to classical music, would it be just as political coming from me? Is it my personality that brings a political dimension to the work? Or is any use of a platform, any artistic choice, political?
A.W.: The way that Mélanie works with so-called “atypical” bodies is political. I’m already 60 years old, and when I step onto the stage, I feel completely at ease. Relatively early in the creative process, I told Mélanie that I was prepared to be naked on stage. I’m not necessarily modest, but if Black Lives Matter hadn’t happened, I don’t know whether I would have made that choice.
As a creator, Mélanie is very sensitive to what’s going on around her, to everything we’ve experienced in two years—the pandemic, the injustices, the suffering, the light. She brings the feeling of living in a community, of life, onto the stage, and life is political.