Since opening its doors in 2008, BroadStage has continued to offer high-quality theater, dance, film, opera, jazz, world music, musicals, symphony and chamber orchestras, family programming and more. As part of the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, BroadStage houses two theaters. The 500 seat Eli and Edythe Broad Stage which has consistently offered renowned artists from all genres. Dance companies whose movement is rooted in modern, African, hip-hop, ballet and other styles are prime examples of the diverse cultural styles represented at BroadStage.
In four performances April 13 to 16, 2023, BroadStage will present the West Coast Premiere of Dimanche, a collaborative creation by Belgium based Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company at The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage. It is in fact, the first time these companies have toured the United States. Following their run in Santa Monica at BroadStage, they will continue on to Tucson, Arizona and New York. Tickets for Dimanche at BroadStage are on sale now or by calling 310.434.3200.
Both Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company are based in Brussels, each known for their physicality, and they are great admirers of the other’s work. Both enjoyed mixing object theater with physical theater, and it was clear to each company that they shared a common language. In 2016, the two companies collaborated for the first time to create Jetlag. Described as a work that blends reality and fantasy, Jetlag was awarded three “Coups de Cœurs” (film favorites) at the Vue sur la Relève Festival in Montréal, Québec, in April 2009, and voted best performance at the Festival Internacional de Teatro Nuevo Leon in Monterrey, Mexico, in August 2011. BACKUP (short version of Dimanche) received the Total Theater Award (for visual and physical theatre) at the Fringe Festival of Edinburgh 2019.
Dimanche (French for Sunday) was written by Focus Company member Julie Tenret, and Chaliwaté Company members Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud. I was given the opportunity to view a video of Dimanche and felt that it too straddles the line between reality and fantasy. Making use of physical theater, mime, puppetry, video, and their incredible imaginations, Dimanche turns a mirror on the viewer to show one how our society continues to ignore the surrounding chaos of climate change.
One of the creators and performers of Dimanche, Sandrine Heyraud, graciously agreed to an interview on Zoom. It was the beginning of my day in California and 5 pm in Brussels. After the hellos, etc. I asked Heyraud to speak about the genesis of Dimanche.
“The starting point was the mismatch between the fact that we were all very conscious of urgency of climate change and at the same time we saw how we had little action in our everyday life, and denial in which we had concerning climate change and the difficulties to change our everyday habits” She explained. “It was the starting point. It was specifically to show that we know that it is really urgent to act and at the same time we’re all living our lives, trying to change some habits but with lots of difficulties to integrate the urgency of climate change.”
She referred to a quote by the cartoonist and creator of Calvin and Hobbs, Bill Watterson: “It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.”
Heyraud stated that the two companies love comedy and tragedy and that the process of investigating the effects of climate change provided them with a wealth of material and surrealistic situations for both those genres.
Because LA Dance Chronicle writes primarily about dance, I asked Heyraud to speak to the movement that is involved in this production; movement that is extremely integral to how it is perceived by the audience.
There are at least two story lines woven together throughout Dimanche. There is a group of reporters filming the extinction of life on Earth as we know it, and a single family of three attempting to go about a normal day in spite of a storm raging outside. The action moves back and forth and overlaps as icebergs melt, a polar bear tries to care for her cub, people die and the world overheats, catastrophic storms rage, and the oceans rise. Objects from one scene or event find their way into others as the story unfolds.
“We want to confront the characters of the show with very physically constraining situations,” She said. “For example, in one scene there is a very strong wind. Of course there is a little bit of wind on stage but it is all of our bodies that had to give the impression of a real big storm. It is a story without words, so it is the bodies that have to express all the situations and what is happening.”
While watching the scene that Heyraud is referring to here, I was very impressed by how realistic it appeared. Furniture and people are moved across the stage with very little if any “special effects.”
When asked if she had any dance training, Heyraud said that she and Sicaire Durieux have a primarily a background in physical theater and mime, while the Focus Company originates from puppetry and object theater. Heyraud and Durieux met while studying at the Marcel Marceau School of Mime in Paris.
A few of the puppets in Dimanche are life size and very life-like, and as in some Asian forms of theater, the puppeteers, while dressed in black, are generally visible. “Puppetry asks a lot of movement investments” Heyraud explained. “There’s a lot of rhythm that you have to give to the puppets.” It is clear that a lot of time, observation, love, and effort went into making the puppets appear realistic and to have the focus directed at the puppets and not the puppeteers.
