The Theatre des Nations screams and cries like a beast


Jean-Jacques Gautier

......................The Theatre des Nations, which, for about ten days under the aegis of Jean-Louis Barrault, will show its manifestations, in the course of which (at the Theatre Recamier and at the Sorbonne) we will study the human being as an instrument; the space in which he evolves; the social and political role of theatre; the spirit of research and the connections between the art of drama and a "biomechanics of human behaviours" have no fear, these are not my words! - well, this Theatre des Nations has opened its doors.

......................To begin with, Jean-Louis Barrault addressed us with a few words saying more or less that we were there to ask ourselves questions: Where is theatre going? Where is science going? Where is life going? ... And then "Theatre is the play which re-creates life in space by means of the instrument which is the human being" which is the respiratory apparatus, the vertebral column, the voice.

......................This should introduce the first part which, if one abstracts the interpolated statements, where there was much talk of the soul, the cosmos, vedic chants, stimulation and perspectives, boiled down to a series of Yoga exercises: we saw and heard two gentlemen in underpants who emptied their lungs into a mike. This piece was followed by a long demonstration proffered to us by a pretty Indian dancer accompanied by the sounds of a small ensemble typical other country: she rolled her eyes, moved her eyebrows and hands, she mimed emotion, fear, hate, as well as a young girl who picks a flower in her hair, and also many other things, and I thought it was midnight at ten o'clock!

......................But this ordeal was nothing in comparison with what was going to occur and, who knows, is still going on while you are reading these lines!

.......................The English research group, Roy Hart Theatre, has come to show us what they can do.

.......................Now then, in order to be well understood I must distinguish very precisely between several characteristics of this exhibition.

.......................The look of these fifteen or sixteen boys and girls, in general rather attractive, and looking perfectly convinced of what they are accomplishing, is very amenable.

.......................Their technique is faultless; superb the manner in which their evolutions are patterned; the positioning, the production in all its details, the staging, the attention to setting and focus of awareness, are simply admirable.

........................I should speak of choreography, because in reality of what does it consist? of a ballet, but of a ballet of a completely special nature. It develops almost completely without music, or at least the main music is that of the human voice, more especially of inarticulate sounds emitted by it.

........................And it is a ballet of animals.

........................I'll explain myself: these young men in jeans, these young girls in dresses of all different colours, but of a great simplicity, with effects of coloured spotlights, moving in a violent rhythm and in a manner which is always aggressive an aggressiveness which they admit to be voluntary ... are going to mime all the known actions of all the animal species; and this whilst producing cries, screams which are very shrill, cries which are prolonged, terrifying, deafening. They accompany themselves by these cries. They bawl, bark, whine, moan, mouthe, pant, snarl, squeal, hoot, gnash, grate, belch, hiccup, cough, squeak, bray, bellow, roar, bleat, trumpet, yelp, wrangle, cheep, (pupulent), jabber, cackle, chirp, call like partridges; but especially cry with the pack, growl, roar, (feulent) and do, furiously, all those things which wild savage beasts, big cats and mad dogs do ... and also monkeys of all kinds ... what I have said is not offensive. Their pattern is affirmed and formal.

........................As if the ideal of the humanist of 1972, the ideal of all those individuals who claim to be members of the intelligentsia, and to have sensibility, art and culture, was to return to the level of beast and madman. Because what I saw there, what the public could see as well as I, is what one can see and hear every day in the cages of the zoo; it is that which, for a long time now, we deliberately do not do at St. Anne's. (This is a well-known mental hospital in ParisEditor.)

.......................Firstly, I think about what this reveals a propos the idea one has of man. I consider then how this implies derision and hatred for human expression, for the word, language, the letter, text, ordered craftsmanship, the work of the spirit. I consider finally that I like innovation, if it brings growth, if it elevates the soul, if it contributes something, if it transcends man. But not this abasement.

