Woman in black dress and heels falling and getting up again

Gisèle Vienne - le suspens

Léa Poiré

Adolescent puppets, bodies moving slowly or choppily, blurred faces, feverish voices, grating sounds, squeaks... Gisèle Vienne, le suspens, a video portrait produced in 2019, offers a contemplative foray into the French choreographer’s protean work as she unveils her latest creation this fall. 

Echoing the works filmed here, Vienne sheds light on the process of making EXTRA LIFE, whose world premiere is set for November at La Filature in Mulhouse, France. EXTRA LIFE delves into what goes unsaid in situations involving family incest as well as life after trauma – a variation on a premise that has been central to Vienne’s work for more than 20 years: the forms of violence that underpin our societies constitute a language, a culture that we all share, which sometimes requires us to hear what lies within silences and unravel cryptic words. 

“Violence Is a Structural Language and a Culture” 

Incest and its denial structure our society. We need to be able to think about incest in order to understand our societies. The core of my work focuses on the systems of signs that are our perceptual frameworks and the way they structure us. Incest, rape and all acts of violence are gestures that speak a language, they are statements. They are not isolated facts, but acts that form part of a language that gives us culture and structure. We are taught not to read the body. My choreographic work recognizes that the body speaks – the semiotics of the body are at the heart of our work. 

I've been working with Katia Petrowick, Theo Livesey and Adèle Haenel for several years. These three dancers and actors are also my co-authors for EXTRA LIFE, in which we grapple with the possibility of a post-traumatic life. A traumatic experience that is understood, verbalized and analyzed, along with the societal and political system that goes with it, enables us to consider the possibility of rebuilding. Through re-sensitizing and proactive processing, action and a sense of life become possible. It is the process of thinking that allows this to take shape, in all its different forms. EXTRA LIFE relates the experience of a moment. We explore the various permeable, protean strata that make up the density of that experience. Our exploration of the process of perceiving and thinking inform the very shape of the piece. 

It’s about envisioning a possible life, after feeling like you were dead. 

When the brother in EXTRA LIFE, Felix, talks to his sister about his relationship with video games, he says: “Klara, you know how much I love video games. Do you know why? Because when I play, the rules are understandable. The world is structured in a stable way. I can act*.” 

When the brother says this to his sister, he's referring to the suffering generated by a perceptual encoding that is disorienting, that impedes the senses. As Sandra Lucbert wrote about the raped children in EXTRA LIFE: “This body grows, but with this inner collapse that they – a family they – have placed inside. A hieroglyphic experience has shaped it, and it will only be deciphered much later – releasing its terrible power of pulverization. Hieroglyphic: our early experiences are suspended to the ways in which adults describe them, as representatives of the social body. And the statements that claim to characterize incest are in fact an obstacle to meaning. They designate nothing except the blurring of what they pretend to identify**.” 

EXTRA LIFE takes place at the end of a night, as Klara and Felix come home from a party where they met people with whom they could talk and create meaning. Klara, the sister, says in the middle of the show: “There was a girl at the party, Felix, she was so beautiful, she looked at me and I felt like I'd been resurrected, it was crazy, and so I told her all about our life, and how I found it hard to live and all... And then she answered: In fact, loving someone is something you learn. It's about becoming more sensitive, more intelligent versions of ourselves, and that's possible. Isn't that beautiful? 
I think it's so beautiful. 
That was such a great party.... 
You see, at one point, everyone started talking, and they all had stories like ours, you know? That they'd never told before. I swear, it... 
... It was crazy. 
It was so clear what we said to each other, ... and it's so encouraging to understand*.

In EXTRA LIFE, we look for places where we can find stability, joy and meaning that give us the possibility of thinking and acting in the face of violent experiences. This is possible within specific enclaves in the social body, as Sandra Lucbert refers to them in the same text: “However, there are always enclaves in the social body, sub-spaces that do not ratify the collectively stabilized delimitations of meaning. Zones where collectives have formed and have drawn different lines for creating meaning. These are the other 'others': the good encounters. With and from which we can break down invisible partitions and bring movement back**.” 

EXTRA LIFE is about the way we can confront violence with other 'others'. 

*EXTRA LIFE, text by Adèle Haenel, Theo Livesey, Katia Petrowick and Gisèle Vienne. 

**EXTRA LIFE by Gisèle Vienne, text written about the play by Sandra Lucbert, February 12, 2023. 

This interview with Gisèle Vienne was conducted by Léa Poiré and lightly edited for clarity. 

Léa Poiré is an independent journalist based in Paris and Lyon. After studying choreography and being in charge of the dance pages and co-editor in chief of Mouvement magazine, she now works as a culture journalist and media editor, and she collaborates regularly with choreographer Mette Edvardsen as a researcher. She and Laura Cappelle are editing the fourth issue of CN D Magazine. 


Gisèle Vienne, le suspens, 2019, 30 minutes 

Last Spring: A Prequel, 2012, directed by Stéphane Nota 

Jerk, 2008, directed by Antoine Parouty 

The Ventriloquists Convention, 2015, directed by Patric Chiha 

I apologize, 2004, directed by Patric Chiha 

Showroomdummies 2#, 2001, directed by Stéphane Nota 

This is how you will disappear, 2010, directed by Stéphane Nota 

Eternelle Idole, 2009, directed by Stéphane Nota 

Kindertotenlieder, 2007, directed by Patric Chiha 

The Pyre, 2013, directed by Stéphane Nota 

Crowd, 2017, directed by Caroline Detournay and Paulina Pisarek 


With the permission of: Gisèle Vienne, Alma Office