Written by By Jean Thompson, CNN Staff
In 1983, Swiss-French choreographer, Jean-Pierre Rampal decided to create a piece that focused on a domestic journey in one of Switzerland’s coastal towns. Six years later, “Mon Laferte” won the prestigious Ingres Prize — the French equivalent of the Pulitzer — and provided Rampal with his first substantial funding.
Today, the piece has returned to the site of its premiere, a 1930s construction that, 25 years later, would be torn down as a symbol of Montreux’s shift to a more modern, gentrified tourism.
His work has traveled the world since, both in revivals and performances, and a piece by Rampal has been nominated for two Tonys, two Grammys and the Berlin International Film Festival.
But until now, few have managed to capture the euphoria, chaos and heartbreak that propelled this piece into the hearts of its audiences. The first is impossible to capture, given its dreamlike quality. Only those who’ve experienced the piece will know how it works, what connects it to the past and its contemporary relevance, but its production staged in front of a New York audience for the premiere of the documentary “
will be a great opportunity to admire its grandeur.
The other, involves larger-than-life characters, perfectly-acted, caged and jailed. If those conceit to bring in bigger audiences — even if the dancers are a bit soft-spoken at first — already sounds a bit pretentious, brace yourself, because you are in for the ride of your life.
A truly immersive experience
Until the early 1990s, the most common form of tourism in Montreux was taking a boat trip to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island, which is now just a short jaunt away.
The ferry was expensive, and it was only during the day. To get to the exact spot where you were standing, you had to walk — through the crowd, the cafes, past the shops and back out again, just to get back to where you started.
Montreux’s Old World charm didn’t match with the presentity of its towns and villages, but it still offered the perfect balance between elegance and function, it being only a short walk from the city’s shopping district and the Vaud branch of L’Oreal.
In the middle of this was the old Monte Carlo rail station, the world’s first, designed by Rem Koolhaas, which still stands in the center of town, housing the cinema, the Theatre de Montreux and another theater — whose main room is historically also where the original performance took place.
In the 1990s, the building slowly began to change — turning into a luxury hotel, with rooms running to $250 a night. Since 2014, it has hosted a film theater, a performance space and an art fair, the annual Chantecaille Basel, but there hasn’t been enough traffic to make it a successful idea.
Why is this? Primarily, the old Casa Frontal was problematic — it doesn’t work. The walls don’t lock down, in part due to the old train track, and the pillars are exposed. The old fish grill below it, where the actors ran after they caught their dinner, is replaced by a more box-like space that was revamped and remodeled, in part, as a center for pre-show events. The whole set seems divided into two halves, with the performers clearly separated from the audience.
“You start to realize what a vision they [Rampal] had,” says Gregory Graver, artistic director at SACD Hublitz, the company that will bring in the former performers. “I admire his technique and his execution. I admire his hunger for contradiction and him being shocked by what was happening to him.”
Graver wanted to preserve the space, but he also wanted to bring back the original characters that once dwelled in the cafe below the stage. This has led to many adaptations to the space. In a small room directly above the stage, there are two rooms where different acts took place — one a domestic space for a mother and her son, the other for more sexualized acts between the mother and her lover.
The most experimental part of the space, and one that Graver is proud of, is the space itself. Originally, it was supposed to double as a projection booth to broadcast shows for the concert venue.
Lovers, played out of depth
But when, to Graver’s surprise, the projection booth wasn’t too popular, he found a way to reuse the space in a somewhat unusual way — by digging up one end of the stage, creating a clear, solid box to house giant c