While Heyraud, Durieux and Julie Tenret come from different backgrounds, each has studied extensively in mime, dance and circus. Although there are only three performers on stage during the performance, Heyraud said that there were 20 people involved with the production of Dimanche with three different casts which helps with touring and personal obligations back at home. It also frees up time for the two companies to continue collaborating on a new production that they have begun to investigate.
Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company did not start with a story or from a text but created everything from the beginning to the end. Unlike here in the US, because of funding from the Belgium government, they were able to take three years to create Dimanche. Those three years included working on the story outline, the movement, the production elements, and the making of and how to work with the puppets. “So, it took us time and we love having time. It is very precious!” Heyraud said, smiling broadly.
Referring to the funding, she added, “It’s not easy to obtain but once you have it, it gives you an insurance every month to have a certain amount of money that gives you the possibility to live and to create without having to perform. So, its really very, very good conditions because there are very few countries where there is this possibility.” France is another country that truly provides financial support for the arts.
There are many wonderful scenes in Dimanche which I hesitate to describe because I do not want to spoil both the comedy and the tragedy of this production. But a few hints are in order to whet the reader’s appetite.
A toy size truck moves through a snow covered set that evolves into life-size reporters and later into a polar bear and her cub floating on blocks of ice in the melting oceans. Three reporters juggle sharing a drink and a cigarette while driving through a dying terrain. An aging mother struggles with a motorized chair on a stairway and later listens to music as she soaks her feet in a bowl of ice cubes. A flamingo searches for food for her one chick only to be caught up in a storm, and a romantic meal becomes a battle with the crushing elements of climate change.
“What we really enjoy is it (their work) being very close to cinematography writing” Heyraud said about what Chaliwaté Company does. “What’s quite particular in Dimanche is that we use a lot of object theater to play on a game of scales. Cinema can do lots of closeups and travelings and so we really wanted to transpose that cinematography writing onto the theater stage. I think it’s something very specific of Dimanche and that the audiences enjoy, that it provides a lot of surprises.”
She went on to say that working in object theater gives them the possibility to be in a very specific situation while also providing something very unique. “It’s to bring a reflection of how we are living and what we do not to change things, and object theater gives us the possibility to see things from a different angle – a bit like a mirror. We didn’t take a scientific approach or a documentary approach to the question. It was to bring poetry and human relationships also.
During the interview Heyraud explained that she will perform in Dimanche at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) but here in Santa Monica her part will be performed by Shantala Pèpe, who has an extensive background in dance, performance, and film. She has a company, MANA, that “deploys a visual universe at the intersection of dance and physical theatre, where the image, object and voice work enrich the language.” It is clear how she became involved in being a part of Dimanche.
These are physical actors who make use of wonderful puppets created by Waw ! Studios / Joachim Jannin and Jean-Raymond Brassinne; sets constructed by Zoé Tenret, Bruno Mortaignie (LS Diffusion), Sébastien Boucherit and Sebastien Munck; Video by Tristan Galand; and Underwater filming by Alexandra Brixy. Very important in the execution of Dimanche is the extraordinary and atmospheric lighting by Guillaume Toussaint Fromentin along with the realistic sound score by Brice Cannavo. The Dramaturgy was by Alana Osbourne.
“The humour of this wonderful piece of ‘family theatre’ is sardonic but always engaging to watch. It is a truly extraordinary experience; on one hand you are constantly amazed by the imaginative brilliance of the staging, and on the other hand constantly reminded of the potential tragic consequences of ignoring climate change.” Tony Knight – Writer for Stage Whispers
WHAT: West Coast Premiere of Dimanche created by Brussels based Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company.
WHEN: April 13 to 16, 2023 – Performance times: Thursday, 4/13 and Friday, 4/14 @ 7:30pm; Saturday, 4/15 @ 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm; Sunday, 2/16 @ 2:00 pm.
WHERE: BroadStage, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401
TICKETS start at $40.
For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the BroadStage website or call 310.434.3200.
For more information about Chaliwaté Company, please visit their website.
For more information about Company Focus, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Dimanche – Chaliwaté Company and Focus Company – Photo by Alice Piemme, Arts Hub