Belle d’Hier

Pour un théatre de la peau

Theatre that gets under your skin

I repeat this over and over again : we must avoid all forms of didactism in the work we present to an audience. I trust the spectator’s imaginative world. I am not trying to be provocative when I say that ; what I mean is, I am absolutely certain that we need to limit our longing to be understood and instead accept that what we present to an audience may be read very differently by each individual. The same piece of art may offend as much as it delights. Therefore, I strive to create shows with total freedom, searching to perceive the emotion generated by my actions and exploits.

Following our experience with the ice projects («P.P.P.» and «Black Monodie») and the wind projects («L’après-midi d’un foehn Version 1 »/ « Afternoon of a Foehn Version 1), « («L’après-midi d’un foehn »/« Afternoon of a Foehn » and « Vortex »), each and every time I work on a creation, I verify the pertinence of developing an imaginative world associated with the interaction of humans with the elements.

With the Non Nova team at my side, I am fighting for a vision of theatre which requires us to « live » ; to experience something together. This means the research for each project is long and often fastidious.

Working with matter such as ice, air or water often requires us to take hasardous, empirical paths in our experimentation before there is any sign of something worth presenting.

Since the beginning of the project I.C.E., I have been seeking to develop a sort of dialogue with the audience, through each of my performances.

I want to give each spectator the opportunity to experience something he or she might not dare do on his or her own. This type of research means putting ourselves into danger artistically, as our physical limits are pushed to the brink. The human risk is very real.We are conscious of this. The fear of an accident keeps us alert and sharpens our vigilance.

Much more than the applause, the praise and my need to do this kind of work, it is the words, the texts and the real-life stories which feed my desire to continue on this pathway.

The various artistic forms which make up the project I.C.E. often come about from observing the audience’s reactions. I listen to our world and watch the flux of its movements. They nourish my work. I want to make sense of what I see in the world, and of what seems to me to make art.

I am not aiming to give answers concerning the complexity of our lives. I just want to question the imaginative world of each individual and maybe, hopefully, open up new dialogues. The pieces I propose are sometimes violent, often hypnotic, always androgynous. They are my artistic mediums. I want the shows to be limitless, indignant and provocative, yet without superficially enticing the audience. I simply want them to be clear-cut, palpable, so that I can experience something with you, the spectator. For me, the theatre is like a black hole in the cosmos, a place which should absorb our desires and transport us elsewhere, to another world… towards letting go… towards the unknown…

Maybe we will even escape our own bodies !

Phia Ménard

Belle d’Hier, Yesterday’s Beauty

At what age do we reject our founding principles ? The principles that we ourselves perpetuate, as good little members of society. Haven’t you noticed that our seemingly immutable and logical society is nonetheless crumbling away bit by bit as we stride across it ?

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth ; not the spoon that feeds high society but that which bestows a legacy of domination upon « the boy ». All little boys are future princes of a patriarchal kingdom. Not that they wish for this or even aspire to this, but because the law, our customs, faith and religion take care to cultivate this status quo. The spoon in my mouth was merely silver-plated. The metal beneath the silver ended up oxidising and left a bitter taste of rust in my mouth. I tried to convince myself that I deserved the silver. I was part of the world that doesn’t even consider they might be victims or prey. Of course not; that world is a hunters world, and hunters don’t question their rank.  

It is now 2015 A.D. We are at the peak of the Anthropocene, our fragile animal origins are far behind us, and yet our society is still composed of hunters and gatherers. I have shifted into the other world, that of women. I realised this whilst walking through town. That was the first time I felt them looking and heard them calling. The same town that I would cross disguised as a hunter, without being stared at nor catcalled. Day and night, I was the invisible man, a gazelle disguised as a lion.

« I’ll stick my dick in you », this was the structured, omnipresent call I was forced to listen to. Beneath my steps, the town was transformed into a binary zoo : men are free, women are under surveillance, that’s how it seemed to me. A strange sensation of a biased relationship … should I conform to this condition of permanent guet-apens ? 

I thought of all those women, from the cave dwellars to our world nowadays, I thought of the birth of humanity, of the blood running down their thighs and the pain it cost them, of the price of their virginity, of their forced silence…

And I decided to sweep humanity aside and start with a clean slate !

No longer negotiate for freedom. Break away from perpetual negotiation. I demand the necessary emancipation of males, without condition. The princes, the saviours, the castles, it’s over ! 

At last, I let myself go. Rolled in the grass with my skirts yanked up. My sex offered up to the vapours. Breathing freely, I cried out.

Phia Ménard,

july , 22, 2015 


The Origins of Belle d’Hier, of Yesterday’s Beauty

In January 2012, when the SACD (« Societé des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques » – « Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers ») and Avignon Festival commissioned a piece for « Sujets à vif » (« Live Subjects »), I imagined working on a project based on the disappearance of a myth.

The space we were designated was Le Jardin de la Vierge (The Virgin’s Garden) in Avignon’s St Joseph’s College, where a statue of the Virgin with Child has pride of place in the centre of the courtyard. I was drawn towards the idea of using the imagery of this woman draped in white and blue, to explore the myth of  the Virgin. My project was to develop a visual composition around bits of material frozen in the shape of the divine effigy. We would then watch as it melted under the blazing Avignon heat, metamorphosing into rags and floorcloths, accompanied by the words of Anne-James Chaton.

The project was technically too heavy and too complicated for « Sujets à vif » so instead we created « Black Monodie », a piece about feminine icons, which we performed in that year’s Avignon Festival.

Working on the disappearance of a myth through its transformation has become a necessity for me. Time and time again, I plunge myself into questions of transformation, of identity, of body images, of the trace of time, of the interaction of elements, of visual landscapes, of manipulating or being manipulated, once again trying to question our societies’ codes.

