Interview with Thierry Thieû Niang

On June 16 and 17, Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn will present To The Heart, a performance developed by director-choreographer Thierry Thieû Niang in collaboration with children aged 7 to 17 from the Brooklyn neighborhoods.

The French version, Au Cœur, premiered at the Avignon Festival in July 2016 and since then, it has been presented in several cities such as Paris and Besancon, each time with a new cast of local children. In Au Cœur, children react and speak to their peers that are left aside, forgotten and abandoned. It combines L’Envol, a text written by poet and novelist Linda Lê, and for the version at Invisible Dog, two New-York based artists will conceive the music and a sculpture.

Before coming to Brooklyn, Thierry answered our questions.

Thierry, Welcome back !

Nicole : For many years, you have been working with different generations of people, meaning different bodies. Du Printemps !, your previous project presented at Invisible Dog Art Center and at the Vermont Performance Lab in May 2014, explored the perception of time passing by and involved local participants between aged 60 and 80. Recently the documentary « Une jeune fille de 90 ans » directed by Valerie Bruni-Tedeshi and Yann Coridian relates your encounter with Blanche, a 92-year-old lady, and the joy she found when dancing with you. In New York, for To The Heart, you will work for three weeks with children aged 7 to 17 from the Brooklyn borough.

Could you describe your approach to work with the children and teenagers on this delicate subject of being forgotten and abandoned ?

Thierry : The primary idea is to work on the falling of human body, especially that of children. What happens when a child falls to the ground ? What do we see from a body that stumbles and collapses ? In children’s games, kids might fall down and get back up repeatedly when hiding carefully or seeking and chasing actively.

Interested in learning the way in which children perceive these action verbs, I asked the kids featured in To the Heart to collect stories, tales, comic books, and also photos from newspaper reviews describing bodies falling and flying. A little girl brought me photos of migrant children washed up on Italian beaches as well as images of refugee children slipping or begging for money and food on our streets. Based upon all these documents gathered from the children, we discussed with each other to explain the meaning, compose stories, and invent dances.

Nicole : And how will you conceive the workshop, the movement ?

Thierry : The creative workshop provides each group of children with different situations where the notions of weight and space, as well as the relationship between oneself and others, are presented and challenged in a playful way. Together we try to translate feelings and states of minds into movements, and finally, choreographies.

Nicole : Are you looking for children with a specific background for the development of the performance ?

Thierry : I don’t choose the children but the theaters presenting the performance invite the young participants to the workshop. Most of the time, I keep all the children who register. I welcome any child who is interested in this project. They are between 9 and 17 years old ; I enjoy their presence, and I am captivated by their improvised movements sparked by immediate experiences, and thus each time, it is a new and joyful group.

Nicole : In France, you partnered with Vietnamese poet Linda Lê on this project. Was the text L’Envol (Fly Away) developed with the children as well ? Could you tell us more about it ? Will Linda Lê compose a new text specially for the New York project ? Or will you adapt L’Envol to the children in New York ?

Thierry : Linda Lê arrived in France from Vietnam in 1977. My father arrived in 1956. That’s two different periods. My father left Vietnam when the country became independant. During these years, France - who occupied Vietnam - gave the opportunity to young adults to come to France to study. My father, a war orphan, even obtained the French citizenship. Linda fled Vietnam during the war with the Americans. She is part of the boat people ; she and her mother and sisters arrived in Le Havre in 1977.

The question of exile is at the heart of Linda’s literary work. She came to observe the children participating in the workshops, took notes and then she created the text L’Envol. The text is shared with and performed by the children during the show. Since the content of L’Envol is so universal and relevant, the text will remain the same for New York’s show. It will be translated into English.

Nicole : What are some of the most memorable moments spent with the children in France that you want to share with us ?

Thierry : When we opened at the festival in Avignon ; a show featuring children and adolescent, this is rare. All of the performances were very well received among the public, families, and critics, and it became a great success.

MERCI, Thierry. A bientôt, at The Invisible Dog.

Interview conducted by Nicole Birmann Bloom - French Culture - in April 2018

Voir en ligne : Retrouvez cet article sur le site de French Culture

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