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Theatre du Soleil - Les Naufrages du Fol Espoir (Aurores) / The Castaways of the Fol Espoir (Sunrises)


In the Bois de Vincennes, an old munitions factory on the outskirts of 
Paris, the day is just beginning for Theatre du Soleil, the radical 
theatre company founded on radical ideals of collectivism in 1964. The 
company are preparing to bring their epic production of Les Naufrages 
du Fol Espoir (Aurores), or The Castaways of the Fol Espoir (Sunrises) 
in English, to Edinburgh in an all too rare appearance on British soil. 
The production, loosely adapted from a posthumously published novel by 
Jules Verne, tells the story of a 1914 voyage of the Fol Espoir to Cape 
Horn, where the ship's passengers want to set up an idealistic 
community while the rest of the world  drives relentlessly to what 
became the First World War. Meanwhile, a film crew attempt to tell this 
tale of doomed utopianism by using restaurant staff as actors.

On one level, the tale reflects the existence, philosophy, working 
methods and ideals of Theatre du Soleil itself. When they were founded, 
the Cold War was dividing Europe, nuclear warfare was presumed to be 
imminent, and social, political and cultural revolution were in the air 
enough to point the way towards the seismic events of 1968. then, Paris 
would be the focus of mass strikes and demonstrations.

  The major difference, of course, is that, after almost half a century 
of creating theatre in their own unique way, Theatre du Soleil are 
still sailing towards their idyll. Much of this spirit is defined by 
legendary director Ariane Mnouchkine, who, despite the company's 
collectivism, is seen as the figurehead of the company she co-founder 
with Philippe Leotard and other graduates of L'Ecole Internationale de 
Theatre Jacques Lecoq.

Mnouchkine devises the company's work over long periods of group 
improvisations based around a particular starting point. Les Naufrages 
du Fol Espoir (Aurores) ended up being written in part by long-term 
company collaborator, writer, feminist and intellectual, Helene Cixous, 
with music composed by Jean-Jacques Lemetre, another Theatre du Soleil 
stalwart. Despite such defined rolls, however, Theatre du Soleil work 
co-operatively. All company members, including Mnouchkine, are on an 
equal wage, while the actors make their own props, run the Bois de 
Vincennes bar during the interval, and effectively live and breathe 
Theatre du Soleil every minute of the day.

As with all such communal endeavours, the commitment required by 
company members can be exhausting at both a personal and professional 
level. Days are long and work is hard. Yet those in tune with the 
Theatre du Soleil aesthetic stay with it for years, finding both family 
and home with the company. Two such actors are Juliana Carneiro and 
Duccio Bellugio.  By the time she arrives in Edinburgh this week, 
Carneiro will have been with the company for a staggering twenty-three 
years. Bellugio can boast an even longer tenure. At twenty-five years 
and counting, he is the longest serving member of Theatre du Soleil 
aside from Mnouchkine herself.

“There is another one who was here before,” says Bellugio, “but he left 
for ten years and then came back.”

It is this sort of loyalty that Mnouchkine inspires.

“Every three or four years, Ariane runs a workshop,” Bellugio explains, 
“and gets to meet young actors. That is when the relationship begins. 
Ariane is very demanding of herself, so of course she is demanding of 
others, but the work is always about going forward. There is an 
exchange there, I believe, and even after rehearsing this play for one 
whole year, I still have the sensation of going forward.”

Bellugio was training to be a dancer under Pina Bausch when he joined 
Theatre du Soleil, so he already had something of a track record. As 
did Carneiro, who had long held ambitions to join the company.

“I was working in Brussels at a school for dancers,” the Brazilian born 
performer explains, “then in 1973 I saw Theatre du Soleil do L'Age 
d'Or, and was so taken with it that I said to myself that one day I 
would belong to this troupe. I kept that in my mind for many years, 
then in 1990 I was a mother of two, living in Paris and working with a 
dance company. We toured to Japan, then the day I came back I had a 
phone call to say that Theatre du Soleil were looking for an actress to 
play Clytemnestra. After three days working with them, I was accepted, 
and it was marvellous.”

But what was it about the production of L'Age d'Or, actually produced 
in 1975, that kept Carneiro so inspired for almost two decades?

“It was the Sun,” she remembers, still sounding awe-struck. “The play 
was done in sand dunes, and the audience was moving up and down the 
dunes with the performance. At the end, the Sun rose, and it was 
perfect. We suddenly had this enormous energy and joy in our hearts, 
and we started running through the dunes like mad, like everything was 
possible.”

Making the impossible possible has been Mnouchkine and Theatre du 
Soleil's raison d'etre from the start, with the company's debut 
production of Les Petit Bourgeois, followed by a version of Arnold 
Wesker's The Kitchen in 1967. The company really arrived with the 
French revolution-set 1789, produced in 1970 and 1971, the same year 
Mnouchkine and co moved into the Bois de Vincennes. Over the next forty 
years, Mnouchkine has become a theatrical guru to the extent that even 
her comrades can't help but put the 73-year old on a pedestal.

“She's someone who is in the present every second, and aware of 
everything around her,” Carneiro beams. “She has a gift of giving she 
was born with, and will never ask you to do something that she's not 
able to do herself. She's always bringing us through a path of light, 
and bringing out things even we didn't see. Even the way we rehearse is 
so creative, because we don't know what we're going to be, so you can 
do anything. We worked on this piece for eleven months, and our only 
luxury is time, so we can really play, and grow as actors in our 
performance. But if you ever have a doubt – and the way we work, you do 
– when you see the end result, you totally understand it.”

Despite their status, Theatre du Soleil have stayed firmly out of the 
mainstream. Even so, the company arrive in Edinburgh at a time when 
artistic collectivism and something infinitely more significant than 
commercial forces are very much back on the agenda

“We are navigating our way against the system,” Bellugio explains. 
“That's the only way we can work. Ariane says if she didn't work this 
way then she couldn't make theatre. It's a way of life.”

Les Naufrages du Fol Espoir (Aurores) / The Castaways of the Fol Espoir 
(Sunrises), Lowland Hall, Royal Highland Centre, Ingleston, August 
23rd-28th, 6pm
www.eif.co.uk
The Herald, August 21st 2012

ends

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