The Big Top

A website for UT2J students in Project Management for the Performing Arts

Female Punk Musicians in the USA: The Anti-Star Figure and Feminist Statements

Emma Janssens, Lilas Brangeon and Delphine Guerin

The expression “Punk” is linked to the music that appeared in the 70s in the United Kingdom. This word has a strongly sexual connotation in this language. Then it has evolved to mean “worthless”, “good for nothing”, and is claimed with irony by punks as they reject “established values”.

The Punk ideology brings together the currents of thought that emerged with the punk movement and its variants over time. Punk ideology is based on existentialist, anarchist, individualist, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian and even nihilist concepts. They strongly claim personal and social freedom in order to challenge the law and authorities. They are often anti-racist and anti-Nazi, openly fighting racism through artistic or musical expression.

The “punk philosophy” is characterized by a spirit of subversion, do-it-yourself, code-breaking, derision, the establishment of “alternative” structures, anti-capitalism and maximum individual freedom.

The movement of punks became huge in the United Kingdom and quickly spread all over the world. It has spanned the decades since the 70s, and reflects the various evolutions of ideological movements. It has evolved alongside political movements for equal rights for women, and some branches of punk carry this fight forward. Also, thanks to technological progress, it has become easier to obtain equipment for practicing punk music.

As Punk bands became famous sometimes, they had to play with their public image in a world where prestige is built up around a personality called a star.

Punkstars were known to be always rejecting this, and built the idea of being antistars. They preferred to be close to their public and to escape the mainstream world.

Women in punk bands have to face the consequence of stardom even more than men, because of the beauty standard that they had to embody once they became famous, and the fact they played music that was linked to masculine codes.

In the States, punks immediately knew how to play with gender codes, promoting a very androgynous appearance to avoid being a star in the system.

But this area of the world also experienced a lot of evolution throughout the end of the 20th century, which led us to wonder: how did women invest in the American punk movement and embodied the anti-star figure?

The Birth of the American Punk Movement and the Women who First Experienced it

Where could you first find punks in the US?

As punk culture was spreading in the UK, where most of us think it was created (with bands such as The Clash or The Sex Pistols), punk was actually spreading through the USA too. There is one place where this movement and its aesthetics seem to be born in: The Factory.

Placed in New York City and created in 1963, Andy Warhol’s studio hosted many parties where some behaviors started to shape what punk was going to be about. A lot of drugs were taken at this place, since it happened after the hippie movement which really contributed to normalizing the use of psychotics. The Factory’s regulars were very famous or soon-to-be famous people from the 60s’ American art culture, such as Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, David Bowie, Liza Minnelli, Keith Harring… Plasticians, poets, and a lot of musicians frequented this place.

There you could discover what the sexual liberation was about, what a drag show was, and perform your homosexuality as much as you liked. It was a very provocative way-of-life, which, as you can guess, led to the proliferation of punk in other places, some of them more underground, such as Max’s, a bar in NYC.

In fact the Factory was mostly a place for rich, famous people who liked to talk about themselves and their art while doing drugs, people with a high esteem of themselves. The lack of authenticity makes us forget about the Factory being a punk place, since punk truly became after a couple of years more of a cheap, nihilist and popular movement.

Male Hegemony in Rock Music

Punk first occurred after the popularity of rock music, and the first to be called punk would now be called “punk-rock” artists. Since we are questioning the female punk star and anti-star, we should first wonder why there were so few women famous in music and in rock music especially.

First of all, it was mostly because of financial issues. To create a band you have to buy instruments, a car, rent a place to rehearse in, technical material… It is not new that women are underpaid compared to men, and tend to have jobs with less responsibility and therefore, less money in the bank account meant to be spent on some hobby that won’t ever make you earn anything, such as music.

Actually, lots of women didn’t have enough independence to start doing music and having a band: fewer women had their driver license, parents wouldn’t let them go out as easily as they’d do for their brother. Not everyone could access music classes either, especially if your parents were too poor or if you were too busy with domestic chores.

