— Académie — At the Festival

Published on November 15 2017

Aliénor Dauchez or the spirit of a generation

Alienor Dauchez
© Sonja Mueller

Engineer, visual artist and stage director, Aliénor Dauchez trained with Giuseppe Penone, Gregor Schneider, Sacha Waltz, Anna Viebrock and Heiner Goebbles. In July 2017, she was part of the Opera Creation Workshop of the Aix-en-Provence Festival, directed by the British staged director Katie Mitchell (Young Opera Makers programme - enoa), before designing and staging Cacher la profondeur, a musical based on the correspondence between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal for the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in June 2018, supported by the fondation La Poste. Interview with one of today's designer/creators:

You're involved with the Opera Creation Workshop directed by Katie Mitchell. What did you gain from this experience?
Katie Mitchell demands intense concentration. But instead of feeling tired, I feel better and better… like a cyclist who does 100km a day and is in great shape at the end of the week!

Is it participatory or is it in lecture form?
On the first day we had a lecture, which quickly turned into discussions, fuelled by each other's confidences. Katie is very attentive to our needs. She listens with goodwill and doesn't lose her bearings. With Katie, you learn to go fast and be accurate. Speed requires us to make really clear-cut decisions.

Do you think the Académie du Festival d'Aix is the preferred framework to develop innovative musical projects?
To be honest, when I got here I was crumbling under my workload. I said to myself, "Ten days of residency requires a lot of energy, shouldn't I work on my own projects instead?" In reality, it's an extremely rich experience for me to have the point of view of a 'traditional director', because I come from visual arts and haven’t done staging studies, incrementally building the projects I took part in. The discussions with the artists in the group, coming from very different horizons are what inspired me. Everyone comes with their own project, we share a number of common subjects that intersect and circulate between us. You really feel the spirit of a generation.

Is it next generation? Is tomorrow's show created by what's around this table?
I thought of that when I saw Simon McBurney and Katie Mitchell side by side in the same room. It's obvious they belong to the same generation, and they know it when they are young. I am sure that it will be the same for us in 20 years.

What differentiates their generation from yours? How do you separate yourself from them?
I have the feeling that they had more freedom than we did or at least more lightness. It's odd, but this is how I feel. The economic and political context is narrower and tense. This morning, the team's Thai composer had a politically critical but eloquent project, and explained that it was impossible for him to bring it to his country. There's also a Chinese composer in the group, living in New York. We asked what they were permitted to do and what was forbidden. Before creating, these two artists have to ask themselves "Do I want to go see my family next year in my country?" Did these questions really come up 20 years ago?
Disciplinary boundaries seem more decompartmentalized today than in the past, but there are other obstacles faced by your generation.
Indeed, I believe interdisciplinarity is totally integrated for us. However, our work is also affected by economic and geopolitical context. There may be forms of self-censorship. In addition, there are always environmental issues. Maybe in a more general sense, destruction is a subject that haunts our generation.

You are a director of musical theatre and visual artist at the same time, what does it mean for you to wear these two hats?
I did indeed study visual arts in Berlin. In parallel, I met a group with whom I started to set up projects. I didn't immediately define myself as a director and devoted myself primarily to spatial installation. Gradually, my vocation was revealed. I'm often asked "Will you decide on one or the other of these disciplines?" And I always answer that it isn't possible. In the theatre, it's a collaborative work where we feed off each other. I find it hard to think that one can feed oneself on the other without your own imagination, a world of oneself. With visual arts and solitude, I create my personal imagination which can fuel collaborations. This week, Katie Mitchell reminded us that there are primary artists and secondary artists. The librettist and the composer are in the first category because they have to create something out of nothing, while the director is a secondary artist at the service of the subject. I often find myself in the position of primary artist in the way I conceive my projects from the beginning.

In your opinion, what will be the opera of the future?
The opera of the future means questioning at least three aspects:
The space: In Berlin, I developed in an independent scene for ten years where we freed ourselves from the space of the pit, the stage and the room. I notice that institutions are still trapped in their walls. The question of space may have been asked for 50 years, we are not yet free from it and I am not sure it will change. Here, in Aix-en-Provence, there are very strong contradictory energies, energies of tradition and renewal. A festival can have a much greater freedom in form than a traditional opera.
The performers: In this festival, you have a chance to work with different orchestras. This has huge potential, of being able to accommodate other types of musicians besides those of traditional orchestras, as we saw, for example, in
Repertoire and creation: the opera always has to find a balance between tradition and creation. Lately, the
Regietheater has given the Director the power to renew the repertoire by giving him a contemporary reading. On the other hand, musical creation is in a strange position: operas from the second half of the twentieth century and, until today, cannot get into the repertoire. But opera lives because the public falls in love with music and wants to hear it again. It seems to me that opera today must give more room to the recent repertoire so contemporary creation can flourish.

For 2018, you're preparing a musical performance based on correspondence between Bavarian musician Richard Strauss and Viennese poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal (production of the Académie du Festival d'Aix supported by La Fondation d'entreprise La Poste and in coproduction with the Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne et La Cage).
When the Academy spoke to me about the La Poste format, I was attracted by this unusual partnership between the world of opera and La Poste which conveys two disparate imaginations. Two composers were suggested, Strauss or Bernstein. Coming from a German-speaking world, I was more prepared for Strauss. What's surprising is this collaboration with La Poste at a time when postal correspondence is almost extinct. The letters between Strauss and Hofmannsthal are very strong because they talk about the nature of collaboration. It echoes my daily reality. When you work with people, you see how friendship also means refusing artistic compromise. With Strauss and Hofmannsthal, it's the quality of the art that is paramount and creates the quality of their friendship, which is permanently endangered. Another surprising, mysterious thing about their correspondence is two men who write and narrate mainly female characters, generally totally idealized and symbolic. Why do they put all their energy into developing female and non-male characters? It's an enigma that we will try to solve. I have some answers, we need time to continue our research.

Can the cause of Katie Mitchell's creative women shed some light on this aspect of the project?
When the project was entrusted to me, some thoughts immediately crossed my mind, especially putting as many women as men on the set. Before meeting Katie Mitchell, it was mostly intuition. If I had so far integrated this cause in my work, now I know how to formulate it in a systematic way. When you're a 'female director', you can't ignore it.

What do you mean?
I think that at my age and at this point in my career, there are many female directors, and that being a woman is both asset and disadvantage. It will soon become more complex; the pyramid has men staying on, while women disappear over time. When we build small projects, men are very happy to support us and to have us at their side. However, when it comes to becoming their leader, it's different. It’s also true in other areas, I have many friends in the business world and they regale me with the sad fact that after the age of 30-35, it's rare to see women climb the corporate ladder.

Will the opera of the future leave more room for women?
Yes, that is certain, and more generally to minorities, whatever they may be.

Interview by Aurélie Barbuscia, July 2017.


Cacher la profondeur is commissioned by the Académie du Festival d'Aix within the Young Opera Makers programme (enoa) in coproduction with Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne and La Cage and with the support of the Fondation d'entreprise La Poste:
- Théâtre impérial de Compiègne, world premiere on 2 February 2018
- Festival d'Aix-en-Provence on 20 June 2018