Interview with French company La Cordonnerie (part of the Tilt Kids Festival 2017)

February 26, 2017 | By French Culture Arts
Snow White and the Fall of the Berlin Wall © Sébastien Dumas

On March 18 and 19, the TIlt Kids Festival co-produced by FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) and The Cultural Services of the French Embassy will present the U.S. debut of the French company La Cordonnerie with the performances of Snow White and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Before leaving for New York, and while in Japan for professional meetings, La Cordonnerie (Samuel, Timothée, and Méthilde) spoke with us about their work. 

Nicole Birmann Bloom (N.B.B.): Could you speak about the working process of the company La Cordonnerie? How did it evolve from production to production, and more specifically for the performance Snow White and the Fall of the Berlin Wall presented at FIAF on March 18 and 19? 

La Cordonnerie (Samuel, Thimotée, Méthilde): We have been working for several years on the re-telling of folktales and major texts such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What interests us is to dig and find in these popular texts the resonances with our contemporary issues, and to develop them.

For Snow White, we were first motivated by telling the story from the character’s point of view traditionally presented as the evil one (the step-mother); then, we decided to set the story in 1989 during the fall of the Berlin wall creating a parallel between the virtual walls that separate people – in our performance, Blanche (White) and her step-mother, Elisabeth –  and the real wall that separated the  people of Berlin.

Our work process starts first with the production of a silent movie with a film crew, then we work directly on the stage gathering all the elements that will give life to the project: the characters of the story, the music (composed by Timothée Jolly), the sound effects -- always new for each creation and devised with objects that are part of our daily life.

N.B.B.: The productions of La Cordonnerie are for all audiences, young and adult.  Could you speak about your conception of the public, and more specifically your relation to young audiences?

La Cordonnerie: In our work, we are looking for a kind of universality. We think that it’s possible and even essential to tell challenging stories that address the children as well as adults with, obviously, different levels of understanding of the meaning. The most important motivation for us is to build performances that speak to all generations, that move and challenge them.

N.B.B.: the company La Cordonnerie consists of 20 persons: artists, technicians, and administrative staff. The company has been developing projects since 1997. Could you tell us how you met, more about your background, and why the name of La Cordonnerie?

La Cordonnerie: Samuel Hercule and Timothée Jolly started the company. Samuel trained as an actor in Lyon (at the school Le Compagnonnage) and Timothée attended Les Beaux Arts (Art School), also in Lyon. Timothée is also a self-taught musician. The first rehearsals of our performances took place in the back of a shoemaker’s store  -- La Cordonnerie -- located in the Presqu’île, a district in the heart of the city of Lyon and we kept the name. At that time, the films were projected in cafés with live music in collaboration with musicians and sound effects artists. It was called it “Ciné-Concert”. Métilde, who trained as an actress in Paris (Drama School Jean Périmony) joined the company in 2003 and with her contribution, the performances evolved to include more theatrical elements and staged works. Since then, she has co-directed La Coordonnerie with Samuel. The artistic work has evolved a lot while remaining multidisciplinary, with productions that intertwine theater, films and music, but today we use the words “Ciné-Spectacle”. 

N.B.B.: What are your own best memories of folktales when you were young?

La Cordonnnerie: Barbe Bleue (Blue Beard) by Charles Perrault is a story tale that impressed us both, Timothée and I (Samuel); and by the way, La Cordonnerie staged a production of Barbe Bleue in 2004.

As in most of the folktales, the character of Barble Bleue is cruel. Who is this man, this serial killer whose story we dare tell to children? Folktales are genial and inexhaustible.  They expose us to the deeper meanings of life with  a curious and adventurous mind. It’s the reason we are eager to present these stories with a contemporary connection.

N.B.B.: La Cordonnerie tours in many countries (Europe, Canada) and it will be your U.S. debut. What are your best memories of reactions from the audience, both from children and from adults?

La Cordonnerie: The reactions from the adults are quite different from the children’s reactions. The understanding of the different layers of meaning is not so obvious among children and it’s always weird to hear the adults laugh when the children remain 'icy' (unemotional), sometimes scared.  

Once during a previous production – a retelling of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm, there was a young disabled girl in the audience (she was the daughter of the secretary general of the theater that was presenting us.) In the performance, Jacob – one of the characters -- is looking for his parents in the forest and screams “mummy, daddy” … (for this story, we reversed the roles: The son had abandoned his parents and not the opposite.) The young girl was very moved by his search and she started to cry out with the actor “mummy, daddy”. It was deeply moving. 

N.B.B.: If you had to spend several months in the United States for some research on a new production, what subject would you like to explore and develop?

La Cordonnerie:  Probably the subject of immigration, the otherness. There too is an issue that speaks to everyone, and perhaps one of the most important issues of our day, and so prominent in this country. However and before anything,  we would let ourselves be surprised by the country and its people. We don’t want to arrive in a country with preconceived ideas.

Interview with La Cordonnerie (Samuel, Timothée and Métilde) by Nicole Birmann Bloom, Program Officer, Performing Arts, Cultural Services of the French Embassy,  February 2017

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