What’s happening at the moment—between the Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers and myself; between the Brutalist Mariendom church in Neviges and us; between the pipe organ, played at its fullest tone, and our bodies—is all about coming together. We are working on the freedom to imagine things that would not have existed if all these “bodies” had not rushed at one another: Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers rushing at other dancers I have already worked with, rushing at each other’s idea of freedom and the cathedral, and all these individual sensations rushing at a choreography we are designing together. For the moment, there is a kind of canvas in my head. The dancers throw themselves onto it, and it becomes bigger, more alive. It “takes shape.” I have the feeling that you really must be “all these people”, with all these sensibilities coming together, for the piece to happen.
I’m not writing anything down, I just let our voices, the bells, and the silences resonate. The silences. Silence was not really part of the original plan. Yet... this plentiful silence that pulls so many people into churches and temples, the silence that grips us when we read the testimonies of victims of pedophile priests, the silence of all the minutes of silence, we are still trying to figure out how to choreograph snippets of it. Do we sometimes enter churches just to escape? To escape or to find ourselves? The rustling silence of the place transforms every action into choreography. I remember going to see Die grosse Stille [Into Great Silence], a German film about the monks of La Grande Chartreuse, a French mountain monastery. Their actions, carried out in silence, turn into a strange choreography. The monks spend a week without uttering a word, but then we see them laughing and sledding in their cassocks.
A bit of silence in Liberté Cathédrale... and a lot of music, piercing sounds. Bells, organs, and even vocal chants echoing through the architecture of churches penetrate our bodies and the air. Even the surrounding towns vibrate: the stained-glass windows, the soaring stonework, and the bells “rise above” the church. Sometimes you need to cling to the instinctive idea that the chaos of a pealing bell is a great piece of music to dance to; that there is a kind of contemporary assembly that may be choreographed to an organ played fortissimo; that freedom and cathedral might go hand in hand.
We’re working on five parts: sort of building blocks which are left disconnected.
We sing in unison, a capella, the entire second movement of Beethoven’s Opus 111. We don’t dance to the music, we incorporate it, making it unrecognizable. The piano sweeps us along, but it is only the memory of the sonata that makes us sing. It’s unsingable...! In the main moments of this song-and-dance, where the breath is stretched to the maximum, the movement cleaves to the voice, and the dance unfolds as long as there is breath left in our lungs. It is existential: dancing even as we exhale, dancing even as our bodies are still emitting sound, together.
We launch into a sort of headbanging to the ringing of the bells which blends the sounds of several cities. It is a trance that never lets up. The sound of the bells straddles music and message, deafening noise and passion—the passion of mourning, the passion of a celebrated love, the passion of chaos, which, to my mind, is expressed in the bellringing, when all the bells resound at the same time, creating a cacophony that always wanted to choreograph. This part is a real “outburst,” in the sense that the ringing of the bells, in its unstoppable madness, bursts into movements, and, quite literally, blasts us apart: we burst against the bells, ad infinitum! We try to dance with the utmost precision to the complex, merciless rhythms of the bells: chaos is coupled with a precision that keeps us on our toes.
We started by reading testimonies from victims of abuse in the church. And the shock led our bodies to states hanging onto our lips. Trying to make no noise. As a reminder, a memory, a communion with the voices we do not know to listen to.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Starting from a poem by John Donne “No man is an island / entire of itself...”— we are looking for intimacy, the proximity of a text almost whispered in one’s ear. What can each dancer do with these lines? We are also looking for other, secular sources, perhaps the memory of a popular song, such as Peaches’ Fuck The Pain Away, which would be part of the path, just as Bosch’s paintings of Saint Anthony or the monsters on the capitals of Romanesque columns are part of artistic and religious history...
In the deluge of organ music orchestrated by Phill Niblock, we are looking for a point of contact, where nothing happens without touching. Is it because of the Covid period, which criminalized contact and kept bodies apart; or Madeleine’s “noli me tangere”; or the washing of feet; or the welcoming of AIDS patients in certain churches...; or simply the pleasure of experiencing the permeability of bodies? The sensation of touch is archaic, like a lot of things in this piece: I touch you, and we are set in motion.
This piece will take us off the beaten path. Our architecture rests on our coming-together in motion. Liberté Cathédrale comes into being in a church near Wuppertal, but we take something away from the Mariendom, where the rehearsals are taking place, only to immediately become something else, whether at an industrial site or an opera house... We even dream of an open-air site where the piece might unfold one day, a “church with no church”! There, will we be more free, or less free ?
Liberté Cathédrale. For more than two years, I have been working on this project and trying to answer this question: what does this title mean ? Recently, I have started to glimpse an answer, a strange one for me. I think I have done this project for love. Love as an absolute opening, as the symbolic place to go through bodies and lives.
I dedicate this piece to bell hooks and her book All about love. And on my way to rehearsing with the dancers, let me suggest these lines by Emily Dickinson :
“Not knowing when the Dawn will come, I open every door”
Boris Charmatz – text written during the creation of the piece