【 Reproduced from the website of the「Performing Arts Network Japan」 】
As 2018 marks the 160th anniversary of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between France and Japan, Japonismes 2018: les âmes en resonance (Souls in Resonance) will take place from July 2018 to February 2019, introducing various aspects of Japanese culture at in events at nearly 100 venues around the city of Paris, France. One of the venues will be La Villette (*1) and in May the digital exhibition Au delà des limites (no boundaries) by the ultra-technologist group teamLab has opened here. In November, there will be performances of Mahabharata – Nalacharitam directed by Satoshi Miyagi. In May of 2015, former president Hollande appointed Didier Fusillier president of the Établissement public du Parc et de la Grande Halle de la Villette (EPPGHV). Born in Nord in the north of France in 1959, Fusillier served as the director of the arts and culture facility Le Manège in the industrial city of Maubeuge near the Belgian border from 2010 to 2015. From 1993 to 2015 he also served as director of the Maison des Arts center in Créteil in the suburbs of Paris. He also served as artistic director for European Capital of Culture Lille 2004, then served as artistic consultant for the ensuing Lille 3000 project. Since assuming the post of president of La Villette, the park has become increasingly active as a center for the arts and culture. In this interview we talk with Fusillier and publicity director Carole Polonsky about La Villette’s programs.
Interviewer: Shintaro Fujii [Waseda University]
―I would like to begin by asking you about Japonismes 2018. At the Grand Hall of La Villette, besides the exhibition of teamLab, you will also have performances of Satoshi Miyagi’s production of Mahabharata – Nalacharitam, and a manga art exhibition titled Manga ↔ Tokyo.
Fusillier (hereafter, DF): The performances and exhibitions that will be held at La Villette are all ones that I have personally chosen with my own eyes. I first met teamLab two years ago, and since their exhibition at the Grand Hall has opened, I am pleased to say that the response has been great, and visitors are pouring in to see it. As for Satoshi Miyagi’s Mahabharata – Nalacharitam, it is simply a wonderful work. As for the manga exhibition, it is something that will appeal to the interests of many people, so we are looking forward to it very much. These are all projects that could only have been undertaken because we have the Japan Foundation as our partner, and for this I am very grateful.
Japonismes 2018 has a very well conceived and carefully arranged program, the quality and astuteness of is composition is much like a very finely designed Japanese garden, I feel. I personally am looking forward very much to the opportunity to see the other works and exhibits.
―Besides the Japonismes project this time, you have regularly invited Japanese artists like Saburo Teshigawara, dumb type and Hiroaki Umeda over the years. What was your first encounter with Japan?
DF: It was in 1991 or ’92 that I went to Japan for the first time, and that was when I went to see the “Tower of Winds” designed by Toyo Ito that stands outside the entrance to Yokohama Station (constructed: 1986). I just had to go and see it with my own eyes. Before that, the producer Maimi Sato had come to see me at Créteil. At the time she was working as a producer for the Kanagawa Arts Foundation and had come to visit our theater. Then I went to Kyoto to meet the members of dumb type. That time, I went straight from Yokohama to Kyoto, so I didn’t have a chance to visit Tokyo. That left a bit of frustration for me, so it inspired me to make another trip to Japan to be sure I could visit Tokyo. (Laughs)
When I go abroad, I only have enough time for the stay of three or four days at the most, so the schedule always becomes a very busy one, so friends often take me to the kinds of places where you can’t go alone without a guide. And that time, the dumb type members took me around to a number of such places in Kyoto, and I also have fond memories of the birthday celebration they gave me.
―La Villette, which is serving as one of the venues for the Japonismes 2018 events, is actually a very large park with numerous arts and cultural institutions and facilities spread around it. Would you tell us about them specifically?
Polonsky (hereafter, CP): La Villette is in the location that used to be a public livestock yard and meat market (established by Napoleon III in 1867, shut down in 1974). What is now the main building used as the Grand Hall used to be a place where livestock was bought and sold. The entire park covers an area of 55 hectares, of which 33 hectares in now devoted to park land and greenery, as one of the largest parks in metropolitan Paris. One thing that makes it unique as a park is that it doesn’t close at night but is open to visitors 24 hours a day.
The plan to develop this area as a park actually began during the term of President Giscard d’Estaing, and it was then included in President Mitterrand’s “Grands projets” (*2), with a competition held to decide its architect, which was won by an architect of dual Swiss and French nationality, Bernard Tschumi, and it was finally opened in 1983. This year marks the 35th anniversary of that opening.
2015, Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris opened in the park with architecture by Jean Nouvel. Next to the Philharmonie is the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris (CNSMDP) college of music and dance. Also located in the park is the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie with its science museum, but although all of these facilities are located in the same park, they are governed separate from ours as incorporated public establishments. Besides these, there are also other facilities that are specially licensed to operate on the park grounds by concession. There is also the Théâtre Paris-Villette.
