Our new work, A Letter to My Nephew, made especially for the first two stops in our three city French tour had just finished its second performance.
The first one had been at the Hippodrome in the north city of Douai and this one – at the Maison de la Danse in the Créteil suburb of Paris, a space the company has been regularly visiting for the past 20 years or so – had met with a very warm response from an enthusiastic public. It was, unfortunately, to be the only one for the time being!
We were winding down a spirited toast with family, friends and members of the audience in the lobby of the theater when its Artistic Programmer, Fanny Bertin (our longtime supporter, Didier Fusillier, has recently left Créteil to become President of Paris’s La Villette) inquired nervously from us whether we were going directly to our hotel because there was news of “a riot and shooting in the area of République”. At this moment I experienced a kind of splintering of consciousness. The post-performance delirium, fueled by a glass of champagne, the question of where to go for dinner, quick notes to Janet Wong for the next day’s performance and, now, this ominous warning as we were about to head to the metro.
Having walked through the Créteil shopping mall closing down for the night, all seemed normal, though the space was sad and surreal as such spaces are when not filled with shoppers, we boarded the almost empty train headed to the center of Paris. Our metro car was soon invaded by a large group of graffiti splattered, yellow overall wearing medical students singing bawdy songs and drinking – what I am not sure. We exchanged nervous, tolerant smiles with the one other passenger sitting near us as the students – in what I learned was an ancient ritual of their order – banging on walls, floor and ceiling of the car, just a step away from real violence, shouted scatological, sexual and disruptive songs repeating the refrain “Salope, Salope…” (something between “bitch” and “slut”)! With all their boisterousness, there was something sweet and even tender as these obviously bright young caregivers of the future were letting off a little steam. Little did they know – as we were about to understand – what their party was about to step out into from the train.
When we disembarked at our stop, “Liberté”, debating whether we should jump on our rental scooter to head deeper into the city for dinner at an African restaurant, we recalled what we had heard about this “riot” and, feeling not quite up to another late night such as we had experienced the evening before amidst the café goers, the crowd of the Champs Elysées, the sleek limousines, young folks of every color, we decided to investigate food options in the vicinity. The hotel lobby’s attendant gave us no indication that anything was amiss, but only said that nothing was open at that late hour in the area except a pizzeria next door.
The pizzeria was empty save for its wait staff and a large animated family group at a side table ignoring the ubiquitous TV screens, all showing images of a soccer stadium as if the game had just finished and many fans had rushed on the field, or so I thought! And then reality began to dawn on us that the game – at the Stade de France -which we had passed headed into town from the Charles de Gaule Airport a few days earlier – had been interrupted by a suicide bomb just outside.
A suicide bomb in Paris?
This chilling news was shunted aside by yet another report of “seventeen people killed in Paris’s center by machine gunners running down
the street, shooting randomly into cafes” some of which we had passed by the night before at about the same hour. And then there was the concert hall, Bataclan, just behind the Cirque d’Hiver where I had performed back in the 90’s. Now there was talk of hostages, more dead… The numbers kept rising. By the time we left the restaurant, the handsome, though ashen, faces of news commentators were reporting of 69 dead plus countless wounded.
While we were sitting in the pizzeria, certain hungry members of our cast and crew came in and some of them, suddenly realizing that there was a terrorist attack afoot, abandoned their dinner plans to race away and call family back in the States.
Back in our room, the full horror of it landed as we thought back to the Charlie Hebdo episode not so very long before and even the train bombing in Madrid, the metro bombing in London and, of course, our very own initiation into the new “normal” of war, 9/11…
Not being new media savvy enough to reach for Facebook or Twitter, we performed what even now, two days later, seems like a quaint ritual, going through our mental contact book to send emails and text messages to loved ones and other strategic individuals in the life of New York Live Arts to say “something horrible has happened in France, you’re probably just hearing about it, but we want you to know that though it is a terrible night for Western Europe (wasn’t it in fact the first suicide bomb in a major Western capital?) we are unhurt.”
Sleep was nearly impossible. The window was open as the night was humid and heavy inviting mosquitoes to attack us, adding yet more voices to the liminal post performance note-giving that played in my head: A Letter to My Nephew’s images of mob violence, relentless migrations, preening, vogue-ing, a burning car in Baltimore, a man shot in an Ohio park, the fierce, angular attack of a hip hop dance phrase, my nephew in his hospital bed, the cement wall and endless playing field of Créteil’s stripped stage echoing the TV news images of the stricken audience on the turf of the Stade the France, panicked revelers escaping the Bataclan and someone repeatedly shouting “Qu’est ce qu’il ce passe?” (“What’s happening?”)…
The next morning we woke up, both of us feeling we’d had a nightmare that was not dissipated with dawn, but confirmed by the online NY Times, Huffington Post and, it seemed, every news outlet in the world.
Our European agent, Gillian Newson, answered the question would A Letter to My Nephew have its second performance with the news that all theaters, museums, cinemas, sporting events and other public gatherings were cancelled!
The company, crew, Kim Cullen and Gillian Newson all met in the lobby for updates, logistical planning and just basic comfort. The company would be going on the next day, today, to our next venue the Maison de la Danse in Lyon. Nick Hallett and Matthew Gamble, our music team for A Letter to My Nephew, were departing and we now had serious time on our hand in a city that was once again rattled, saddened and defiant.
Wunderbaum have just finished a raucous and lively season at New York Live Arts and, on Friday, yMusic returns with our commissioned world premiere of Come Around Part III.
Please look for the continuation of my Conversation with Eiko (Part 3) in the next blog entry.