by David Bernadas
Jonathan Drillet is not a dancer but he does dance sometimes. He was born in Brittany in 1981, he lives now in Paris. After different «unfinished but nevertheless fascinating» studies in literature, art history and drama, he collaborated with Raimund Hoghe, Christophe Honoré, Sanja Mitrovic, Alexis Fichet, Hubert Colas, Gerard & Kelly or Julien Prévieux, among others. He is at the moment working on writing, text adaptation and artistic collaboration with Théo Mercier and Steven Michel, Jonathan Capdevielle, but also with Matthieu Barbin and soon with Phia Ménard.
Thanks to such an eclecticism and since he knows, like Friedrich Nietzsche and Marlène Saldana, that «we have art in order not to die of truth», he founded with the latter The United Patriotic Squadrons of Blessed Diana (UPSBD) in 2008. Since then, they have staged together numerous shows including Le Prix Kadhafi (The Gaddafi Prize, 2009-2013), Dormir sommeil profond (Sleep Deep Sleep, Dawn of an Odyssey, 2011), Fuyons sous la spirale de l’escalier profond (Let’s escape under the sunken spiral stairs, 2013-2015), Le Sacre du printemps arabe (The Rite of Arab Spring, 2017).
Le Sacre du printemps arabe (2017),The UPSBD, Centre national de la danse, Pantin. With Angèle Micaux, Matthieu Barbin, Marlene Saldana, Mark Lorimer, Jonathan Drillet. © Maxwell Aurélien James
DB: You are in Paris at the moment, right?
JD: Yes. I have just left Orléans where I was working at the choreographic center with Matthieu Barbin, a young dancer who is making his second solo. I am on the text and dramaturgy side. Mathieu is working on aging, hard work, his mother, but also drag. And the piece is called les Cent mille derniers quarts d’heure (The Last One Hundred Thousand Quarters of an Hour). Tomorrow I will be in Brittany where it will only be about swimming and reading books on the beach. I am from there, I will be with my family.
DB: Are you affected by the pandemic -and the running crisis in the arts and culture sector?
JD: The impact of the Covid-19 virus is that I am rehearsing and researching, but not performing. I hope autumn will be fine: I don’t mind performing for a masked audience at all, if we can perform it is OK with me, we will see how things go. I am lucky to be working for public theater: these past months, most of the cancelled shows have been paid or rescheduled for this coming autumn.
DB: What is your background and how do you define yourself as an artist?
JD: I am a multi-faceted person. I never really finished any of my studies. Today I would say that I am a multitask artist, sometimes I perform, sometimes I write, sometimes I collaborate with other directors or choreographers, sometimes I work on my own stuff with my friend Marlène Saldana.
DB: It sounds like you had good opportunities to grab fundamentals here and there. And it looks like you are still going on a path of eclecticism. How do you usually get involved in a new collaboration?
JD: I think it’s all about friendship: I like to work with friends, that’s what I enjoy the most. It’s not always the case of course, but happily that’s what I do mostly these days. And then sometimes new people appear along the way and I am always curious to discover new worlds, other ways to think and create. I go to theaters, I tend to see eclectic things because I like to work with artists from different fields.
DB: So let’s dive into the UPSBD. There is a long and close-bonded relationship with Marlène Saldana. The first word coming to my mind about your common work is non-indulgent to your audience. With irreverence. What are your subjects and matters at the moment?
JD: It is funny you are using these words, non indulgent, because it is exactly what we are working on right now. We are making a solo piece for Marlène based on Showgirls, the Paul Verhoeven movie. It will be located somewhere in between Beckett’s Absurd Theater and R.Kelly’s three hours telenovela Trapped in the Closet. It will be something like a techno opera, and the music is made by Julia Lanoë, known as Rebekka Warrior. The set design is obviously a volcano and it is designed by Sophie Perez. We are going towards something very staccato, over the top, too much. And it is all about good taste. And destruction.
Fuyons sous la spirale de l’escalier profond (2013-2015), The UPSBD, Ménagerie de verre, Paris. With, from left to right: Jonathan Drillet, Angèle Micaux, Marlène Saldana. © Philippe Lebrum
Le Sacre du printemps arabe (2017),The UPSBD, Centre national de la danse, Pantin. Matthieu Barbin, © Philippe Lebruman
Reflets de France (2016), The UPSBD, Club Silencio, Paris. © Aurélie Haberey
DB: Well, that’s a start. But why, obviously, a volcano?
JD: Sorry, I am talking like everybody saw this movie! Showgirl is about a young dancer arriving in Las Vegas, trying to make her way in the dance scene. She starts by dancing nude in gloomy places but her goal is to replace the star of a famous show called Goddess. There are excerpts of this show in the movie, three or four times, and the set design is a volcanic landscape. The goddess emerges from the volcano. That is why, working on this, making a theatrical performance out of it, we feel close to an unexpected duet: Laurent Terzieff and Haroun Tazieff. [footnote?]