......................And before such a spectacle, seeing Madeleine Renaud, who was regarding it with an appearance of acquiescence on her face, I could not stop from asking myself if, at the bottom of her heart she who belonged to Marivaux as no-one else ever has she who interpreted Dona Musique inimitably if, I repeat, she did not yearn for a theatre where people such as Rachel, Mounet-Sully, Coquelin, Sarah Bernhardt, Raimu and herself too did not emit the cries of beasts and knew that to breathe is not to perform.


Roy Hart with Jean-Louis Barraultat the Theatre des Nations....................................


A reply to Jean-Jacques Gautier


Janet R.Silber Harris


.....................I knew of the person of Jean-Jacques Gautier before the performance of Roy Hart Theatre had started on that first evening of 'Les Journees' from the Theatre des Nations. I was sitting next to Nicole Behar and as the audience filed into their places, she pointed him out as "the bad critic from Le Figaro". At that stage, I did not know whether 'bad' referred to the quality of his writing or his ability to perceive and translate the theatrical medium. Having read his review, I assume that Nicole referred to the latter.

......................He was a medium-sized, middle-aged man. The greyness of his short-cropped hair merged with. the general dappemess of his appearance. Two-thirds of the way through the performance, he left. His exit caused a stir in the audience, many of whom clapped. A clap, presumably of approval from sympathisers in the audience, who thought that they did not like what they saw or heard, and, like Jean-Jacques Gautier, wanted to depart. But they stayed and mocked and shouted abuse, while Jean-Jacques Gautier left for his office to verbalise his thoughts on the performance on paper.

.....................He introduced his criticism of the Roy Hart Theatre performance by reference to the fact that he had left early and that for all he knew it might still be going on. Of course it is still going on. Not necessarily by Roy Hart Theatre at the Theatre Recamier at that moment, but by any individual, group, or crowd in the streets or public places of Paris. Even in his own home. Gautier, indeed, need only have watched and listened to the audience on successive nights at the Recamier to hear some of the sounds and cries that he wrote of. Like sheep, the audience baaed in their confidence of numbers and their insecurity of feeling.

.....................There is an important difference, however, between the sounds produced by Roy Hart Theatre and those of the Recamier audience. The sounds of Roy Hart Theatre are produced consciously by concentration and energy, which requires total bodily involvement. The sounds made by the audience were unconscious noise, undisciplined and shallow.

.....................Gautier wrote of the performers as so-called intelligent people with an awareness of art and culture, who had brought themselves down to the level of beasts and madmen. It is strange how people are so anxious to dismiss their animal origins. They laugh with embarrassment at the suggestion of any animal instincts or motivations within their human frame.

.....................Perhaps in this instance, it is a case of a national characteristic. The French were avid followers of their country's own Jean Baptiste Lamarck, who in his theory of use and disuse suggested that animals were able to determine the course of their own evolution. For example, if a long neck were required in order that the animal could reach the top leaves of a tree, then the animal would grow a long neck. Thus the giraffe. The Germanic races, on the other hand, appeared far more aware of the power of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung being the notable figures in this line of study. The French, then, as early followers of the objective biologists, perhaps still see their evolution as being conscious effort on the part of evolving man to raise himself above the level of beasts and establish his supremacy. In the same way, they may reason that man needed to communicate, so man developed a voice, independent of his animal origins.

.....................IIn terms of basic anatomy for speech production, man owes much to his animal ancestors and the environment which channeled their development. Within the classification of animals, man belongs to the class Mammalia and the order Primates. The first primates date back as far as the early Caenozoic era, the evolution of anthropoid apes and hominids being in comparatively recent times. These early primates were tree-dwellers like the tree shrew, Tupaia minor. It was the arboreal life that conditioned the development of the primates and so also of man.

....................The first requirement for life in the trees was the modification of the forelimbs for climbing, including a most important feature, that of the development of the opposable thumb, which makes the hand what it is today. The grasping hands and prehensile tail enabled these animals to feed other than by using their snout to root around on the ground. The snout, therefore, receded in size and consequently the olfactory area became less prominent. Scent is a less important sense to arboreal animals as scents tend to lie closer to the ground. Sight and sound are of greater value and developments in the quality and reception of the eyes and ears accompanied these other physical changes.

