“ANTIPODES”: A Review of Frédéric Tavernini’s Wolf Songs For Lambs at Théatre La Chapelle, April 14, 2015 (Théatre La Chapelle, April 14-18 2015)

©Brianna Lombardo

©Brianna Lombardo

Lewis Carroll‘s devotional  to the world of children (intertwined with his own personal controversies) might act as exemplary of the very two way street that sits along all apparent surfaces; Carroll’s oeuvre and life with “bizarre and esoteric words, grids, codes, and decodings”[1].

As in his type of work, the  glyphs, word/world constellations, and dances across the page and in the story might break the axes of otherwise accepted surfaces. These surfaces might have “certain points of one figure” referring “to the points of another figure”;  that below and beyond the surface of things, there might be another world and realm that corresponds to that above, “an entire galaxy of problems with their corresponding dice throws, stories, and places”[2]

Lewis Caroll

Lewis Caroll

Frédéric Tavernini presents this beyond or below the surface of things in his latest dance theatre piece, Wolf Songs For Lambs. As Tavernini says of his daughter’s influence on the piece, “My daughter made me want to become a child again, and like her to construct a whole imaginary child’s world seen by an adult” (DFDANSE).

Wolf Songs For Lambs breaks the surface of things, like Lewis Carroll’s work, by entering into a child’s imaginary, or by what is referred to as paracosm in psychology — “a detailed imaginary world created inside one’s mind. This fantasy world may involve humans, animals, and things that exist in reality; or it may also contain entities that are entirely imaginary, alien, and otherwordly” (Wiki).

With references to his daughter’s “games and her stories…with his sombre poetry”  (DF DANSE), we enter into what could be considered an antipodes³ of our present world. 

There is:

  1. A unicorn headed man who becomes a kind of hegemonic figure controlling (the music/sound for) the entire piece (as a DJ). He is a puppeteer of sorts.
  2.  An opening monologue of a child repeating her teacher’s talk on utopia
  3.  A talk of entering into a war or warp world, and the introduction of three black cone-headed creature/humans who now and again relieve themselves of their masks, who seem to be folding in on themselves and to not be in complete control of their movements.
  4. A mannequin who seems to be a divinity, who is being venerated, but then is announced to be suffering from a decrepitating illness (lupus).
  5. The young Quebec iconoclastic Emmanuel Schwartz’s incredible solo, imbibing this decrepitating illness. He moves his shoulders in a hunching then contrapuntal movement, a release and then back again, over and over again. Every time Emmanuel Schwartz dances, it is certainly an occasion to behold! There is something extremely intimate about his work no matter the story or context — a balance of holding excrement and at once not quite redemption, but a liminal place his character seems to be holding in his hands but always spilling out. Schwartz’s role as the doomed son of Theseus in Phaedra at Usine C in December 2014, had similar echoes of affect and complete embodiment; especially, in his dance work on the floor. He again did incredible floor movement work here in Wolf Songs for Lambs.
  6. Two of the former black cone-head creatures/humans (the man and woman) who begin an intense very close dance which begins with the utmost tenderness, feeling like the tender rocking of a cradle but then beginning to be stained with hints of control between the “couple”. This was a supremely performed dance between Tavernini and Anne Thériault. They brought quiet care and subtlety to the dance in what seemed to be an eternal but fragile embrace. But the terror below was always there with the horse headed hegemon controlling the music, sound, and environment.
  7. The assumption of fossilized horse skulls by the actors and the overwhelming control of the console by the horse headed hegemon.

In looking at all this, one might be easy to see this as a simple sort of anti authoritarian allegory but we must remember Tavernini’s also presenting (albeit mixed up with his own “sombre poetry” and no doubt ideas) a child’s imaginary. In this sense, in looking at Wolf Songs For Lambs very well presented, organically organized and performed ceremony, we might be better to look at the idea of what is being presented as an antipodes of the very world we are living in — a right below the world we presently occupy. We cannot say in a child’s world that the horse headed hegemon is necessarily a “bad guy” or that the tender, fragile melancholic dance between the couple is a “sad’ dance.

©Brianna Lombardo

©Brianna Lombardo

Instead, as I wrote of Wolf Songs For Lambs to a friend, immediately after the performance, “Imagine a mirror universe that imitates our every movement right below our feet but where we wear different faces and heads”. By mixing his daughter’s vistas with his own, this is the other world that emerges out of Tavernini’s brilliant Wolf Songs For Lambs. In this sense, Wolf Songs For Lambs renders not necessarily just a child’s world nor a dream space but a mirror universe right below our present one — a space of antipodes where we might be able to look and delve into those selves we are living in the right here and right now.

In the age of empire, we need more of these Lynchian detachments from our realities to take a look at what, who, and where we are and have been. Bravo!

James Oscar studied closely under the Martiniquan poet Edouard Glissant. He has published as a poet Perch at Black Night, Pegasus Press 2009, Notes for the White Arboreal, 5X8 Press 2014, The Horns of Moses, Magenta Press 2014 recently performed and presented at MOMAPS1 in October 2014.  His work surrounds poetics, anthropology, and issues of “post” nation. His present projects are in cinema (commercial and independent), theatre and cultural criticism.


[1] Logic of Sense, Gilles Deleuze.

[2] “The animals below become secondary,,giving way to card figures…Events are like crystals.  they become and only grow out of the edges.” Logic of Sense, Gilles Deleuze.

[³] [Ed’s note: antipodes means ‘the parts of the earth diametrically opposite’ or ‘the exact opposite or contrary’ (Merriam-Webster dictionary definition)]