In 1983, Giorgio Strehler defined his ambitions for the Odéon-Théâtre de L’Europe: the hosting and coproduction of European shows, in order to affirm “the cultural identity of the European people, a multiple, complex and contradictory identity but which is clearly recognizable as the common thread running through our history”.
In today’s world, this “common thread” has become questionable rather than self-evident: you need only to look at how the European Union comes under fire from nationalism on all sides, our fears inflamed by terrorism, the divergent stances taken by European governments in the matter of migration, the debate in society over questions of integration, laicity and the space afforded to communitarian identities, without forgetting the underlying tensions surrounding social security and employment costs... or the differences between one country and the next in the area of public support for culture.
European identity remains, in part, a utopia. But this what we are drastically in need of if we are to face up to our new reality, and change it. This utopia is that of an identity which is not based on nation or religion, and which, on the contrary, can be brought into existence here, in Europe, on the bedrock of our common history - precisely because this story is also that of our national and religious confrontations, and our colonial pasts and inhuman totalitarianisms. European identity can be neither the sum of all our national identities, nor their lowest common denominator. By its very nature, its identity is yet to be constructed. It is the product of renunciations and new accessions, which supposes that we know each other better now, and that we know our own selves better, through the way others see us - a fitting vocation, then, for the Théâtre de l’Europe.
If, however, European theatre, with all its diverse traditions and origins, gives the appearance of an open, coherent whole - as we have been seeing for ourselves at the Odéon from Giorgio Strehler to Luc Bondy, taking in Lluís Pasqual, Georges Lavaudant and Olivier Py en route -, it is proof that here in Europe we share a history, values, and ways of life which are more than worth fighting for in order that this transnational space can live on and continue to guarantee peace and the possibility of dialogue between us. Is it not encouraging to see, from one country to the next, spectators who are not only inquisitive, but also truly receptive towards aesthetic forms of the most varied kind? And also artists, eager to take on board the influences of others, to the extent of sensing that this mixing can bring out their own uniqueness to explosive effect?
Since the foundation of the Théâtre de l’Europe and even prior to it, during the time of the “Théâtre des Nations”, the Odéon has played a determining, and hence militant, role in defending a cultural Europe. A Europe which remains firmly anchored in its inheritance of values stemming predominantly from the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and which continues to consider as its fundaments the freedom of thought and belief - but also a Europe which today finds itself caught up in a present which has forced it to question its place in the world, and to rethink itself, surpass itself, even. More than ever, the Théâtre de l’Europe needs to be open to the rest of the world. Take, for example, certain artists from Latin America, working with limited means but who are driven on by an urgent sense of necessity, and weave a continuous dialogue with the story of European theatre. Or artists from the Middle-East and Africa, trying to come to grips with the shifting reality of their countries on the frontiers of Europe, and whose work should interest us just as it does the work of the major figures of European theatre - “decentering” us in the process.
Artists are particularly sensitive to these movements in history which shake up our certitudes and identities, and it is their role to share - in a sensitive way - their questions, doubts, visions and emotions in response to what is happening in the present. Anyone returning to the theatre in the days after the November 13th terrorist attacks cannot have failed to feel the immense strength that this form of sharing can give, and the fact of having lived through - each in our own different way - these intense moments together. Undoubtedly, it is not the place of theatre to give answers to everything, but it enables us to pool together our experiences and doubts, and experience for ourselves the richness and dynamic force of this emotional diversity. Together they help forge a unified yet diverse society - and that alone can be a source of strength and hope, and happiness to spectators.
The Europe we share is one besieged by the same preoccupations: the planet, growth, fears for the future, nationalist tendencies, xenophobia, inter-communitarian hatred, and terrorism, to name but a few... What will this world that we are trying to prepare for future generations look like? Because they are the ones directly concerned by it, young artists are those who respond to these questions in the most clear-headed way. By the same token, these questions are not specific to any one generation. On the contrary, these issues concern us all, and the need to see the world through the eyes of these youngsters has never been greater.
