Les ambassadeurs de l'ombre

22, 23, 25/05 > 20:00
24, 26/05 > 15:00
2:30' with intermission

“Why is it that the hand that gives is always above the one that receives?” After two years of discussions and rehearsals, Lorent and families from the ATD (Aid in Total Distress) Fourth World Movement created and performed Les ambassadeurs de l’ombre at the Théâtre National. Initiated by Brussels 2000 and the House of Knowledge (part of ATD), this production containing acting and song will only be performed three times. It bluntly questions the stereotypes of poverty. Gone is the image of being in need, and out of the shadows emerge the dignity and experience of human beings, people who have become actors in order to share their lives. Contrary to its normal approach, the Festival is repeating a Belgian creation that has already been performed, because its accordion tunes and courageous stories reconcile theatre with its original function – that of entertainment for the people and a public agora.

Création/Creatie/Created by: Lorent Wanson et des familles du Quart Monde

Metteur en scène, auteur, accordéoniste/Regisseur, auteur, accordeonist/Director, author, accordeon player: Lorent Wanson

Assistant à la mise en scène/Regie-assistent/Assistant to the director: Elisabeth Ancion

Acteurs/Actors: Delphine Bibet, Monique Borcy, Angélique Brancato, Angélique Dupuis, Danielle Dupuis, Gwenaël Dupuis, Viviane Dupuis, Rudy Dupuis, Cindy Gillard, Marie-Thérèse Givart, Hector Guichart, Gregory Hamdan, Yvette Hamenlinck, Anne Lamaille, Carmelo Mezzasalma, Michele Mezzasalma, Esméralda Parmentier, Meghann Parmentier, Raphaël Parmentier, Iris Plassoff, Micheline Van den Eynde, Christian Vilain, Nathalie Vildaer, Christine Wante

Régisseur de scène et éclairages/Toneelmeester en belichting/Stage manager and lighting: Pierre Clément

Voix off/Off voice: Suzanne Wauters, Patrick Donnay

Piano: Pierre Thomas

Enregistrement sonore/Geluidsopname/Sound recording: Willy Pâques

Chorégraphie pour Esmeralda Parmentier et le final/Choreografie voor Esmeralda Parmentier en de finale/Choreography for Esmeralda Parmentier and the final: Françoise Rognerud

Magie pour/Magie voor/Magic for Christian Vilain: Ivan Fox

Répétiteur pour la chanson finale/Repetitor voor het finale lied/Repetitor for the final song: Dominique Rammaert

Costumes/Kostuums/Costumes: Elisabeth Ancion, Patricia Eggerickx

Marionnettes/Poppen/Puppets: Elisabeth Ancion, José Bardio, Aziliz Calvez, Alfredo Canavate, Hélène de Burbure, Monique Demat, Liliane Garin, Marie-Thérèse Givart, Yvette Hamenlinck, Natalie Hill, Jacqueline Page, Yoëla Page, Yvette Tillemens, Cécile Van de Putte, Christian Vilain

Auteur de/Auteur van/Author of Sur une seule vague: Anne Lamaille

Dessins/Tekeningen/Drawings: Christian Vilain

Photographie/Fotografie/Photography: Ilse Mariën

Relations Publiques/Public Relations: Bérengère Deroux

Coproduction/Coproductie/Coproduction: ATD Quart Monde (Bruxelles/Brussel), Bruxelles/Brussel 2000, Théâtre National de la Communauté Wallonie Bruxelles

Remerciements à/Met dank aan/Special thanks to: La Ville de Bruxelles/De stad Brussel

Présentation/Presentatie/Presentation: de bottelarij/Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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In Brussels during the summer of 1998, work was going on behind the scenes in preparation for it becoming the European City of Culture in 2000. The theme was ‘the City’. In Molenbeek, one of Brussels’ 19 communes, is the Maison des Savoirs, the House of Knowledge, which is part of an association formed by the international ATD (Aid in Total Distress) Fourth World Movement founded in 1957 by Joseph Wrezinski and families living in the slums of Paris. Their aim was to set up places where those suffering from chronic poverty could express themselves and find solidarity, where families could share their stories and personal experiences of fighting poverty as a way of preserving their dignity. The Maison des Savoirs organises a variety of workshops in painting, sculpture and theatre, both for adults and children. Dominique Rammaert runs a choir there that was discovered by Bernard Foccroulle and put on the programme for an evening at La Monnaie, where Foccroulle is artistic director. Encouraged by this, Dominique Rammaert entered an idea for a musical production to the team organising Brussels 2000, which was on the look-out at the time for initiatives showing something of the city’s creative potential. They needed an experienced director to work with them, and Bernard Debroux, responsible for the drama programme, came up with Lorent Wanson, an artist with a reputation for being politically committed.