DB: Now I have the picture: Terzieff and Tazieff as a salt and pepper match. Looking forward to it! You mentioned Sophie Perez, for me it’s clear that your work can be related to le Zerep Company. Do you feel connected with Perez and Boussiron? Can you tell me about other artists you recognize as friends or family?
JD: Yes. We are connected through Marlène, as she is working with them for a while now, and because we share the same passion for bad taste and rococo, for contemporary art and popular culture, for outsiders and art brut. But I also love works that are far away from us like Marthaler or Castellucci. And family is also made of the people I am working with for years: It is of course constantly evolving, but at the moment my family is made of Jonathan Capdevielle who is doing theater with masks, music and puppets, Théo Mercier who is a visual artist. I recently worked with Julien Previeux, in a piece where actors try to imitate robots imitating the human being. He usually works with dancers and it was his first time working with people from the theater field. And of course all the performers we are working with with Marlène, Guillaume Olmeta and Fabrice Ollivier (sound and light designers), Sebastien Poirier (makeup and wigs). This list is not exhaustive and the fact that all these people who have a hand on a bit of everything. Humour is also a good common point. I’ve always preferred to work with funny people, even though I know there are some terribly dark and boring people who make beautiful work.
On one hand, I find it difficult to talk about expressivity or about the quality of the body since it is more for those who watch the shows to talk about it. On the other hand, if we are looking for a common axis, a way of working in these rather diverse pieces, if there was indeed a common point between these artists, their work, mine, ours, it would be this: hybridisation, experimentation, being a jack-of-all-trade, writing, acting, directing, collaborating with different people, trying, learning, failing in beauty, etc.
La Fille du collectionneur (2017), Théo Mercier, Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers. © Martin Argyroglo
Ne dremenint ket (2019), The UPSBD, Festival À Domicile. With the inhabitants of Guissény. © Jérôme Pique
Of Balls Books and Hats (2018), Julien Prévieux, T2G Théâtre de Gennevilliers. With, from left to right: Jonathan Drillet, Harold Henning, Anne Steffens, Julia Perazzini. © CNEAI
DB: Do you have projects on your own? Writing, maybe?
JD: That’s a plan. I would love to write SciFi. But to me, as of today, again, writing appears by working with people. I think that my project would be to keep meeting people. Next year I will work for the first time with Phia Ménard, which sounds really exciting. It is always more exciting to create together than alone with your computer.
DB: I remember you in Young People, Old Voices some time ago. The piece was definitely not about blood, sweat and tears (but still…) and probably about transmission. Do you keep something from this collaboration with Raimund Hoghe?
JD: Young People, Old Voices was my first step in the dance side of performance. I was 23, 24 years old or so. I met Raimund while I was working at the tickets office at Théâtre de la Bastille in Paris. He showed up one day and asked me if I wanted to be part of his show. I loved doing this piece. I loved all of its rituals, I thought Raimund was kind of a magician. I remember the end very well, crossing the stage with everybody in a line, after 3 hours of show, listening to Avec le temps the song sung by Léo Ferré. I’ll turn 39 this summer, more on the side of the old voices than the young people now!
Young People, Old Voices (2002), Raimund Hoghe, Centre Pompidou, Paris. With, from left to right: Jonathan Drillet, Charlotte Nightingale, Lorenzo De Brabandere, Kristin Rogghe and Emmanuel Eggermont. © Rosa Frank
The UPSBD will premiere Showgirl in February 2021 at Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers.
With Marlène Saldana. Scenography: Sophie Perez. Music: Julia Lanoë.
The upcoming show, Utsu mono to utaruru mono (Those Who Hit and Those Who Are Hit) is set for April 2022 at les Subsistances in Lyon.
Scenography: Théo Mercier. Music: Laurent Durupt featuring Rebekka Warrior, PenG, Regina Spektor.
Showgirl at Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers
Showgirl (2021), The UPSBD. With: Marlène Saldana. Artwork: Sébastien Poirier, Grégoire Gitton
Current collaboration of Jonathan Drillet:
Big sisters, Théo Mercier and Steven Michel, on tour.
Les cent mille derniers quarts d’heure, Matthieu Barbin, Première at Le Manege, Reims.
Rémi, Jonathan Capdevielle, on tour.
Contes immoraux – Partie 2, Partie 3, Phia Ménard, soon on tour.
Affordable Solutions for Better Living, 2018
Conception and choreography : Théo Mercier and Steven Michel
With: Steven Michel
Text: Jonathan Drillet
Voice-over: Jonathan Drillet, Kathryn Marshall
Scenography: Théo Mercier and Steven Michel
Lighting Designer: Éric Soyer
Sound Composer: Pierre Desprats
Costumes: Dorota Kleszcz
Stage Management: François Boulet
Le Sacre du Printemps Arabe (extraits) / The Rite of Arab Spring (excerpts), 2017
The United Patriotic Squadrons of Blessed Diana & CND
Marlène Saldana & Jonathan Drillet
Centre National de la Danse, Pantin
With Mark Lorimer, Matthieu Barbin, Angèle Micaux, Marlène Saldana, Jonathan Drillet, Eli El Sultan