In all the theatres that I have directed, I have always sought to multiply the different points of view and confront generations. Of course, the Théâtre de l’Europe must continue to present works by European theatre’s major figures. Indeed, this season we will be welcoming the likes of Ivo Van Hove, Krystian Lupa, Georges Lavaudant, Deborah Warner and Thomas Ostermeier. But it also needs to open itself up to a new generation of women and men, some of whom have already gained a reputation as the most interesting directors and writers in theatre today. Thus, Daria Deflorian and Antonio Tagliarini, from Italy, will be presenting for the first time two pieces at the Théâtre de l’Europe. My wish has also been for the Odéon to team up with four artists from this new generation, and audiences will be able to discover their work from one season to the next. From November onwards, we will be inviting you to discover a performance-installation work loosely based on Macbeth by the Brazilian artist Christiane Jatahy, and, in June, a reworking of Medea by Euripides at the hands of the Australian director, Simon Stone. Next season, it will be their turn to create new pieces in French, alongside Caroline Guiela Nguyen and Sylvain Creuzevault, associate artists themselves. Repertory works will also be seeing their fair share of confrontations, in the form of alternative readings of classic works, to see how they measure up to the present, and texts from today’s world which seek to come to terms with the overriding issues of our times or simply try to find echoes with the shifting structures that make up our contemporary psyche. Texts and “devised works”, of course, since they lie at the very heart of theatre practice: Molière’s Don Juan directed by Jean-François Sivadier, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 directed by Julien Gosselin, Christine Angot’s Un amour impossible directed by Célie Pauthe, Songes et Métamorphoses based on William Shakespeare and Ovid directed by Guillaume Vincent, Georg Kaiser’s The Raft of the Medusa directed by Thomas Jolly, and Suddenly Last Summer, Tennessee Williams’s masterpiece which was immortalized by Mankiewicz’s film, but rarely brought to the stage. For this my first incursion into the American repertory, the work I have chosen is dense and concise, a black diamond, and offers us harrowing insight into the savagery of relationships between the powerful and the powerless of this world.
Following on from my predecessors, my aim is also to pursue the Bibliothèques de l’Odéon’s ambitious program, and its partnerships with different medias and publishers, through developing reading programs dedicated to new dramaturgical works from Europe, in addition to the debates which give voice to current issues extending well beyond our frontiers.
Our mission as a public service provider is to provide access to the highest possible levels of artistic accomplishment, and give audiences from increasingly wide sections of the population a thirst for bold and innovative work. For this reason, it is vital that we continue our efforts to promote social, geographic and generational mixity. Naturally, this has much to do with the shows we program, but it is also linked to pricing structures and accessibility. From the month of January onwards, for example, we will be offering two half-price preview performances for long-running shows. We will also be endeavoring to increase the number of young people attending shows at our theatres.
This theatre, destined to be a theatre for all, open to the world, must fight against the image which is sometimes attached to public theatre in France as being inward-looking, and reserved for discerning audiences only. This is partly due to the fact that our stages are highly unrepresentative of the diversity of the French population. My aim is for the Théâtre de l’Europe to play its part in changing this state of affairs, without trying to make art fit into impossible quotas, and to provide a boost in improving the representation of onstage diversity.
With this same spirit in mind, all that has been put into action at the Odéon for the past several years in terms of artistic education and social actions (the Génération(s) Odéon and Adolescence et territoire(s) programmes) must be continued and developed in order for the Odéon to be an inventive player in this drive towards “integration through culture” which, as we well know, is of vital importance today.
It is an immense honour for me today to take over as director of the Odéon Théâtre de l’Odéon, and successor to Luc Bondy, a director of great stature and a great European, and whose presence will be sorely missed. In view of what lies ahead, the mission looks set to be a challenging, grand one: my aim is to ensure that the Théâtre de l’Europe maintains its status at the forefront of theatres in which the voice of debate and reflection upon crucial issues relating to today’s world rings out. A theatre in which major artists, through the keenness of their eye and their powers of imagination, give us the strength and overwhelming desire to see the way forward.
With its historic theatre in the heart of ancient Paris, and its Ateliers Berthier ideally situated in the expanses of Grand Paris, the Théâtre de l’Europe has all it takes to occupy its position at the crossroads between the different generations and modes of thinking - which together make the Europe of today a “crossover”- and to play its part, however small, one step at a time, in the advancement of the European dream.