....................The anatomical development in the upper respiratory tract from the lower primates to man shows a gradual changeover of emphasis from olfactation to sound production. The lower primates are capable of producing shrill cries from sharp-edged vocal cords. In the tree shrew the larynx faces forwards and is directed into the nose, making a continuous tube. As the posture of the animals, in successive species of this evolutionary line, becomes more erect and the snout region is reduced, so the larynx is directed further back. The continuity of the nasotracheal airway is consequently broken so that some air can now be directed through the mouth. Such a situation is found in the gibbon. In hominids the larynx opens almost directly backwards and the mobile palate and pharyngeal sphincter enable sound to be directed mainly through the mouth but also through the nose. The larger pharynx and mobile tongue of man, unlike his predecessors', make for greater resonance of sound. With the changing eating habits of the primates, the dentition was modified from the protruding incisors of the lower species to the vertical palisade of teeth in man. This development was accompanied by an improvement in articulation, with an increased complexity of musculature in the jaw and cheek areas.

.....................These anatomical developments in the upper respiratory tract meant that man had the requisite apparatus not only to produce sounds, but to modify and determine their quality. At the same time, the brain had increased in size and complexity. This factor, plus the anatomical features, meant that early man, Australopithecus and Java man, should have been capable of communicating by sound and developing speech.

.....................Theories of the development of speech from this early stage in man's evolution must be extensive but it is a subject which I have not yet been able to study. I have read, however, that the topic of the origin of language has resulted in so much controversy and speculation that linguists have renounced the subject as unscientific and that the Society de Linguistique of Paris has banned it from further discussion. A decision with which Gautier appears to sympathise.

......................It seems certain that the power of speech must have been a great liberation for man. He could cooperate with other members of his species, leam from their experiences and plan for future activities. Each pattern of speech must have been built on a basis of innate sounds, inherited from his animal ancestors. Animals produce sounds as expressions of emotion, for example fear, pain or pleasure. Their sounds are generally well-defined and meaningful. Man, however, with the sophistications of his vocal apparatus, was able to impose degrees and subtleties on these basic sounds, expanding his primary emotions into deeper-ranging lines of communication.

...................Jean-Jacques Gautier appears unable to recognise the basic animal qualities in his behaviour. He cannot identify with his past, to a time when man had only a vocabulary of sounds, no words linked and structured into a complex language. Many of the words used in our languages to describe the sounds of animals are mimicry. The onomatopoeic qualities of words such as "braillent", "hululenf, "caquettent", "cacabent", is obvious despite their being in a foreign language. These words were used by Gautier to describe the sounds of the performers. Such words were derived from the pure animal sounds themselves.

..................In our everyday language, we have utilised such words to illuminate or emphasise statements of human action. For instance: "His rough voice growled out"; "She whined on piteously"; "The old woman cackled with mirth". Such animal representations are quite acceptable. It seems curious then that Gautier thinks it is degrading to enter further into the subject and produce pure, natural sound not usually associated with man but with animals.

..................Gautier likened the sounds from the Roy Hart Theatre performance to those heard in St. Anne's, a mental hospital outside Paris. Cries heard in the psychiatric ward are unfettered sounds, emanating from the inner self. They can represent pure emotion. I referred earlier to the fact that the Germanic races seemed more aware of the powers of the unconscious. Gautier appears to follow the tradition of Frenchmen of the last and early part of this century and insists that his motivations are conscious.

/////////////////I do not believe, however, that it was a totally conscious action that made Gautier leave the Theatre Recamier before the completion of the Roy Hart Theatre performance. I believe that he was unconsciously disturbed by what he saw and heard. He was frightened into retreating to the security of his office where he could collect his thoughts and verbalise the sounds within him in cold, clear type.Jean-Jaques Gautier is certainly no critic of himself.

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