It’s quite fitting that as Chloé and I are talking of long distance and transient relationships, we are on opposite sides of the English Channel and connected only through a brief twenty minute skype call. Writer, performer and theatre-maker Chloé Déchery resides in Paris whilst I, in Manchester, note down what inspired her to make the show A Duet Without You – an investigation on the fragmentation of friendship and how we piece together those fragments in the absence of the people we care about most.
“A Duet Without You is a group performance in which Chloé Déchery is the only performer present on stage. Re-enacting a pas-de-deux without a partner, Chloé embarks on a series of fragmented conversations with international artistic collaborators Simone Kenyon, Deborah Pearson and Pedro Inês. Beyond distance and despite absence, they try and experience together what drives us apart and what brings us together.”
Before her performance at Waterside Arts Centre on April 7th, I interview Chloé on the navigation of space between live encounters and how to translate a duet into a solo.
Edwina: Could we start off by talking a bit about your practise
Chloé: Right! Where should I start! I come from a theatre background but since I started making work in 2009, writing my own material, I’ve started to delve into territories of physical theatre, live art and contemporary theatre. I was interested in forms about free play and processes that can take place in the rehearsal space where the text isn’t necessary preformed, and where there is collective investigation. I always initiate a project and will come up with a question or framing device and I will invite a group of people together often coming from different horizons, or different backgrounds and we’ll look at it together. I like that sense of going on an exploration together that stems from that initial question and everyone can offer something. The lighting designer will have as much to say than the sound designer or performer or dramaturg. I’m interested in conceptual investigation that can be connected to every day experience and it can be of high brow framing, but it doesn’t mean no one can relate to it, quite the opposite hopefully.
E: In particular reference to the show A Duet Without You, how do you connect your research (or reality) with fiction?
C: That was an interesting one for this process as the reality was us working together. The three main collaborators and myself were in a room for ten days so there were temporal limitations of that, plus we’ve travelled from different places so how do we come and work in that space? A lot of young freelancers under 40 years old experience that sort of transient nomadism. We all work on the road, and on a project based logic so how do you maintain friendships with people who aren’t in the same country? To the ones that you hold dear? It’s all about fragmentation and isolation in the contemporary world. Whereas the fiction is from the experiments of the rehearsals. We looked at stories of love and breaking up. How do you fall in love in spite of circumstances, how do you form bonds, and how do you commit to these relationships?
There is a poetic text that opens the performance which is a beautiful text called “Les Mains Négatives” (Negative Hands) and was written by French writer Marguerite Duras. It is about someone living in a cave in prehistoric times and about the first drawings human kind did and how those drawings were already a way of how to form a relationships so you could leave a trace behind you, hopefully someone will see what you’ve left.
Les Mains Négatives, a short film by Marguerite Duras
E: Was this always intended to be a solo piece?
C: There are comments about this in the show, some jokes about funding cuts, collaborators having other commitments or arguments. So there is a playfulness there, but that was always the intended framework to explore the idea of becoming one and that being set up from the start.
E: Did you feel maybe the language barriers between collaborators affected the work?
C: This is an issue I’m really interested in and I’ve made a piece about this in the past about miscommunication and how you try and convey yourself and how miscommunication can set you off. The are definitely pieces of translation in A Duet Without You though. How does a duet translate to a solo dance after a partner has gone? Same way that French language is present in the show; there is a navigation between French and English, a back and forth between language. Sometimes French is translated, sometimes it is not and there is an element to place the spectator in a different state of understanding and not understanding.
“…you can highlight traces and remains which is very much apart of the relationship as the live encounter”
And we can say the same about the lighting as the piece starts in the dark as well so it’s about acclimatising yourself to not knowing and be ready for not knowing and embrace that. Adjusting oneself to a performance space or adjusting to being alone again or parting ways from a friend – it’s all about navigating the middle space and its thresholds.
E: Do you think a ghosted presence can perpetuate loneliness?
C: It depends how you decide to welcome a ghosted presence, you could completely frame it in a way to be more isolating or nostalgic or melancholic. But how you can also decide to live with relationships today is to highlight traces and remains which is very much apart of the relationship as the live encounter. Which could perhaps be sad! But makes for richer relationships, or at least multi layered.