Since 1982, through a series of experimental and playful shows, the theatre company Grand Magasin has offered the public a form of philosophy in action, by putting into play both an intelligence of the body and of the mind. A catalogue of reflections, programmatic gestures and actions which defy the spatiotemporel conditions of the stage, striving to prove through action that dance –– the discipline they claim to practice –– is truly “cosa mentale”.

1. Minimum system requirements

– Three author-performers: Pascale Murtin & François Hiffler (initial versions), Bettina Atala (part of every version since 2000)
– Objects (quite colorful: plastic bottles, jerrycans, green plant, ladder, extinguishers…) as instruments of demonstration
– Inexpensive synthesizer with preprogrammed rhythms and melodies, for interludes that are sung and choreographed
– One or several paradoxical questions that are problematic and yet nevertheless essential
Optional: films & slides (projected interludes), invited performers (more or less anonymous individuals who have come to support the investigation).

2. General content

Themes examined:
– Mise en abyme / tautology of situations on stage
– Space and time (compression & extension of the spectacle / before, after, the stage and elsewhere)
– Truth (in what we see, or in what we say, or between the two?)
– The gaze (of the subject-actor or spectator: always unique!)
– Choice (the vertiginous and decisive responsibility of every movement at every moment…)
– Language (in its fundamental incapacity to transcribe ideas and reality)
– Language (in its fundamental capacity to spark ideas and found reality)
– Presence & Absence (tragic existentialism of the actor on stage)

3. Basic functioning

– Abstraction / Figuration: with Grand Magasin the universality of putting things into question, their simplicity, and the clarity of their enunciation result in an unexpected miracle: that of the formalized thought becoming flesh live on stage. Improbable magic of a grammar of evidence. Troubling.
– Humor: essential ingredient of all GM shows. Hilarity is stirred by an implacable, metaphysical logic that is subjected to physical laws and pushed to absurdity. And all of this with a distant and mechanical seriousness. Screamingly funny.
– Acting: For GM, the formalities of work take on an air that is more playful than didactic. But, even if they are always acting, they are never imitating. The performers, the actions and objects only represent themselves.
– Interaction: the public is associated with the trio’s experiments, not in a participative manner, but in direct address to his/her intelligence and status as observer –– an essential component of the theatrical pact.
– Determination: engineers of the stage, time and again GM demonstrate an unfailing will and and insatiable curiosity in the physico-intellectual exploration of the universe. Creating their own tools of analysis and modelization, they proclaim an enthusiastic and obstinate reappropriation of all the competences necessary to arrive at their ends (thinking, singing, dancing, filming), without any expertise whatsoever.
– Choreography: genealogically, GM’s performances come from dance. Movements of bodies and objects in space, gestures of thought are pretexts for veritable spatial choreographies. Bringing together gesture and speech, dance and theory, GM create a transference: games of the mind and of language into games of the body; and physics truly is the queen of the sciences.

4. Advanced functioning

– Do you see what I see? Throughout this illustrated conference, GM will explore a fundamental aesthetic enigma: how can several paradoxical statements describe identical situations, and how can contradictory situations correspond to the same statement? It is because the meanings of words inevitably vary depending on the speaker. Upon observing that, “I’ll never know what your eyes see, nor what you hear when you hear my voice,” they will jump on the occasion to address the question –– delicately, but not without emotion –– of a radical subjectivity in each and every gaze which forbids all certainty regarding a possible sharing of the tangible.

– 5th International Forum of Corporate Films: in a deepening of the themes of the aforementioned conference, GM’s most recent show tests the chaos created bythe collision of contradictory statements describing an upcoming action and observe the astringent virtue of acronyms, all of which is punctuated by different experiments with telepathic transference and physics. A vertiginous experience of the infinite possibilities offered by time and space, desire and reason, a matinée of permanent and dreadful suspense…

5. Caution

Warning: these performances can cause temporary blurred perception that seems to come from a mind-boggling illusionism that is, nevertheless, achieved without resorting to special effects. Offering the spectator a divergent illumination of the Real, they pin his/her incredulity against his/her desire to let themselves be taken over by sensation.

In the unapologetic absence of all technical virtuosity (dance, singing, music, dramaturgy) GM put themselves at risk, one which can lead to a certain clumsiness, always just grazing failure or an accident. But these acrobatics of the body and mind also stem from a certain grace: that of the acted-out experimentation of ordinary miracles.

6. Conclusion

Proposing a new artistic and intellectual investigation with each creation, GM invites us to adopt a new perspective on the performing arts by concentrating our attention on the reality “of what is there”. With a salutary and hilarious critical distance, this exercise in physical and cerebral music-hall awakens our consciences. As spectators, we are too often exhausted by the narrative laws of theatre, and we reconcile philosophical rigor in jubilation, the positivistic scientific ideal and the poetry of obvious facts.
Enjoy the show.

Guillaume Désanges
January 2005