Elke Van Campenhout

Histoire(s) is an odyssey leading towards a dance performance that took place fifty-seven years ago. Since film footage or theatre programmes are no longer available, only the memories of spectators remain. The show itself we do not get to see; what we do see is how the show lives on in the heads of a handful of witnesses.

It is 1946. A few hundred spectators attend the first performance of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort by Jean Cocteau. A legendary show, it appears, with outstanding achievements by star dancer Jean Babilée.

The choreographer Olga de Soto uses this performance as the starting point for a careful reconstruction. To that aim, she placed an advertisement in Le Figaro in which she invited the then spectators to contact her. Their memories, often quite disparate witness accounts feed the performance.

The interviewees appear on screens of different sizes. The set-up seems simple: during the performance we get to know the voices of different people, trying to put order in their thoughts. While the performance of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort may hardly call up any images at the beginning, little by little the interviewees progress towards a more differentiated, more strongly interpreted view of what they saw at the Opera in 1946.

Although Le Jeune Homme et la Mort slowly takes shape for the spectator in the audience, it is mainly the witnesses who are of interest. They speak hesitantly, the small details in their living rooms relay parts of their personality. Among them differences of interpretation appear. All this helps the spectators to see people of flesh and blood come to life. Elderly people, with a long and eventful life behind them, not only testify about a performance, but also about shared wartime experiences and the loves of their lives.

In the staging their stories are projected on both large and smaller screens. At some point, the image is even caught by a performer who holds a small projection tool, as if the choreographer intents to re-order the homogeneous images of the interviews by those different approaches. She establishes accents, zooms in and allows interpretations.

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.

Elke Van Campenhout, Reconstructie van een voorstelling, De Standaard (BE), May 19, 2004

Translation: Geert Kliphuis