Whether staging Wedekind, Oscar Wilde, Brecht or Dario Fo, Lorent’s rehearsals have been open to the public for many years. He is a strong believer in the notion that theatre has a duty to open its doors to “lay people” and that there is no greater contradiction than reproducing in the theatre a view of society whilst immediately excluding certain members of that society from having access to culture. Relying on his label as “an artist engaged in social struggle”, Lorent was initially reluctant when he heard of yet another proposition linking him rather too obviously with socio-cultural action. Yet he wanted to meet families from the Maison des Savoirs. First contact was made in the autumn. Viviane saw him arrive, wondering who this rather bohemian-looking, unshaven, untidy person was. She thought he looked like a tramp. Accompanied by Elisabeth, his colleague, Lorent introduced himself and wanted to hear what they had to say. “I had loads of images of poverty in my head and a strong conviction that we can all be master of our own destiny”. All such clichés were immediately shattered in the intense and fiery debate that followed. Gone were his ideas of being the “theatre director listening to the poor” or “Fourth World families, ground down by poverty”. Each earned the confidence of the other and it was agreed the project would go ahead.

Says Lorent, smiling, “Do we ever wonder why the hand that gives is always above the one that receives? It’s also quite interesting to see how people living in social poverty are represented in television, films, theatre and art – the image projected is one of being needy and deprived, to the point where they have practically no dignity left. What’s not shown is their capacity for resistance, their strength or their magic, nor what they each carry deep inside themselves. This leads to the idea they have of themselves as being degraded, capable of nothing.” This “representation of reality”is questioned in the first part of the production. The second part is given over to “reality re-enacted”. Impetuous Viviane and her colleague at the heart of the project, feisty Yvette, respond to these prejudices on stage. “It’s not we who are poor, it’s the world that suffers from an incredible poverty of thinking. As for us, we are rich from all the knocks we’ve taken!”

Viviane is the mother of Gwenaël and Ruddy. Ruddy is already a father – of baby Angélique whose mother is Nathalie. They are all in the production. Danièle, her sister, joined them with her three sons, Grégory, Carmelo and little Michele who – when the mood takes him – opens the curtain and starts things off: “The ‘pestacle can begin!” During rehearsals, Anne is able to watch her children – Raphaël, Meghann and Esmeralda – who have been placed in care. Christine, a mother too, has no such luck. Then Christian and Marie-Thérèse joined the group, united by the unbearable death of his son and her daughter, whose children Hichem and Nora are taking part in rehearsals. And lastly there is Hector who wrote the amazing book Le Croisement des savoirs [The Crossroads of Knowledge] whilst at university. In the end 26 people became involved in the project – cementing it with the mortar of their lives.

“I often thought that our resistance, as theatre people, exists only in theory. Here the resistance is immense, very concrete and day to day, for it’s a violent world and life could be over tomorrow. I was overwhelmed, then appalled, by the irrefutable facts that are impossible to take in,” says Lorent. “Lorent listened to us,” continues Viviane. “He became like a big brother. We gave each other strength. The project talks about us but you only get a small part of our lives in it. We wrote it with him to avoid getting too taken up with it. Each of us became the neutron of words that need hearing. Put together, the play is our atomic bomb,” she adds, bursting into laughter.

Les Ambassadeurs de l’ombre [Ambassadors of the shadows] contains neither tragedy, pathos nor paternalism. Amateur actors were joined by professionals. “In the end it was the stage that did the talking – it was the place where culture, knowledge and experience came together. I wanted everyone to appear on it in his or her most luminous guise. Sometimes this luminosity is brutal. We stick people into social categories far too often and give them the idea that they are problems to be solved. There’s no acknowledgement of individual experiences. But if you listen to them they can unleash a quite different potential – the capacity to transform one’s own view of things. So on stage we wanted to go back to the original function of theatre – as a public agora. I also wanted Les Ambassadeurs to assume a strong form, inclusive of all its frailties, and as a homage to all the working-class festivities that have disappeared.”

Featured in the production are tunes from waltzes, accordion music, tangos, fighting songs, strong statements, unbearable stories, drum rolls, Johnny Halliday, Vivaldi and Verdi, and the magic of a majorette baton passed from the hand of mother to child. In the final chorus “there are gaps in the stories, some chasms. With each unresolved question the impossibility of reconciliation with the world, and with oneself, is accentuated. The gaps in our knowledge are accentuated … People ask you what knowledge is. Live the lives we lead, live our kind of struggles and you’ll realise that your laws make no sense at all. So we are all going to be actors and actresses from a world that is at last demanding justice….”

After two years of hard work, three performances of Les Ambassadeurs de l’ombre were given at the Théâtre National in September 2000. It is unusual for the KunstenFESTIVALdesArts to repeat in its programme productions that have already been created in Brussels, or ones with a socio-cultural context. However, this production examines life so profoundly and the art of the theatre so strongly, that it is only right for it to have a place in a Festival of contemporary performing arts.

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