A walk at night (without a torch)
A forest at night might seem impenetrable from the outside. In our imagination, it is a place where fairy tales and childhood fears come to life. But once you actually step into the dark, you quickly lose yourself in a world full of earthy scents, soft tints and subtly present company.
The artist Massimo Furlan and the playwright Claire de Ribaupierre will take their audience into the forest for a walk of about seven kilometres. Trees, plants, birds, bats and foxes - in the great outdoors, far away from the theatre, you will find yourself surrounded by nature. When you can no longer rely on sight alone, your senses are heightened. Just listen to the snapping twigs and fluttering birds, take in the smells of soil and wet leaves and feel the spongy moss beneath your feet. Every so often, a guide will break the silence and give suggestions for what to look out for. It makes for a physical and sensory experience that is both meditative and artistic. The audience takes centre stage as it walks, listens and observes.
‘Once when we were walking through the forest at night, the experience proved so intense that we wanted to share it’. By going on long walks through the forest theirselves, the artist Massimo Furlan and his partner, the dramaturge and playwright Claire de Ribaupierre came up with the idea to make a piece about it. They realised they really knew very little about the forest. ‘I could only name two kinds of trees’, says Furlan. So they pored over the work of tree and animal experts, environmental activists, philosophers, writers and filmmakers like The Secret Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and the documentary Becoming Animal by Emma Davie and Peter Mettler.
‘Walking brings us into a state in which the body, the mind and the world respond to each other like three characters conversing with one another’, the philosopher Rebecca Solnit writes in The Art of Walking. The landscape gives us ideas, and the rhythm of walking sets the rhythm for our thoughts. We think differently when moving outside than we do at a table in a closed room.
This project will take place at night, not with artificial lighting but in the dark. It engages like our hearing, but also our sense of smell and touch. The decreased visibility in the dark increases the sense of vulnerability, giving room to the imagination. Images and associations from childhood, like a fear of the wilderness, a fear of wolves or a fear of disappearing may surface. But these fears are tempered when our eyes slowly adjust and the body realises its surroundings are not hostile.
Silence heightens the attention to our surroundings. It is a way to keep up with the world around us. But even in small groups, we disturb the silence with our footsteps and the brushing and rustling sounds of our clothes. For this reason, there will be extensive breaks in order to take a good listen to the branches creaking, the wind blowing and animals passing by. In silence, our sense of hearing is heightened. Besides listening to the forest itself, there will be an opportunity to listen to stories about the woods with a guide directing our attention.
The experience that Furlan and De Ribaupierre create with Dans la Forêt is highly controlled and safe because the route is known and the walk is done in a group with a guide. Yet they will also ensure there is enough room to marvel at and surrender to the experience, in which three elements - walking, seeing and listening - are central.
Massimo Furlan (1965, Lausanne) is a Swiss director and performer of Italian descent. He studied at the Beaux-Arts School of Lausanne and started his own company in 2003. He blends humour, philosophy and poetry in his pieces and takes inspiration from the memories of his youth, with a special focus on the intense experience of his formative years. In his work, he also meditates on individual and collective memory and the way people live together. From early on in his career, Furlan collaborates with Claire de Ribaupierre (1968), dramaturge, doctor in anthropology, and permanent teacher at the school of performing Arts La Manufacture in Lausanne.
In theatre, Furlan and Ribaupierre are known for their evocative theatre with minimal movements. The series of still lifes they make are reminiscent of films or art installations. They call this ‘long images’. It gives the audience time to fully absorb each image and fantasise about it. They often look to true events for their subject matter, exploring the limits of theatre, and like to work in public spaces with non-professional actors and performers. Furlan, for example, re-enacted mythical moments of football history in stadiums, alone without a ball.
Previously at the Holland Festival
In 2011, Furlan featured at the Holland Festival with You can speak, you are an animal: a nightmarish stream of images about the relationship between humans and animals and nature and civilization, set to the post-punk sounds of the band Killing Joke. He returned in 2015 together with Ribaupierre with Un Jour, a moving piece in which spirits are contacted in an associative procession of carefully stylised theatrical tableaus.
In recent years, Furlan took a critical look at the issues surrounding migration. In both Hospitalités (2017) and The Italians (2018) he blended fiction with reality. The migrants in question were invited onto the stage to tell their story themselves. In Dans la Forêt, it is nature doing the speaking.
- Massimo Furlan, Claire de Ribaupierre
- sound creation
- Aurélien Godderis-Chouzenoux
- technical direction
- Jérôme Vernez, Antoine Friderici
- Noémie Doutreleau
- Jérôme Pique
- Numero23Prod, Théâtre de Vidy
- with support of
- Ville de Lausanne, l'État de Vaud et Pro Helvetia - Fondation suisse pour la culture