Rock was a lot about owning the public space, making yourself heard which is why it was easier for men, in a patriarchal society, to monopolize all of the stages and radios. As rock was always about (not only, but still) sexuality – see Elvis sensually moving his hips while performing – rock was always about men, since a woman’s sexual life is much more taboo than a man’s. When punk started to get popular, women saw the opportunity to do music even though they couldn’t buy expensive instruments, even though they didn’t know anything about music theory, because that was what punk was all about. When men started to be more and more numerous to do punk music they didn’t get the chance to monopolize the genre this time: many women were already into punk music and recognized for it.

What is a Female Punk Star in the Early-Punk Era?

As we said before, artists considered as punk at the time wouldn’t actually be called punk today, as the genre evolved. It’s the case with the two women we are going to mention now: Patti Smith, and Deborah Harry, from the band Blondie.

When she released her album Horses, recorded in 1975, Patti Smith was a young artist but she was already popular. Her music was bold, electric, new, and furthermore, her album cover was pretty audacious too. She looks confident, has an androgynous style, and looks at us right in the eyes. She experiments musically with new sonorities, it’s grunger and dirtier than what rock used to be. This album and its cover were very innovative and that’s why people talked about it. It made female artists feel more confident with being experimental with music, being less feminine on pictures (and in life) and being more provocative… Although it sounds feminist and progressive, we must remember that Patti Smith wasn’t actually an activist for women’s rights and independence, and actually turned out to be quite aggressively conservative against some of the other women on her way to success.

Debbie (Deborah) Harry, the singer of The Stilettoes when she worked at Max’s, later became the singer of the famous band Blondie. Blondie definitely wouldn’t be called punk nowadays either, because their main inspirations were glam-rock and girls pop bands. She contributed to the empowerment of women too because she was considered punk but she has a sweet and pitchy voice, she dresses a feminine way and really fits the beauty standards as a long-haired, thin blonde. She showed the path for the female artists who wanted to play with their femininity.

Female Punk: An Aesthetic Movement through the DIY Ideology

The DIY ideology is very much alive and kicking in the punk movement. Inspired no doubt by the momentum of the feminist movement in the early 1970s, radical lesbians, unhappy with male dominance in mainstream popular music networks, set about creating an independent, all-female network, a perspective that had all the hallmarks of Do It Yourself. The DIY ideology thus became a hallmark of female punk. Indeed, it’s clear that even before the advent of punk, the concept of DIY had already been adopted in feminist circles.

From 1970 onwards, women lacking a voice in the punk industry decided to create fanzines as a means of asserting themselves in the industry and expressing themselves freely. It was also a way of responding to the sexist slogans that could be found in some fanzines, concerning the place of women in the movement.

The fanzine is a privileged means of expression for marginal cultures. They played a key role in the punk movement, and could be found everywhere: in concert halls, record shops and dedicated bookshops. It is the perfect embodiment of Do It Yourself, embracing both DIY and knowledge-sharing. The fanzine is in some ways, a way of promoting punk culture.

A fanzine, sometimes called a zine, is a contraction of the English expression “fanatic magazine”. It’s a periodical or non-periodical publication, printed or online, institutionally

independent. These publications are designed and produced by passionate amateurs for other enthusiasts. Fanzines are generally distributed free of charge or for a token fee. The term was coined in October 1940 by Russ Chauvenet in a science fiction fanzine, and became popular within the science fiction enthusiast community. It was later adopted by other communities, and the fanzine gained popularity within the underground culture of the punk movement in the 1970s.

Around that time, several small labels also emerged, all run by lesbians. These included Olivia Records, the most famous, but also Women’s Wax Works, Redwood Records, Galaxia and Pleiades. Their aim was to promote music produced entirely by women, from composition and performance to recording and sound processing. The separatist approach became the only conceivable way to achieve a form of autonomy and liberation.

It was also around that time that the first all-female or mostly-female festivals were organized in the USA, such as the National Women’s Music Festival and the Michigan Womyn’s Festival. In addition to concerts and performances by female and/or feminist artists, there were film screenings, discussions, workshops and more.

