This weekend Botanic Park will be transformed nightly into a white wonderland as angels appear above the crowd for WOMADelaide. French company, Gratte Ciel (which means skyscraper in English) will perform its show “La Place des Anges” between the trees of Botanic Park.
I spoke with Stephane Girard, Artistic Director at Gratte Ciel.
What was your background before becoming Artistic Director at Gratte Ciel?
I come from a mountain culture. I lived in the Alps for 15 years, in a region where we did a lot of climbing and cave exploration. The techniques that we use in the La Place des Anges, come from mountain climbing and we used those rope techniques from Alpism to serve in the 3rd dimension, in the sky, because the rope allows us to move in external dimensions, which are not those of a stage in a tent and allows us, especially, to move in the sky. So from the moment where we wait for the rope in the sky, it’s as if we can be close to the sky to mark the places in which the acrobats are going to slide, dance with dramatic movement, which is that it will be very fast, or very slow, all while suspended in air.
And have you also done that or have you always been on the artistic direction side?
I practiced climbing for a very long time but I have always done it in parallel to performances because I have always wanted to use the technique to serve a sensitivity of movement or to be able to create the sensation of being in the air near the audience.
How long have you been with Gratte Ciel?
Gratte Ciel is a company which has been doing this production for 5 years but we created the show, Pierrot Bidon and I, 10 years ago and we have worked with some of the rope performance artists in the team together for 25 years.
Describe La Place des Anges for us.
The show La Place des Anges is a bit like a big joke, as if a clown appears in the sky with his suitcase, placing his feet like a monkey in a tree. So, he places his feet like a monkey in a tree, while stumbling his suitcase will open and from his suitcase feathers will fall. Then another character will arrive with an umbrella and he too will release some feathers. Little by little, it’s like a group of friends, who are angels, appear above the audience, dispersing a few feathers just to see the audience’s reaction, like a surprise. Then there will be more and more feathers and more and more feathers until we have completely filled the sky with a storm of feathers. It’s a show which is about fraternity and then also a pacifist allegory. It’s as if the tonne of feathers was a tonne of tenderness from the angels spread onto the audience.
Do you pick up the feathers for the next show or do they stay on the ground?
No, we don’t pick them up. They stay on the audience who pick them up – people play with them and then they put them in their pocket. People often tell me that the feathers – there’s always a little handful that they take home and put in a little corner – in a chimney, on a little table as a souvenir they will keep for years.
How many kilogrammes of feathers are you bringing with you to Australia?
4 tonnes for the 4 shows. These are feathers that are used in winter clothing or quilts. We have changed the utilisation for these feathers to create a show.
How many people are in and behind the scenes for the show?
The team is 32 people – there are 16 acrobats in the air on the ropes. The others are technicians and the production team.
What are the challenges in travelling with such a show with so many people, 4 tonnes of feathers, the ropes and all of that?
The principal challenge is that in each place, the show is the same in its duration and the same in what it tells but the installation of the ropes is going to be very different because when we are in the city we attach the ropes to buildings. In the case of WOMADelaide, we are going to be in Botanic Park so it is an environment of trees – so it’s like the demography, the décor isn’t chosen by us but is imposed by the place where we work so we have to re-write the show technically to be able to find the soul of the performance with a technical situation which is always different. It’s such that we don’t say “we are going to play in Adelaide”; we speak of “the experience of Adelaide”. Like in each city, it’s a unique experience because we are going to be higher or lower, the grounds are bigger or smaller, we are going to be closer to the audience… It’s a bit like a piece of jazz – in each moment there is a bit of improvisation – except that the improvisation is worked upon – but there is a large part of uniqueness each time. That is to say that the audience that is going to see the show in Adelaide will be different to the audience that will have seen it in Perth or in London or in Arles. The emotion will stay the same but the visual experience will be different.
How long will it take to install the ropes etc. in Botanic Park in Adelaide?
We need 4 days to install.
You are going to Perth?
No, we have played in Perth.
So this time in Australia it’s only WOMADelaide that you’re coming to?
Yes, that’s absolutely right.
How do you manage acrobat’s injuries if they happen?
There are no injuries. We have never had one – because we take a lot, a lot of time to do things little by little and we have protocols so that things are done step by step to be very prudent. Plus there is a great deal of experience amongst the team – the pillars of the team have worked together on the ropes for 25 years and we have never had an accident. The goal is not to push the limits to the extreme – it’s to be very comfortable with what we are doing in the air. We are not going to show something spectacular or dangerous to the audience but we are going to show something with which we are very comfortable to come closer to touching a magical side.
And in your team, how old are the youngest and eldest?
The youngest is 18 and the oldest is 52.
What does the show evoke in the crowd?
It’s a pacifist allegory. That is to say that it is a show where the feathers – it’s like we poured a tonne of tenderness, a tonne of love, and the audience is underneath a storm of beauty and softness. They will look at their neighbor with a different view. They will be transported by this euphoria and at the end of the show, people kiss and take each other in their arms. Elderly people cry having the impression they are reliving their childhood, children have wide curious eyes because they see the happiness and happy shouting of the adults. The emotions are that strong.
Why should people come to see the show?
It’s a unique experience. The show is short but we remember it for the rest of our lives. It’s true, it’s not publicity. This isn’t simply a show, it’s an experience of life’s happiness.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Yes, I think that it is important to know that the aerial dimension in which we work, and especially the simplicity with which the artists fly through the air then come down close to the audience, breaks down the barrier between the performers and the audience. We change the relationship that the audience can have with the artists and it’s significant because the performers come from underneath trees from 50 metres in height to 200 metres in distance and at the same time they come down to have individual rapport with the audience. Therefore we are completely changing what audiences are used to perceiving in a traditional show.
See La Place des Anges nightly at WOMADelaide this weekend.