DRAFF editor Rachel Donnelly in conversation with Maguy Marin about making Singspiele (2014)
In making her 2014 work Singspiele, French choreographer Maguy Marin engaged in a very specific form of research, with a particular objective: to try to access the alchemy of recognition – the phenomenon that sparks sympathy, that banishes apathy, that strengthens a sense of common humanity.
Maguy: It's always very affecting when you see the face of somebody. So I had this question of what you read if you don't see the body, only the face.
“Each person’s story unfolds through the need to be recognised, and recognised without reservation.” This quote from French author Robert Antelme was foundational, a starting point for the choreographer and her collaborator, French actor David Mambouch. The words are taken from Antelme’s sole published book, L'Espèce humaine, a reflection on his experience of being imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp.
To try to find the seed from which recognition germinates, Maguy and David worked together to animate a series of inanimate faces. They took portraits of individuals, anonymous and famous, and made them into masks for David to wear.
Maguy: We thought to work with photos of the faces of people that we know, and that we don't know. To give bodies to these faces. The research was that. To find out how the body of David will change because of the face he wears.
It's amazing, because it works only on one. You cannot do many things. We tried many things, but finally, with one face it's only one body that corresponds.
That makes life come out of the face.
Some of the photos would not work. It was very strange this. And then, we worked like that. We made some masks with these photos. We tried to find how he will be dressed. And with this we tried, very simply. Putting a shirt, putting pants. It was very delicate work.
Because if the body doesn't correspond, it disappears, the life disappears.
I don't know why, but some of them didn't give any window to work with.
The delicacy of this work was not only in finding the gestures and costume that made ‘life come out of the face’, but also in the transition from one face to the next. There was not one costume for each mask – individuals overlapped in a slow continuous transformation.
Maguy: In the show, there are sixty faces grouped in three groups of twenty. Maybe it's easier for example, to pass from a man to a woman... It was a question in the research. In reality, it's not one costume for one face, there aren't sixty costumes. Each item of costume gives a certain specificity... one detail, for example a scarf or gloves, can give a specificity to the face. I think that we take care of what comes before, the order, that it doesn't jump from one to the other, that the transformation is something that is moving from one place to the other, in a very light way.
It was humanity, changing face.