To touch the essence of the choreographic art of Olga de Soto, we could follow the means she used herself in her creation, histoire(s), a piece on the ballet The Young Man and Death (1946) by Jean Cocteau. She does not re-enact or reinterpret, but approaches the matter in a subtle way. She interviews the first spectators of the piece, to enable us to place ourselves in their footprints. They are the witnesses and we give their recollections a voice, through screens like holes in the memory, until they become aware of their personal history. They realise that many of them had forgotten what is in fact the essence of this piece: death. Because what this fable of collective hallucination tells us, is that dance – or the memory of dance – is a guarantee that death itself is the subject of this piece, that death is even in the title. This is a strong conclusion, as it shows the real status of the choreographer Olga de Soto. She is a seeker, a historian that stays close to her subject. This allows us to understand her own creations, especially Par une main ou par le vent mais l’air est immobile or Éclats mats, but also the unique universes from Boris Charmatz, with whom she worked earlier, and Jérôme Bel, whom she assisted for The Show Must Go On.
Laurent Goumarre, Paroles de Chorégraphes, Centre Pompidou
Multiple screens again for another inquiry, conducted here by the choreographer Olga de Soto, into “The Young Man and Death” by Jean Cocteau and Roland Petit. A simple mechanism makes intelligent use of the space and highlights remarkably the testimonials of a dozen or so members of the audience at the première in 1946. On the frontier between genres, Olga de Soto successfully conjures up a minor miracle of humanity and sensitivity.
Jean-Marie Wynants, Ici, l'électricité n'est pas statique, Le Soir (BE), May 24, 2004
The clear choices made in this work create an extraordinary experience. The portraits of the elderley spectators of the day are most fascinating.
Pieter T’Jonck, Le Souvenir de la danse, Ballettanz International (DE), 2005
The performance paradoxically allows us to see what it only talks about. As each testimony goes by, the original performance is reconstructed. The words, hesitations, silences, dispersed recollections or analyses of the eight interviewees overreach the initial setup. The field expands. We dive into History: that of the last century, of the war that was just over when the ballet was premièred; the history of those men and women who made it to today. At their age, inevitably, they speak about death, the principal topic of the ballet they saw one evening when they were young. Time and memory meet head-on in their fragility, in their wonderful subjectivity. As the eight portraits are painstakingly being sketched we begin to see the outline of different, sometimes brilliant points of view about the show in general and why to see it, whereas naturally today's spectators question themselves about the eternal question of the traces that we keep - or not - of what we see.
Marie Baudet, Théâtre de traces, La Libre Belgique (BE), May 18, 2004
Histoire(s) is an extremely beautiful performance that, through its confident humanity, is more than a documentary. It is an artistic chronicle about human lives, easily avoiding the pitfalls of sentimentality.
In her work histoire(s) Olga de Soto neither reconstitutes a ballet, nor revisits it. The original work, Jean Cocteau's creation… premièred at Théâtre des Champs Elysées, in June, 1946, is used here as a pretext for a scenic documentary. Via the publication of advertisements in the newspapers, the choreographer has found some of the spectators that were present at the première in 1946. She has interviewed them about this post-war ballet that greatly influenced the history of choreography. The presence on stage of the dancers is discreet, enough to give total priority to the recollections. None of the interviewees remembers the same ballet, and there lies all the interest of this video documentary performance, placed in the centre of the question of reading in dance. The personal stories, the post-war era and the choreographic act are intertwined with the observations of the people interviewed. The most touching thing without any doubt in this documentary, which constitutes a real performance, is the way the spectator has to go through the moment of the representation itself. A homage to a work that transformed the choreographic scene, histoire(s) also pays respect to the dance audience who can change their lives because a performance has opened new horizons to them. Centred on the exploration of memory and without any pretension.
“What does it mean to pay tribute?” We can add other questions to this one posed by the choreographer, to which the show inevitably gives rise. Who designates the posterity of the choreographic work? How can we relate to it, in what capacity, when the work in question is lacking both the text - the choreographic writing - and the flesh - the dance as practice and the work of the interpreter? (…) How can a tribute be envisaged when we can weave no relationship with the work? (…) The ambiguous status, of the choreographic work - text, practices, flesh and event - which endlessly raises numerous questions, is called into question once again here. With histoire(s), Olga de Soto decided to work on the piece based on its identifiable aura. She reconstructs the piece in a particular context, the evening of the première (…). In an original manner that contrasts with the succession of recent creations which question the issues, practices and motivations inherent to the construction of any choreographic statement, she decided to pursue the path in reverse and establish herself within the heart of the perception of the work, in the singular experience of the spectator. histoire(s) situates the choreographic work in a dynamic of thought which prevents any fixation and which legitimises multiple interpretations and “retexturings”.
The substance of the drama quivers. And its grace is no longer the rags, in this show which touches us like a family photo album suddenly brought to life, where the wrinkles of aged relatives disappear, smoothed away by the love of art, and by love itself. In histoire(s) — for this is the title chosen by Olga de Soto for her spectator novel — faces filmed in close-up speak of how the evening’s theatre consoles the ravages of the daytime. (…) What do they speak of then that is so precious? That theatre is revelatory of life. It is our memory. It is this place where we find the resources to cope with bereavements. (…) It could therefore be that art provides the strength to walk on ruins. Such is the lesson from these children of paradise. They never pontificate. Sometimes they are silent. At the end of The Young Man and Death, one of them says that there was a silence. As if each one of them was saying “hush”. It’s always like that, with all-consuming novels: when the fall occurs, we are left speechless. Later, words gallop wildly within us, composing our inner legends. They are our insolence when we are overcome by solitude.
Olga de Soto not only transformed a documentation process into a performance, she also transformed the very act of performing into one of documentation, displacing both notions of documentation and dance performance.