Our corporate body has jurisdiction over the management of the park and the planning and operation of performances and events at the main facility, the Grand Hall, and the Espace Chapiteau, used for circus events, the Cabaret Sauvage, which is a round indoor space, and all of the performances and events held in the large outdoor spaces of the park. There is also the concert facility Le Zénith known for the rock and pops concerts held there, but this one of the facilities specially licensed to operate by concession that I mentioned earlier, and since the current operator’s license expires next year a new operator will soon be chosen.
―Since Mr. Fusillier became President of La Villette, it seems that the number of programs has increased and become fuller in range.
CP: Yes, the program of stage performances has grown, and the addition of the Little Villette program for children and families has been another big change. Before, there were stage performances, but the number has now grown very significantly, and because of that number of visitors has also grown. The Little Villette program for children has performances and workshops for toddlers and for children on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays (in France many schools have Wednesdays off or reduced hours). There is an admission fee for some of the performances and workshops, but as a rule they are free.
When Bernard Tschumi designed the La Villette Park, he designed small building called folie to be placed at 120-m intervals in one area of the park (the name folie was originally used for the small villas with gardens built by the French nobility in the 17th to 19th centuries, as was the habit of the Italian nobility to have summer villas as retreats away from their palaces, and they used them for their personal enjoyment or for entertaining guests). Some of these folie in La Villette have been converted into cafes, restaurants or ret houses with first-aid facilities, but there are some that had no designated purpose. Mr. Fusillier proposed that these folie that existed in La Villette park be used as small-scale arts and culture facilities, following the model of the “Maisons Folie” (*3) that he had created when he directed European Capital of Culture Lille 2004. And these facilities came to be called “Micro-Folie.”
―Before you took your position as president of La Villette, Mr. Fusillier, you held directorial positions at Le Manège in Maubeuge, at Maison des Arts in Créteil and for European Capital of Culture Lille and its subsequent programs.
DF: All of it was the result of just taking things as they came. Of course it isn’t easy being responsible for two or more directorships at the same time, but the experience proved very useful in enabling me to invite to France productions by artists like dumb type and Reza Abdoh, who were already well known on the underground scene but weren’t receiving much in the way of public support in grants or financing. For example, it made it possible for us to give them residence time in Maubeuge to create works to be performed at Créteil, which enabled us on the French side to sponsor the productions by providing full travel expenses to and from France and living expenses during their time here. Since for a long time there weren’t many artists with whom we could do long-term co-productions, so it was important that my positions with multiple organizations made it possible to use their facilities in such a way for projects. Although now his position is firmly established in the arts world, for 15 years, even for a now-prominent artist like Ivo Van Hove, no one in France other than myself was willing to invite performances of his works, and no one was able to organize tours of his work, even if they had wanted to.
―We hear that you won the position of president at La Villette as the result of your open-call application for it. What made you decide to apply for the position?
DF: Before coming to La Villette, I had never applied for a position as director of a theater. With the Lille 2004 directorship as well, I was nominated and appointed to the position without ever making an application myself, so La Villette was the first time I ever applied for a position of my own initiative. By the way, I had also never been asked to leave a position I had served in. (Laughs)
Créteil had become world renowned as a center for performing arts, and the Lille programs had been going well when I received word that La Villette was seeking applicants for the post of president and it was suggested that I apply. When I proposed and initiated the Maisons Folie as arts and culture facilities at Lille, I had in mind the folie at La Villette, and I had given the name Les Folies de Maubeuge to the festival we held at Maubeuge, so it is safe to say that I always had La Villette in my mind. Also, I had the feeling that I had done what I could at my precious positions, and since I didn’t think it was necessarily a good thing to spend one’s entire life at one place, I decided to apply for the position at La Villette.
When I took my new post as president, I didn’t bring a new staff of people with me. This has how I have always approached a new post. It isn’t easy, but as long as you know you are not going to be able to do everything by yourself, I believe in the importance of working as a team and being able to leave the appropriate responsibilities up to the staff members; I believe you must accept the fact that things are not going to go 100% as you want them to.
For the La Villette season program, I work together with our artistic director, Frédéric Mazelly. He has been at La Villette since long before I came and I have known him for many years. With him, it is easy for me to explain what artists I want to present and why, and when it comes to convincing people that there are times when it is important for us to present things that will surprise the audiences and times when we need to take risks, he will join me in trying to explain that to others; so in these ways we work well together as a team.
