Performance about a dancer and a boy trying to escape the story that has been written for them.

The Pyre

Gisèle Vienne

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With The Pyre, the French-Austrian theatre maker Gisèle Vienne has created a hall of mirrors in which nothing is what it seems, a story in which the abstract and the concrete constantly reflect one another. Dancer Anja Röttgerkamp moves through a pulsating lighting design hinting at the bright lights of the big city, a disorientating environment which is enhanced by a complex soundscape. Stripped of all realism, the dancer becomes a kind of 21st century icon. From this charged abstraction the piece develops into a more concrete narrative, introducing a boy, who is related to the dancer. Together they try to escape from the story that has been written for them.



play conceived, directed and choreographed
Gisèle Vienne
music, live performance, sound engeneering
KTL (Stephen O'Malley, Peter Rehberg)
Dennis Cooper
Patrick Riou
José Enrique Ona Selfa
Robin Kobrynski
concept and staging
Designgroup Professional GmbH / LED Lightdesign Producer
Designgroup Professional Germany
performance, created with
Anja Röttgerkamp
Lounès Pezet
Opéra de Lille
Le Parvis/Scène National de Tarbes
Centre Pompidou
Les Spectacles Vivants
Comédie de Caen
Centre Dramatique National de Normandie
Festival Automne en Normandie
Scène nationale d'Evreux
Bonlieu Scène nationale
La Bâtie Genève
Centre de Développement Chorégraphique-Toulouse
Centre Dramatique National Orléans Loiret Centre
CCN d’Orléans
Malta Festival-Poznan
Holland Festival
International Summer Festival-Hamburg
Künstlerhaus Mousonturm
Next Festival
Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai + Valenciennes
BIT Teatergarasjen
Festival de Otoño a Primavera
Designgroup Professional Gmb
with support of
Festival Actoral
The Swedish Arts Council
La Monnaie/DeMunt
in het kader van

One of the most provocative and truly disturbing pieces of theatre you're likely to see.

The Herald (Edinburgh) about The Jerk

background information

The French-Austrian visual artist and theatre maker Gisèle Vienne (1976) debuts at the Holland Festival with The Pyre. The music for this dance performance is played live by KTL (Stephen O'Malley and Peter Rehberg). The production was conceived in collaboration with performer Anja Röttgerkamp and her young co-performer Lounès Pezet. The uncompromising American author and performance artist Dennis Cooper wrote the text. Vienne studied philosophy and puppeteering at the l’École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette. Since 1999 she has created performances in theatres and exhibition spaces. In her work she mixes abstract, figurative and narrative elements with fascinating, unsettling puppet and object theatre. Many of her performances are based on Cooper's gloomy texts, including Jerk, solo for a puppeteer (2008), a raving monologue by a serial killer using a  glove puppet, and the radical production This is how you will disappear (2010), in which she put an entire forest on stage, with real trees and live birds of prey.

In The Pyre Vienne explores, in close collaboration with Röttgerkamp, Cooper, O’Malley and Rehberg, the dynamic tension between the concrete expression of the body and the possibilities of freeing the body from itself. The Pyre is a hall of mirrors where nothing is what it seems. Vienne: “Our goal is to build up and subsequently pull down the intensity which is created by the tension between presence and absence.” For The Pyre Vienne and her collaborators employed two guidelines: the holy horror and the use of abstraction. The performance starts out as a dance solo by Röttgerkamp against the backdrop of a colourful, abstract, computer age lighting design by Patrick Riou. The entire stage is covered with luminous panels, reminiscent of disorientating disco lights in a night club, or the architecture and bright neon lights of the big city. This pulsating lighting design supports the choreography, in which the body of the dancer is stripped of all realistic colour and movement. The resulting alienating effect is further reinforced by Rehberg and O'Malley's dark soundscape, featuring simulated ambient sounds, electronics and instruments, and the actual sounds made by the dancer.

The dancer's body becomes a living painting in which the specific movement language and gestures developed by Vienne and Röttgerkamp are expressed. This abstraction glorifies the body: the mortal dancer assumes a kind of divinity. Becoming a new icon for the 21st century, according to Vienne. The physical body of the dancer suggests the presence as well as the absence of this fantasy or divine creature, but sometimes can also be without expression, empty and still. This disturbing paradox creates a feeling of holy horror, as the writer Paul Valéry called it. The first part of The Pyre is pure abstraction in movement, image and narrative. The dancer, the space and the sound are all taken out of context. But near the end of the performance these elements are reconstructed in a new form. Dennis Cooper wrote a text which has been mixed so that it is barely audible within the soundscape up to that point of the performance, but which is spoken out loud at the end in a dialogue between Röttgerkamp and Pezet. Coopers short story is played out, and both characters try to escape from the story, in search of the true reality of their existence. The overarching movement from pure abstraction to a concrete story results in a breathtaking visual Droste-effect, or mise en abyme.

