Interview with Jean Lambert-wild


For this project, you will be joined by some new collaborators… who are they?

Gérald Garutti, whom I currently work with on Richard III – Loyaulté me lie, introduced me to an excellent writer called Marc Goldberg. For several reasons, but also because he wanted to further and renew his theatrical vocabulary, Marc Goldberg left France and moved to Singapore. He discovered my work on the Internet, and insisted that the two of us meet. Initially, we thought I could go to Singapore to create a Calenture or lead a workshop, but such a trip proved quite difficult to organise, so we decided to work on a Calenture that would take another form. This is how The Umbrellas of Singapore project was conceived. We want this show to be thoroughly binational, regarding its content, its production, on stage, as well as during the creation process. One central idea is to collaborate with a Singaporean dance company, in order to devise together the different scenes. I would also perform the show with the dancers. As the show will rely on physicality and on various body techniques (dance, pantomime, as well as martial arts or magic) rather than on words (besides songs lyrics), dancers are the most able to interact with my clown in this context, both during rehearsals and on stage. Then, of course, Singaporean dancers, whose culture and education are rooted in globalised modernity as well as in Asian traditions, are definitely the best partners I can think of for The Umbrellas of Singapore.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the origins of this show?

The idea came when a drop of water fell on my nose. I was talking with Marc Goldberg on Skype, he in Singapore and I in Brittany. Marc was telling me that we needed to find a solution to our problems. More specifically, he was asking whether I had an idea of what our Calenture could look like. This is when a drop of water that had formed on the ceiling due to condensation landed on my nose. I suddenly thought: of course! We should work with umbrellas! The Umbrellas of Singapore!

Why are you interested in umbrellas? In which ways did this object appear to be the best solution to build a Calenture between Singapore and France?

Umbrellas are present in many different traditions. They are incredible symbols of revolt and rebellion; in kung fu for instance, umbrellas are used as weapons. An umbrella protects, but it can also be used to attack… It is present in both Asian and European cultures, it is an everyday object, and also a symbol, filled with messages and signs. It’s a bridge between these different cultures. The show will partially be inspired by music hall and variety shows, where umbrellas are a real tradition: see Singin’ In The Rain for instance, or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg… The aim would be to let our Singaporean dancers partners and my clown reinvent these famous scenes. Then umbrellas are also an important element of Western and Asian popular cultures! Take French singer Georges Brassens’ compositions for instance, one of which mentions “un p’tit coin d’parapluie” (“a little corner of your umbrella”), or this incredible song performed by the Italian Enzo Jannacci, “L’Ombrello di mio fratello”. I am very fond of this song: now picture my clown singing it! Also, let's not forget the role of umbrellas in Chinese songs, dance or circus. We want to explore and draw our inspiration from all this, without overlooking the long traditions of magic shows and clowning performed with umbrellas…

Will your clown question these many different performing genres?

Yes, the clown will adopt and adapt these traditions, and we’ll also add everything we can come up with when we all start to work together! Take for instance Jannacci’s song: my clown arrives on stage, and sings the song when suddenly, we hear thunder. The clown grabs a little yellow umbrella, which he opens to shelter himself. But as soon as he’s opened the umbrella, rain starts falling on the inside! The clown notices that the rain outside has stopped, so he closes the umbrella… and at that very moment the storm moves and it rains even more heavily… on the clown’s head! I can picture this gag, how we can play with the repetition of this simple gesture: opening and closing an umbrella, while rain follows and torments the clown. Or we could imagine other scenes, an homage to Singin’ in the Rain or to Mary Poppins for example. However, of course, these rough ideas will have to be deepened, developed, restructured by the artistic crew. Hence, the final result is still unpredictable, but the raw material is so rich, the possibilities are so numerous and inspiring, that I have very few doubts about the outcome!

Is there a link between the fact that umbrellas are used in clowning, and the fact that you wish to develop this project around the figure of your own clown?

I do think that there is something to be done with my clown, and I totally see him working with umbrellas, absolutely. The point is to keep expanding his character and what he can do, really explore how he is codified as a character. Since my clown played Lucky, in Waiting for Godot, more and more people have started to take interest in him. At the moment, I am exploring the question of his identity, and how it is activated in different ways: when he plays Richard III, in Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin, across the Calentures… I am currently concerned with developing this body of work, as my clown character is growing and is becoming more and more international. In this regard, the encounter between him and Singaporean dancers around umbrellas is definitely a step forward. I just hope it will be the same from their point on view...

I can see how the fact that umbrellas are present in many Western performance practices fits with your clown; however, what is the connection between your clown and the way umbrellas are used in king fu, which you mentioned earlier? 

There is a real tradition of umbrellas in kung fu, with several schools of practice. In this context, umbrellas become weapons, they are objects that are used to protect oneself, but with which one can also attack. I would like to see how I can integrate these traditions to the work I do with my clown, and highlight the paradoxes that would necessarily arise. However, I will not be alone on stage: as a matter of fact, a triple collision will take place, between a Chinese tradition, contemporary Singaporean dancers, and my clown! I should also say that these mythical fight scenes that inspire Marc and I, the ones that involve umbrellas, are linked to personal memories! I remember how, as a child, I used to watch the Shaw Brothers films (by the way, they had studios in Singapore, not only in Hong Kong) with my friend David; we would watch these films on Télé Free Dom, a channel that was then specific to La Reunion and that used to broadcast films that weren’t seen or didn’t become popular in France until the 2000s. We were watching these in 1985!

How do you imagine combining all these elements?

I believe the show could consist of a succession of lazzi, inspired by clowning, dancing, cabaret and magic shows. This will allow us to be quite flexible, in terms of production and creation, especially since we’re working across countries. There are many tricks to be invented, the central point  for us being to devise and play with all these vivid, colourful elements. Our aim is to develop a variation on the motif of umbrellas, a poetic and burlesque exploration that would incorporate singing, dancing, magic, and, perhaps, a little bit of poetry.  

What is it these shorter formats that you find inspiring?

There are artistic reasons that motivated this decision. In addition, such a format solves a specific production problem: it is more difficult to organise and fund a whole show, especially between France and Singapore. In such circumstances, the artistic quest often implies to build and talk about something that doesn't exist yet. The thing is: in the field we work in, we can’t say it all! The secret is to explore, to invent, but we should also be keeping surprises. It’s a bit like in Slava’s Snow Show: we can’t reveal everything, the point is to let the audience be conquered by the beauty and the poetry inherent to each instant. We don’t know what the horizon of this experience will be. For now, the plan is to work on the show step by step, to eventually make a 75-minute piece that will be self-evident.

Interview conducted by Eugénie Pastor

11 June 2015