A powerful poetic performance about human constructs
People build houses but social and political structures as well. In Maison Mère the performance artist Phia Ménard takes a close look at human constructs in a powerful, poetic manner. She appears as a punk version of the patron goddess Athena and will build a Greek temple of cardboard herself. Her version of the famous Parthenon is meant to be a safe space for humankind and shows the foundations of Western society. At the same time, it is reminiscent of the flimsy shelters for the homeless and refugees who, also in Greece, come to Europe in great numbers, unprotected against the elements. With her imposing presence and convincing visual language, Ménard sets into motion a highly associative stream of thoughts on everything that can make or break people without explicitly passing moral judgment.
During her visit to Athens in 2017, the performance artist Phia Ménard realised her position as a passer-by was in stark contrast to the harrowing reality of the many refugees arriving there. She had come there at the invitation of documenta 14. The art exhibition took ‘Learning from Athens / Parliament of Bodies’ as this edition’s theme, inspired by the way increased migration brought to light the failure of modern democratic institutions and a lack of hospitality in Europe.
Ménard presents herself as a modern punk version of the goddess Athena - the city’s patron goddess and goddess of wisdom, science and fine art. She reflects on the role of Greek culture as a model for and protector of democracy in Europe. The Parthenon, which she will build herself, is the ultimate symbol of this: a house to shelter people. At the same time, it is this Greek foundation on which Europe’s current reality is shaking. Ménard’s work is a response to the displaced populations suffering as a result. She sees ‘the sadness of bodies in conflict with themselves, caught between their desire for individual freedom and society’s approval’.
Identity, body and matter
Ménard knows like no other that the (individual) body can be both personal and political. She began her career in 1995 as a circus artist and developed into a choreographer and performance artist. Since changing gender in 2008, questions about gender and gender identity are at the forefront of her work. Her own identity as a trans-woman plays an important part in her work as well. Not in the least because of the way she presents herself, with her pronounced choice of dress, composure and way of moving. In her work, she always reflects on the interplay between identity, the body and matter. Her visit to Athens made her more self-aware. She felt she was ‘an individual, a comfortably installed artist, a sort of bourgeois, bohemian French woman’. This experience was the foundation for the three-piece Contes Immoraux, of which Maison Mère is the first part.
‘A woman. Nothing, except for my birth certificate, betrays my bodily migration. (..) I have chosen to take on the stubborn role of the opinionated one to try and make others understand the necessity of seeing the body as malleable matter. I migrate from one status to another, requesting that my sentence be reduced. Learning is less conflictual than unlearning, of this I am sure. During an endless adolescence, I was forced to tailor my behaviour and attitude to conform with my appearance. The woman I kept hidden away in secret eventually turned me into an adult’.
- Phia Ménard
As a twenty-year-old, Phia Ménard (Nantes, 1971) was inspired when she saw the juggler Jérôme Thomas’ solo d’Extraballe (1990). She took courses in juggling, contemporary dance, mime and acting. She joined his company in 1995. Meanwhile, from 1997 on she also took dancing lessons and performed in short pieces from the dancers and choreographers Hervé Diasnas and Valérie Lamielle.
She founded her own company in 1998: Compagnie Non Nova. In her own unique way, she started combining juggling, dance and theatre. After her debut Le Grain (‘The Grain’) she broke through in 2001 with the solo Ascenseur, fantasmagorie pour élever les gens et les fardeaux (‘In 2008 her artistic career took a new direction with the project I.C.E. (Injonglabilité Complémentaire des Eléments), with the aim of examining the imaginative aspect of transformation and erosion through natural matter and the elements. P.P.P. (2008) was the first piece in this cycle, it was also her coming-out work. Questions surrounding gender identity have since played an important part in her work.
From 2016 on, Ménard has been working on Contes Immoraux (‘Immoral Tales’). The complete trilogy is set to premiere in May 2021.
1990-1995 studied dance, mime, acting; studied juggling with Jerome Thomas
1997 dancing lessons Herve Diasnas/Presence Mobility Danse
1995-2003 member of Jerome Thomas’ company
1998 founded own company: Compagnie Non Nova.
1998 Le Grain
2001 Ascenseur, fantasmagorie pour élever les gens et les fardeaux
2008 announced new gender identity and coming-out piece P.P.P.
2008 I.C.E. (Injonglabilité Complémentaire des Eléments)
2015 Belle d’Hier
2015-2018 associate artist at the Théâtre Nouvelle Génération - Centre Dramatique National de Lyon au Centre Chorégraphique National de Caen / Basse-Normandie
2017 Contes Immoraux – Partie 1: Maison Mère
2018 Saison Sèche
Prizes and awards
2014 Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
2019 Award Le Topor/SACD de “La vie dans tous les sens”; Jury’s Prize at the 53e Belgrade International Theatre Festival 2019.
- dramaturgy, direction
- Phia Ménard, Jean-Luc Beaujault
- Phia Ménard
- Phia Ménard
- Ivan Roussel
- sound engineering
- Ivan Roussel, Mateo Provost (alternately)
- stage manager
- Pierre Blanchet, Rodolphe Thibaud and David Leblanc (alternately)
- Fabrice Ilia Leroy
- technical direction
- Olivier Gicquiaud
- co-direction, production, administration
- Claire Massonnet
- production assistant
- Clarisse Mérot
- Adrien Poulard
- executive production
- Compagnie Non Nova
- co production
- documenta 14 - Kassel and Le Carré, Scène nationale et Centre d’Art contemporain of Château-Gontier
- The Compagnie Non Nova - Phia Ménard is subsidised by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication – DRAC des Pays de la Loire, Nantes City Council, the Conseil Régional des Pays de la Loire and the Conseil Départemental de Loire-Atlantique. The company also receives support from the Institut Français and the BNP Paribas Foundation
- The Compagnie Non Nova - Phia Ménard is currently associate artist at Malraux scène nationale Chambery Savoie, and the National Theatre of Brittany - Centre Européen Théâtral et Chorégraphique de Rennes
- This performance was made possible with support by