The performance will premiere at the Festival Manifeste at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The Holland Festival will host the Dutch premiere.


Gisèle Vienne (1976) is a French-Austrian choreographer, director, performer and visual artist. After graduating in philosophy she studied puppeteering at the l’École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette. Between 1999 and 2004 she created four performances with Étienne Bideau-Rey. Since then she has worked closely with writers Dennis Cooper and Catherine Robbe-Grillet, musicians Peter Rehberg and Stephen O'Malley (the experimental dark ambient noise duo KLT) lighting designer Patrick Riou and actor Jonathan Capdevielle. The performances she has produced as a choreographer and a director since 2004 include I Apologize (2004), Une belle enfant blonde / A young, beautiful blond girl (2005), Kindertotenlieder (2007), Jerk (2008), This is how you will disappear (2010) and LAST SPRING: A Prequel (2011). Since 2005 she has frequently exhibited her photographs and installation art. In 2012 she co-curated with Dennis Cooper a part of the Un Nouveau Festival in Centre Pompidou, Paris, titled TEENAGE HALLUCINATION. The work featured visual art, film, seminars, performances, concerts and an installation of the visual work of Cooper & Vienne, including performances of their theatre shows Last Spring, a Prequel (2011) and Jerk (2008) and a restaging of Them (1984), a piece by Cooper, choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones and composer Chris Cochrane. Vienne lives and works in Paris and Grenoble.


Dennis Cooper (1953) is a writer, poet, critic and performance artist. Cooper grew up in Southern California and started writing at the age of 15, fascinated by the works of Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire and the Marquis de Sade. He studied poetry at Pasadena City College and Pitzer College in Claremont, California. From 1976 until 1982 he ran the Little Caesar Magazine & Press, and from 1980 to 1983 he was programme director of the Beyond Baroque Literary Art Center in Venice, California. In 1985 he moved to Amsterdam, where he started work on a monumental, ten year literary project, The George Miles Cycle, a series of five novels. The first part of the cycle, Closer, won the first Ferro-Grumley Award. Cooper has written for Art in America, The Advocate, The Village Voice and Artforum. He wrote the novels

The Sluts and God Jr., both published in 2005, a collection of short stories entitled Ugly Man (2009) and the novel The Marbled Swarm (2011). He regularly collaborates with theatre maker Gisèle Vienne and has written texts for a number of her performances, including I Apologize (2004), Kindertotenlieder (2007), Jerk (2008), This is how you will disappear (2010) and LAST SPRING : A Prequel (2011). The devastating Them (1984), a theatre / performance work of art Cooper created in collaboration with choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones and composer Chris Cochrane, deals with the aids epidemic in New York in the 1980's and was restaged in 2011. The production won a Bessie Award and was performed at the Springdance festival in Utrecht a year later. Cooper lives in Los Angeles and Paris.


The band KTL consists of guitarist / producer Stephen O’Malley (Seattle, 1974) and producer / programmer Peter Rehberg (London, 1968). O’Malley is a well-known figure in the  underground scene as co-founder of noise and drone band Sun O))) and doom metal groups Burning Witch and Khanate, and as co-founder of the American metal label Southern Lord. Under the alias of Pita, Rehberg has been making radical, experimental computer music since 1982. Rehberg also runs the record label Editions Mego. In 1999 he won the Prix Ars Electronica Distinction Award. O'Malley and Rehberg first collaborated when they were approached by theatre maker Gisèle Vienne and writer Dennis Cooper to contribute to the music for their production Kindertotenlieder (2007). The dark soundtrack which they produced proved fertile ground for further collaboration: they formed KTL and jointly produced more than 20 live and studio albums. KTL create a brand of psychedelic and dark ambient noise which is almost fully improvised with influences of metal, drones, distorted samples and electronics. O'Malley and Rehberg describe their music as a “threatening new collaboration taking in parallel worlds of Extreme Computer Music and Black Metal”.

This performance was made possible with support by