We asked JAMES THIERRÉE his thoughts on his quest for perfection, his inspirations, and creative process. Interviewing a modern-day virtuoso!
TOHU: What was your inspiration for this show?
James Thierrée: I wanted to be inspired by the universe, the atmosphere of tales. I have an idea of siblings trapped in a strange place. My shows generally stem from a strong image. For La Grenouille…, I visualized a stairway leading to an underground world. I wanted to bring the audience with me, beneath the ground.
TOHU: How does your creative process work?
James Thierrée: I call my working method the “mille-feuille” (layer cake): I add layers and layers to the initial idea or image, and it opens up the possibilities for various understandings. A show is kind of a monster looking to be defined. Many decisions are made at the beginning, then it moves and transforms. It’s a series of underground leaks, swirls, currents springing up and flowing.
TOHU: You are known for your extreme thoroughness, down to the smallest detail. Is it a quest for perfection?
James Thierrée: It’s simply called expectation. When in front of thousands of people, it’s a duty to deliver the best performance possible. I don’t work as a stage director when coming up with a show idea, I work on the spectators’ fantasy of being taken away by a proposal that has the power to do so. To keep a show alive, it must be moved, constantly improved, in a sort of embodiment of all senses.
TOHU: How would you define the show?
James Thierrée: A theatrical experience where borders are erased to a maximum to give space to a unique language. I’m hesitant to label it: I think of the audience who, once seated, says, “Bring me to an unknown place. But don’t tell me how it’s done.” This theatre-dance-circus blend opens doors! That “at the crossroad” aspect has become an identity promoting the erasure of borders. It’s not a goal, but a means.
In the show, the word is absent, everything is body. It reflects a desire to touch the extreme of senses. I come from acrobatics, and working with a trapeze is a thrilling sensation: the heart beats fast, there is a concept of danger, it’s very exciting. I haven’t practised for the past 25 years, but my work reminds me of this thrill.
TOHU: Tell us about the design of the set and its importance.
James Thierrée: It’s an extremely important element to me, it’s the heart of my creations. Sometimes, I tell myself I spend too much time on the set and not enough with the artists (he laughs). The set is a living character that moves with the performers. I see it as a moving body, a deconstructing body, interconnecting with other moving bodies. I want to extend the walls, create a visual vibration. The set is a boat sailing in a fixed location: the theatre, the room. I love this idea of movement in a rooted place. At the beginning of my career, I had more preconceived ideas. Now, what remains is the union of the place, the theatre, my first inspiration, and the circus, my roots: a door opens up and I gladly walk through it!