In « Belle d’Hier » (« Yesterday’s Beauty »), I am tackling the transformation of a myth. I am taking a close look at the promise which has been handed down from generation to generation : « One day, my daughter, you will be a princess and you will meet (your) Prince Charming. » This may seem like a harmless little sentence, yet it is nothing less than the beginning of the hetero-patriarchal myth which assumes that women will be saved from this world by the arrival of ‘the man’ !

Doesn’t that seem like a very outdated notion? A notion built on a myth ?

I am part of a generation which was nourished by numerous revolutionary movements and which I believe are not yet over. A generation built on freedom rather than equality. I am still in the process of becoming a woman and will be so for the rest of my life. Every day I learn new gender codes, new feminine postures. I try them out, assimilate them and reproduce them in order to dispel the doubts regarding my identity. I am playing the game in order to understand what it means to be a woman and hopefully to find a place in this world. 

Should we fight against what society dictates to us ? Or instead continue to believe that someday our prince will come ? Someday our beloved will save us, love and all its pretty packaging will turn us into accomplished, fulfilled individuals ?!

Ah, the myth of the saviour ! The idealisation of man and woman, of their beauty, of love, youth and heroism. 

The Prince, the Princess, eternal love and its myth ?

The myth ?

What if destroying the myth actually saved us ?

Let’s fight the distress it causes.

Let’s look at its transformation, the moment the myth collapses, the moment we reject it, the moment we want to smash up its codes and constraints and explode into action.

Once we have got over the disillusion and the violence, let’s celebrate the breath of life the myth leaves behind when it’s gone.

Let’s revel in the burst of desire, passion and urges aroused in its wake.

I am interested in a Utopia based on escaping the myth.

I am interested in « the after-myth » !

For the project « Belle d’Hier », it is the violence of the confrontation between the humans and the matter which is important, as this gives the work its emotional and dramaturgical force. The ice, the cold, the cold water from the defrosting process and finally, the sublimation of the vapour.

We see the strange movement of five individuals emerging from a giant ingot, silently installing an army of bodies. Frozen « carapaces » in human form : icons, possibly a coronation. The cold gives the scene a solemnity which seems eternal… 

Bodies moulded and petrified by the cold. We now watch them as they decompose, the warmth eating away at them. This scene of ephemereal beauty slowly turns into a battlefield, a rotting heap. The five figures also watch the carnage and continue their labour. Like in a slaughterhouse, the carapaces are dismembered, hung, mistreated. It’s a production line, laborious factory work, a massive clean up…

Then we see the truth, their true identities ; from out of the extraterrestrial outfits come five women, women I call « our furies », thirsty with desire, ready to fight, ready to dry the last tears of the lie. They are deliciously out of control. They are the workers, the promised ones, the women warriors who disrupt and explose the order of things, an order which has been established for far too long. Freeing themselves from the pain, that is what’s at stake. Powerfully, repetitively, they pound at the laundry.

Freeing onself is an act within everyone’s reach !

The Creation Team

Original idea and scenography/set design : Phia Ménard

Dramaturgy and artistic direction : Phia Ménard and Jean-Luc Beaujault 

The performers and creators : Isabelle Bats, Cécile Cozzolino, Géraldine Pochon, Marlène Rostaing, Jeanne Vallauri

Sound composition and sound engineer : Ivan Roussel

Lighting design and lighting engineer : Alice Rüest

Costume & frozen dresses design &creation : Fabrice Ilia Leroy

Technical director : Pierre Blanchet

Stage crew : Mateo Provost

Ice engineer : Rodolphe Thibaud 

Set & props construction : Philippe Ragot with Angela Kornie

Photographs : Jean-Luc Beaujault

Administration, production : Claire Massonnet

Production assistant : Constance Winckler

Public relations : Justine Lasserrade

Executive production  : Compagnie Non Nova.

Residencies and coproductions : Espace Malraux, Scène Nationale de Chambéry et de la Savoie, la Brèche, Pôle National des Arts du Cirque de Basse Normandie / Cherbourg-Octeville, le Carré, Scène nationale de Château-Gontier.

Coproduction : Festival Montpellier Danse 2015, Théâtre de la Ville – Paris, le lieu unique, scène nationale de Nantes, Le Grand T, scène conventionnée de Loire-Atlantique, Le Quai – CDN – Angers, Théâtre d’Orléans, scène nationale, La Criée – Théâtre national de Marseille,  Théâtre Les Treize Arches, scène conventionnée de Brive-la-Gaillarde, La Verrerie, Pôle National des Arts du Cirque Languedoc-Roussillon – Alès, Le Théâtre, scène nationale de Saint-Nazaire – Maillon, Théâtre de Strasbourg – Scène européenne, TJP Centre Dramatique National d’Alsace-Strasbourg, le Grand R, scène nationale de La Roche-sur-Yon, Comédie de Caen – CDN de Normandie.

With the support of : Théâtre de Cornouaille, scène nationale de Quimper, Scène Nationale de Sète et du Bassin de Thau, Le Cratère, scène nationale d’Alès, Les Quinconces-L’espal théâtres, scène conventionnée danse Le Mans.

With the technical support of JF Cesbron, expert in the fields of refrigeration, heating and energy.

The Compagnie Non Nova – Phia Ménard is subsidised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication – DRAC des Pays de la Loire, Nantes City Council, the Conseil Régional des Pays de la Loire and the Conseil Départemental de Loire-Atlantique. The company also receives support from the Institut Français (France’s international cultural relations body) and the BNP Paribas Foundation.

The company is based in Nantes.

The Compagnie Non Nova – Phia Ménard is currently associate artist at Malraux scène nationale Chambery Savoie, and the « TNB, Centre Européen Théâtral et Chorégraphique de Rennes » (National Theatre of Brittany).



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