Because the staff is made up of individuals with of different ages and lifestyles and different rhythms when it comes to their work habits, it is not easy to get along well with everyone and also there is no need for everyone to think the same way about things. Still, it is important that we create an atmosphere and work environment where everyone can work together, sharing the same ambitions and the same energy, and that we can be aimed in the same direction and take time to enjoy the “fun” of it together.
―La Villette has long been known for its abundant programs of contemporary circus, and I believe it has put a lot of energy into presenting urban culture like hip hop dance. And, since you have become president, there seems to be a dramatic increase in the number and range of contemporary theater and dance programs. In the 2017 season, you presented works by Jan Fabre, Robert Lepage, Bartabas, Peter Sellars, Angelin Preljocaj among others, and just recently in the 2018 season you have presented important artists from Flanders like Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Ivo van Hove, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and other big-name artists such as Sacha Waltz and Dimitris Papaioannou. We also get the impression that you use many “new-techno” artists. May we ask what sort of criteria you use in choosing the artists you present?
DF: From before I came to La Villette, Frédéric Mazelly and others had been introducing not only hip hop but also theater and dance productions. I came in to inherit and carry on programs like the Festival Jazz à la Villette and the Villette Sonique and others that were already established. If I were to say what I did myself, I guess it was to change some things that needed changing and add a bit of explosifs (explosives).
I have never felt that new technology was necessarily essential. I am not just programming artists that I like or works that I like. With artists like Ivo Van Hove, Reza Abdoh and the theater group Les Chiens de Navarre, it was not necessarily the technology that was important to me; it is theater, but I think we can say that it is a type of theater that produces a kind of state of hysteria, or madness. They are kinds of works that shake the audience, make them feel uncomfortable, or even angry. With Van Hove for instance, when I first saw one of his works, I can’t say that I actually “liked” it. That is how full of madness it was. When we presented a performance of Van Hove’s Carmen at Créteil, most of the audience stood up and walked out of the performance while it was in progress. That was even with Carmen! But, I think that is beautiful—to give a performance where many in the audience are puzzled or disturbed by what is going on up on the stage. Although it may not be easy, we just have to get used to that state.
But more than upsetting the audience, or dividing them in opinion, I believe it is important to present something that surprises them. And when you do surprise them, I don’t think there is a need to be able to explain the reason for it, or that it create widespread discourse. When I encounter a work that moves me, I am seldom able to give a logical reason to explain why it did. The person sitting next to me in the audience will certainly not be moved by it in the same way as me, and they may not even like it at all; that’s the way theater is.
When I was young, I was strongly influenced by the Jack Lang works I saw at the Festival mondial du théâtre de Nancy in the 1980s and the festivals held at the Mickery Theater in Amsterdam. At the Nancy Festival I encountered things from Latin America and at Mickery from Scandinavia, and they were works such as I had never seen before with aesthetics that were completely new to me, and these were experiences that moved me to my soul. Those experiences are the roots of my love of theater.
On the other hand, I believe that it is also important to not only take risks but to also schedule works that you know will bring in large audiences consistently. If you present works be artists such as Bartabas/Zingaro, Angelin Preljoçaj and Romeo Castellucci, you can expect to sell out the house with certainty. At the same time, It is even more important to support the work of emerging artists that are not yet well known and get more audiences to see them. We have to consider the fact that these artists who are trying to break into the high-profile arts scene are still in a unique situation that is not yet financially stable.
Unlike movies, theater requires relatively small production costs, it is a sort of hand-made arts genre. In the case of movies, a production that completely fails can be very costly, but not so with theater. It is thus easier to take risks with theater and try experimental work. For the very reason that it is theater, we should not be afraid to take risks.
―After taking the post of president at La Villette you spoke in interviews with the French media of a number of quite ambitious plans, and you spoke of things that could be undertaken nationwide because of being a public body that has responsibility nationwide. Is that mainly referring to the Micro-Folie programs?
DF: Yes. For European Capital of Culture Lille 2004, we set up several Maisons Folie as arts and culture facilities in and around Lille. Based on the model of these Maisons Folie combined with the folie that existed at La Villette, I proposed to the country the creation of somewhat smaller-scale Micro-Folie. These include a variety of different types of relatively small comprehensive arts and culture facilities, such as exhibition facilities equipped for Virtual Reality type exhibits (Note: facilities serving as “virtual museum” where the collection of the Paris National Museums can be viewed), performance facilities (Note: exhibition facilities that can be easily converted for performances or for use as rehearsal studios), workshop facilities (Note: equipped with equipment like 3D printers and digital sewing machines) and café facilities (Note: offering not only beverages and food but also used as venues for concerts, film showings and dance events, etc.), and all the events held at these facilities are open to the public free of charge. Already a number of these Micro-Folie facilities have been established in France and, with the cooperation of Institut français, in foreign countries as well, such as the one that opened in Yangon, Myanmar. The plans are to open more and more of these facilities with a priority on areas that have not been blessed with many opportunities for exposure to the arts and culture. In March of 2018, the French Ministry of Culture announced a policy of establishing 200 Micro-Folie facilities nationwide. La Villette is assuming the leading role in putting this policy into practice. Certainly, establishing 200 facilities is a mind-boggling prospect!
