La Mémoire des arbres

There are interesting things to invent

Josse De Pauw

This season, Josse De Pauw is present active at the Théâtre National. First appearing as an actor in Fabrice Murgia and Dominique Pauwels’ La Mémoire des arbres, he returns as a stage director and actor with Les aveugles, the concluding part of his trilogy on the human condition.

In March you played at the Théâtre National in L’Humanité and now you are back in November with Les Aveugles, two parts of a trilogy on the human condition that you initiated in 2017.

Les Aveugles is the third part of the trilogy. With Les Héros, I challenge our capacity for heroism and what happens when someone is incapable of being a hero. Must s/he be rejected from society? Is heroism a moral obligation?

L’Humanité is based on a very virulent text by writer Arnon Grunberg, who wrote it when he was thirty years old. He draws the conclusion that justice will only be possible once humanity has ended.

Based on the eponymous text by Maurice Maeterlinck, Les Aveugles broaches the helplessness and expectations of a leader. For this show, I wanted to give as much room as possible to music. And worked with a different composer for each part of the trilogy: Dominique Pauwels for Les Héros, Kris Defoort and Claron Mcfadden for L’Humanité, and for Les Aveugles with Jan Kuijken for the voices of the Collegium Vocale Gent. I wanted the singers to sing a cappella from memory. Learning a completely-new music partition without musical accompaniment or conductor on stage is no easy task. The text is sung in full (in English surtitled in French) and, at the end, I stage a monologue by actor/author/friend Tom Jansen, like an epilogue.

The blind in the title refer to the people who are stranded, stuck, refugees, asylum seekers, people in transit or who depend from the help of others. For me, this show is like a trance that completely submerges you if you accept it. We create a sort of hollowness. This is not an action show, it is not a grandiose spectacle either, but rather, a moment suspended in time. Maeterlinck wrote this piece before Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot. These works are similar in terms of hope and expectation.


Music also plays a fundamental role in the work of Fabrice Murgia, with whom you collaborate for La Mémoire des arbres. Is there an artistic affinity?

I loved his way of using live music on stage in his last show: Sylvia. It seems obvious to me that we must not leave musicians in the orchestra pit or hide them in the wings. Playing live, with the concentration that it entails, is part of the work and must be visible. Otherwise, you might as well play a recording. Fabrice and I share this conviction.

Fabrice and Hans Bruneel (LOD muziektheater, the production house that has supported my work for the past ten years) suggested that I take part in La Mémoire des arbres; they spoil me extraordinarily. I’d already played at the Théâtre National within the scope of its partnership with the KVS, where I have long presented my work. Before this proposition, I’d heard a lot about the Murgia brothers, but hadn’t seen much. For me, collaborations are intuitive. Now that we are amidst the creative process, I see how Fabrice works, how he thinks, how he communicates and - very importantly - I’m starting to understand his humour. You sense that he is simultaneously an actor, a creator and an author. The same applies to me.  As an actor, I’m just one of the elements of the show, I don’t carry the responsibility of the final result. It’s rather liberating.


As an artist who has known and influenced the Brussels artistic scene for such a long time, what does this type of collaboration between creators and great institutions of both communities represent?

I always found such collaborations vital. When Hugo De Greef created the Kaaitheaterfestival in Brussels in the seventies, the programmes were printed in four languages: the three national languages and English. It was a statement. There were also many collaborations and contacts with French-speaking equivalents, including the Halles de Schaerbeek and the Théâtre 140. We tried as much as possible to put things in place, but it only really happened through the collaboration between the KVQ and Théâtre National, which was then directed by Jan Goossens and Jean-Louis Colinet. This collaboration continues to this day. Personally, I’m delighted. I'm Belgian. An emotional tie binds both sides of the country, and I want it to subside. Then of course, there’s Brussels, a city that forged me when I was still a young man…

Today, some French-speaking audience members recognise me, since I was awarded with the prix de la critique Bernadette Abraté in Charleroi in 2012. I'm incredibly proud of that award. But there are new audience members to meet all across the country. We just need to find the means to meet them. Shows can’t just be translated. Some can easily be surtitled, while others require a version in a different language. If a show is interpreted by the same actors, it adds an accent, which has an exotic touch. For some plays, it’s a plus, but for others, it’s nothing short than disastrous. There are some French versions of my work that I would prefer to be interpreted by French-speaking actors. Melodies are hugely important for some plays. It’s a path to follow, continue to work together and go forward by asking the question: “How can we show every one’s work under the best light?” There are interesting things to invent there...


The Ghost Road cycle casts an eye on extreme regions and cities, offering a reflection on economic decline, and on the political and ecological issues of society. How does this resonate in your work?

Whereas Fabrice’s trilogy is based on documentary material, mine is founded on literature. Both tint the result completely differently, it's inevitable. Insofar as I know, Fabrice’s work (at least the trilogy) is socially and politically committed and unfolds through an energetic, contemporary language. Comparison is always slightly absurd, but there is a difference in age and that is not negligible. We are children of different eras. 


— Interview by Flore Herman on 28 June 2019


La Mémoire des arbres

Cycle Ghost Road

Fabrice Murgia, Cie Artara - Dominique Pauwels

12 > 22.09.2019


Les Aveugles

Maurice Maeterlinck, Josse De Pauw, Jan Kuijken, Collegium Vocale Gent

13 > 17.11.2019


BOX OFFICE Only online 24/7 & by phone at the Ticket Desk only on performance nights from 17:00.