Dom Juan or The Feast with the statue - Interview with Lorenzo Malaguerra
How did you decide to focus on the myth of Dom Juan?
After Waiting for Godot and Richard III – Loyaulté me lie, in which Jean Lambert-wild’s clown spoke for the first time, and after Roberto Zucco, which we created in Seoul, we thought that we weren’t done with monsters. I am joking, but only just: we like how excessive these characters and these theatrical adventures are, they give our job its full scope. I think we needed to go through these plays and these ways of writing in order to tell other, maybe lesser known stories. Always in the spirit of sharing them with an audience, with generosity. Shakespeare, Koltès, Molière all command a theatricality open towards the audience. What we fiercely defend is the ability to positively and generously make theatre today, with all the madness that our team can produce. Strangely, in the context of contemporary theatre-making, people think this attitude is bizarre. This context is often more solipsistic that inclined to sharing. I think our approach is closer to what happens in contemporary circus, magic, juggling, dance. We chose Dom Juan not just because we are fascinated by Dom Juan, but also because of the kind of theatre it allows us to make.
What is it, in the figure of Dom Juan, that you find interesting?
Dom Juan is a man, not a monster, even though he is extremely dark, staggeringly cynical, and his lack of humanity is obvious. He is a man because he has made the decision to be what he is, he is not guided by his nature or by resentment. He is not a seducer, in the sense that he would be in love or even attracted to the object of his seduction: when he seduces, he admires himself, clearly conscious of the incoming disaster and wanting to laugh about it. He is a complex character - of course! – and I think it is interesting to see how Jean Lambert-wild’s clown will rub shoulders with him. It is clear that we have reached the limits of what a clown is capable of. I have no doubt that the melancholy, the cruelty, the frivolity of Jean’s clown will fit Dom Juan very well, but we can also see that he is a character who resists any particular treatment. I really look forward to seeing how this evolves through the rehearsal weeks, because he is a character for whom nothing is obvious. We will have to reveal his strangeness, his oscillating sexuality, his light despair, his fascination with death.
Why did you decide to adapt Molière’s play rather than another text?
Molière’s play really explores the full complexity of the character, and it is magnificently written. There was no other way: we kept coming back to Molière. And our version is full of unusual elements – to say the least. We need a solid textual and narrative base to develop the theatrical arabesques we find amusing.
Could you say a few words about the nature of this adaptation? Will you re-write parts of it?
We will cut a few things here and there. And we will add quite a few elements of cabaret. Not a strict re-writing, but some surprising encounters.
Could you tell me a little more about the relationship to death in Molière’s play, and more specifically about the figure of the Commander?
Death is at the core of the play. We can’t think about the show without thinking about death. It hovers and lures Dom Juan like the void lures those with vertigo. I won’t reveal too much about the Commander because we have found a beautiful solution. It is both central to the set yet absolutely DIY. It would be a shame to reveal that secret. Death allows Dom Juan to assert his absolute freedom, and that’s what is beautiful, because of what it suggests and the theatrical challenge it represents: to be free on stage is the unattainable quest that every actor is searching for. To tell oneself that freedom leads to death, that it precipitates the final black out that swallows the performer in their everyday life, is beautiful.
How will you integrate all seventeen Académie students to this production?
First, we are rehearsing with the seventeen Académie students the same way we rehearse with the other actors. Personally, I don’t know how to teach theatre, so what I do is direct. Each part of the show will be created four times, which means each student will go on tour with the production, in a way that is really democratic. Rehearsals will take place between the students’ first and last year at the Académie, and the show will be their first professional endeavour. It is a beautiful opportunity to finish one’s training on the road with a touring show.
This is not the first time you meet the clown, whom you have seen evolve and shapeshift… What challenges did you encounter when working with him? He is so personal to Jean Lambert-wild, intimately connected to him. How do you see this clown?
Jean’s clown is at ease in Singapore as much as when he steps on his dance partner’s feet. He is beautiful and clumsy, and he is now increasingly shimmering as he expands his performance palette. The way Jean and I work is quite basic: either I say no, or I laugh. We are lucky: we understand each other without needing long explanations, and we both share the pleasure of performance and friendship. I don’t interfere with his clown, I don’t try to tell him what I think or how to play things. The clown is free, me trying to direct him would be the worst possible thing I could do. Together, we have fun looking for how high-pitched his voice can be, finding whether he is nonchalant or anxious, we go round in circles, sometimes we get excited! And we laugh, a lot.
Does all this make you want to be on stage?
One day, I will seriously go back to being on stage (I hope so!) but at the moment I really enjoy playing with actors whom I watch. I enjoy this more than if I was in their shoes. However, I am convinced that the end point of a director’s career is to become an actor, not the other way round.
You are also working with three musicians, with whom you collaborated in the past. Why is cabaret important to you?
These musicians are amazing and absolutely bonkers: they are real punks! They have no limits, and they are especially good musicians who understand how the stage works. Musicians often have a very good sense of the stage. They are used to playing in very different settings, and that is a prime quality when it comes to theatre. I love cabaret like I love musicals: as an art form they make situations deep, light and original, and they bring out emotions. Cabaret plays with performance codes but doesn’t mock them. This is also what clowns do. If someone can’t sing, then they’re ridiculous. In fact, I think that cabaret – and music in general – demands a superior form of precision and justness. This is why it is so interesting that they are mixed with theatre. Dom Juan is an aerial, frenzied party! The flesh is sad without music.
Interview conducted by Eugénie Pastor