―I feel that your Little Villette project is also a very meaningful one. La Villette is in a rather unique location in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, bordering on the department of Seine-Saint-Denis (Note: Paris is the department with the highest average per-capita income in France, while the neighboring Seine-Saint-Denis has one of the lowest average per-capita income levels in the country, and is a department with a number of social and economic problems to deal with). Do you have any other programs for people in areas like this?
DF: Some 190,000 children visited Little Villette last year. As a rule, all of the events held at Little Villette on the weekends are free of charge, and no reservations are needed either. As you surely know, when small children are attending, you can’t have the kind of programs that several months are spent in planning and preparations.
I believe in the principle of public service. Public service means doing things that serve the public good. In this context, it is natural to set the price of admission at a low level, so we keep the prices low compared to those at other national theaters in Paris. La Villette Park itself has no admission fee and is open all the time, so it is a place that many people visit, and in summer we have outdoor film showings for free as well.
CP: Another program we have for the local communities is one that we run in collaboration with the schools. We have set a special package discount admission rate for performances of just 100 euro for groups of children from the schools (up to 20 children (5 euro/child). Even for seeing works by the most famous artists that are expected to be sold out, we set aside seats for these school groups. Since we open reservations for these school groups much earlier than for our annual membership audience or the general public, they are able to see the most popular shows that would otherwise be sold out quickly. Other programs we offer in collaboration with organizations working with the economically disadvantaged groups so that these people also get opportunities come to the theater.
―Would you tell us about your budget and number of employees at La Villette?
DF: We have a working staff of 210 people. This number includes the people working for the maintenance and management of the park grounds and facilities, so considering this scale, I don’t think our budget is very large. Our annual budget is 42 million euro, and of this 20 million euro in funding from the Ministry of Culture annually.
―Since you are now offering a wider range of programs and more events, your outlay on expenses must certainly be larger, and at the same time there has been the tightening of public spending in the wake of the financial crisis, it must make hopes of increased funding all but impossible, I would think. And since you keep admission fees at our relatively low levels, how do you keep a balanced budget?
DF: It is true that our budget hasn’t grown much compared to before, but La Villette isn’t the only one feeling the funding pinch. It is the same at all the arts and culture facilities. Fortunately our Grand Hall has a large seating capacity, so it is possible to raise our income by increasing our audience draw rate. And it is also important for us to find outside partners like the Japan Foundation has been this time.
CP: It is the same with corporate patronage, so we can’t ignore the income we get from leasing out our Grand Hall for things like trade shows.
―I want to thank you for taking time to talk with us today. On a personal note, when I studied here in France for the first time in 1995, I saw the dumb type performance of S/N at Maison des Arts in Créteil, and in ’96 I saw Robert Lepage’s Les Sept Branches de la rivière Ota. I went to both several times, and I also went to Lille 2004 and Lille 3000 events. I am grateful to you for creating such opportunities.
*1 La Villette
The remains of the national wholesale meat market were reconstructed as a multi-purpose park. Among the main facilities is the Grande Halle (Grand Hall) which is used for exhibitions and events, the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie (City of Science and Industry) with a science museum and a dome theater, the Cité de la Musique (City of Music), which contains the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris (CNSMDP), a museum of historical musical instruments and the newly constructed concert hall Philharmonie de Paris.
*2 Grands projets
The name refers to a series of large-scale urban renewal and new facility projects planned and initiated in Paris under the auspices of President Mitterrand in the 1980s. They include the glass pyramid (designed by Ieoh Ming Pei) for the courtyard of the Louvre Museum, the French National Library (designed by Dominique Perrault), L’Opéra de la Bastille (designed by Carlos Ott), the Grande Arche (designed by Johann Otto von Spreckelsen), the Institut du monde arabe (designed by Jean Nouvel) and La Villette.
*3 Maisons Folie
These multipurpose cultural facilities created for “Lille 2004” provided venues for exhibitions, performances and workshops as well as cafes and venues enjoyable events like live concerts and programs for children available to a wide cross-section of the populace at little or no admission fee (free or at 5 to 15 euro). At two locations in Lille (Wazemmes, Moulins) and in the suburbs and across the border in Belgium at Courtrai, Maubeuge and Mons, totaling more than ten Maisons Folie venues of various sizes.