Gisèle Vienne

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A multi-layered, below-the-surface family drama

A child feels unloved by his mother. To test her, he pretends to be drowning in the pond. With her adaptation of Robert Walser’s Der Teich (‘The Pond’), director Gisèle Vienne explores complex family relationships and examines the ways family members interact with each other. Vienne plays with all the available theatrical means to make the spoken and the unsaid visible. She creates a mysterious tension between those present and absent. Vienne indirectly shows the deceptive contradictions between what is said and what takes place unsaid. Like her previous work, the piece delves into philosophical issues surrounding social norms. In doing so the director does not shy away from humanity’s dark sides.

Background information

In 1902, Robert Walser wrote − in Swiss German − the short piece Der Teich as a present for his sister. It was only published after his death. Walser was a master at describing inner turmoil and unspoken tension, emotions and associations. Vienne takes this story about a complex mother-son relationship, in which the son simulates suicide, as a basis to realise her ideas about lurking violence in a domestic environment. 

Two actresses play all the roles. Apart from Fritz, Adèle Haenel plays the roles of all the children in the piece, while Ruth Vega Fernandez plays the roles of the two present mothers and the father. Vienne: ‘The actors assume a different social role. Whether this is a man or a woman, a child or a mother, makes no real difference.’

Family violence
Vienne often gravitates towards dark subjects. In L’Étang, she focuses on violence in a more specifically familial setting. She examines the social roles people play in a family situation and the ways they communicate with each other. Of particular interest to her is how different layers of communication can diverge from and contradict each other. Someone may talk about love, while the facial expression and body language suggest violence. 

Different layers and forms of expression, possibly happening at a same time, can all be seen as ‘texts’, various ways of speaking. ‘Text is not limited to the words you can hear’, Vienne explains. ‘We’re culturally educated to ‘read’, hear, see particular layers or disregard others. Our system of perception is culturally build up, but can of course move and change, and art forms for example can contribute to this movement. It is interesting, through the consciousness we can develop of our perceptive system, to understand the normative system we’re in, analyse it, and understand the hierarchy between words and nonverbal expression.’ 

Levels of interpretation
In the staging of L’Étang, there are numerous levels of interpretation, three of which are the most readily comprehensible. The first is the story itself as it is read literally. The second is a person who imagines this story, fantasizes, hallucinates, certain elements are extremely precise and vivid, while others are fuzzier or even absent. These differences in perception can be visible, noticeable, in a variety of ways on stage, for example by means of different degrees of physical embodiment and disembodiment. Also, through the various treatments of temporalities which is very characteristic in Vienne’s use of movement, of music, light, and space, as well as the interpretation of the text, and which in particular convey the sensory perception of time. The different temporalities participate in this layered composition, which allows their formal articulation and the deployment of the experience of the present, between the real and the fantasized, constituted in particular by memory, the past, and the anticipated future. And then the third level, which is what we see if we don’t follow the conventions of the theater: two actresses in a white box, Adèle Haenel and Ruth Vega Fernandez, who are performing this piece by Robert Walser.


Gisèle Vienne (1976, Charleville-Mézières) is a Franco-Austrian artist, choreographer and director. After graduating in Philosophy, she studied at the puppeteering school École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette. She works regularly with the writer Dennis Cooper, among others. Over the past twenty years, her pieces have toured throughout Europe and were regularly performed in Asia and in America. These include I Apologize (2004), Kindertotenlieder (2007), Jerk (2008), This is how you will disappear (2010), LAST SPRING: A Prequel (2011), The Ventriloquists Convention (2015) in collaboration with Puppentheater Halle and Crowd (2017, Holland Festival 2018). In 2020, together with Etienne Bideau-Rey, she created a fourth version of Showroomdummies at the Rohm Theater Kyoto, originally created in 2001. 

Vienne has regularly exhibited her photographs in museums, for example at the New York Whitney Museum, the Centre Pompidou and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. She published two books together with Dennis Cooper, Peter Rehberg and Jonathan Capdevielle: JERK / Through Their Tears and 40 PORTRAITS 2003-2008, in collaboration with Dennis Cooper and Pierre Dourthe in February 2012. Her work has led to various publications and the original music of her shows led to several albums. Her latest show L’Étang (‘The Pond’), based on Robert Walser’s short story Der Teich, was created in November 2020 at the TNB in Rennes and will be staged in this year’s Holland Festival edition.


based on the original story Der Teich by
Robert Walser
concept, direction, scenography, dramaturgy
Gisèle Vienne
performed by
Adèle Haenel, Ruth Vega Fernandez
Yves Godin
sound design
Adrien Michel
music direction
Stephen F. O'Malley
original music
Stephen F. O’Malley, François J. Bonnet
tour assistant
Sophie Demeyer
external overlook
Dennis Cooper, Anja Rottgerkamp
French translation from the German translation by Händl Klaus and Raphael Urweider
Lucie Taïeb
collaboration to the scenography
Maroussia Vaes
conception of puppets
Gisèle Vienne
creation of puppets
Raphaël Rubbens, Dorothéa Vienne-Pollak, Gisèle Vienne in samenwerking met Théâtre National de Bretagne
stage set production
Nanterre-Amandiers CDN
set and accessoires
Gisèle Vienne, Camille Queval, Guillaume Dumont
Gisèle Vienne, Camille Queval
wig and make-up artist
Mélanie Gerbeaux
technical manager
Richard Pierre
sound engineer
Adrien Michel, Mareike Trillhaas
light manager
Iannis Japiot, Samuel Dosière
stage manager
Antoine Hordé
performance created in collaboration with
Kerstin Daley-Baradel
special thanks to
Etienne Bideau-Rey, Nelson Canart, Patric Chiha, Zac Farley, Pauline Jakobiak, Jean-Paul Vienne, César Van Looy
production and distribution
Alma Office: Anne-Lise Gobin, Alix Sarrade, Camille Queval, Andrea Kerr
Etienne Hunsinger, Giovanna Rua
Nanterre-Amandiers CDN; Théâtre National de Bretagne; Maillon, Théâtre de Strasbourg – Scène européenne; Holland Festival; Fonds Transfabrik – Fonds franco-allemand pour le spectacle vivant; Centre Culturel André Malraux, Scène nationale de Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy; Comédie de Genève; La Filature, Scène nationale de Mulhouse; Le Manège, scène nationale – Reims; MC2: Grenoble; Ruhrtriennale; TANDEM Scène nationale; Kaserne Basel; International Summer Festival Kampnagel Hamburg; Festival d’Automne à Paris; théâtre Garonne, scène européenne – Toulouse; CCN2–Centre chorégraphique national de Grenoble; BIT Teatergarasjen, Bergen; Black Box teater, Oslo
with the support of
CN D Centre national de la danse, La Colline – théâtre national and Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne
thanks to
Point Ephémère voor het beschikbaar stellen van hun repetitieruimte; Playroom, SMEM, Fribourg voor hun geluidsstudio
This performance is made possible with support by

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