The Riot Grrrl Movement

The young women behind the Riot grrrl initiative felt that the punk music scene was too masculine and macho, and wanted to develop their own culture, combining feminism, DIY ideology, anti-capitalism and punk. How have women used DIY ideology to make their own personal revolution?

The Riot grrrl movement took root in Olympia, when two newly-formed bands, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, began collaborating. The two groups discovered their affinity and created a fanzine called Riot Grrrls, which eventually gave its name to the movement. The name was originally coined by Jen Smith. It refers to the race riots that took place following police brutality in Washington in 1991, more commonly known as the Mount Pleasant Riots. This is how Jen Smith came up with the idea of creating a “girl riot”, reminiscent of these riots.

Through the fanzine Riot Grrrls, they gradually built up a network. In the third issue, the female contributors decided to advertise “an all-girl meeting to discuss the status of punk rock and revolution [and] ways to encourage higher female scene input and ways to help each other play instruments and get stuff done”. The meeting, which was to become a weekly event, was to occupy an important place in the Riot grrrls networks. It was very important for them to create non-mixed spaces. For some of them, it was the first time they met as women only. In April 1991, they created a manifesto:

Riot Grrrl Manifesto

In Olympia, a festival had a strong impact on the development of Riot grrrl culture. It was designed to promote independent artists in a very Do-It-Yourself spirit. The opening night, entitled Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now or Girl Night, was devoted entirely to female bands. Although there were performances by experienced female musicians, the idea was to encourage other young women to come and express themselves on stage. That evening initiated an aspect that Riot grrrls musicians would later cultivate in their concerts, a mixture of traditions and performance conventions. Riot grrrl concerts are actually moments of intense interaction between artists and audience, but also moments of debate.

The Riot grrrls movement, emerging as a radical feminist punk force, was originally consolidated around a few bands and literary production in the form of fanzines. This combination offered a section of the female population a space to express their feminist and punk interests, while serving as a vital outlet for various frustrations. Many of them insisted, on the one hand, on the feeling of having been ousted from punk spheres during the previous decade and, on the other hand, on no longer really recognizing themselves or finding their place in the contemporary productions and scene of the late 1980s.

Allison Wolfe, founder of punk rock band Bratmobile and leading voice of the riot grrl movement.

Hardcore Punk Culture and its Unisex Attitude.

During the 1980s, hardcore punk dominated in North America. In California, kids of the suburb felt connected to the aggressive rhythms that highlighted political statements in the lyrics. During concerts, fans would shout lyrics, and participate in mosh pits sometimes so virulent that it was pure violence.

What made hardcore punk also popular is its combination of other genres of music, like hip hop, heavy metal, and funk. All these genres linked the music with all the urban arts that were particularly made by men, such as skating or breakdancing.

Despite their political statements against the capitalistic system and racism, not much was said against sexism and in favor of equal rights between genders. The androgynous attitude that defined punks of the 1970s’ east coast is no longer popular, and hardcore punk is mostly unisex and masculine.

That’s a clue that makes us understand why there are not many women bands in riot punk in the 1980s.

The End of the 1980s and the Redefinition of Punk

We observe a comeback of women in bands in the end of the eighties with other genres of music such as grunge or alternative rock.

As hardcore punk increasingly became a cliche of itself, ingraining the stigma of a punk aesthetics, the punk mindset continued to spread in different variations of music. The will to provoke canons of beauty and consumerist lifestyle is also something that we can find in the grunge and alternative rock genres of the nineties. Their melodies and guitar solos made these genres popular. We then find some really famous bands with female icons like Kim Deal (the bassist of the Pixies) and Courtney Love (the singer of Hole).

The popularity of grunge made some of the artists iconic, which contradicts the values of punk culture but also defines new ways of exposing political statements.

The nineties is the decade of the press, paparazzi and obsession over celebrities. The fact that grunge celebrities would express political opinions influenced generations of teens who weren’t destined to feel connected to this mindset.

Courtney Love was the first woman in a mainstream grunge band who was promoting feminist statements in her lyrics and public image. She was mocking the beauty canon. She was famous for a glamor look, blond hair, juicy lips and she was proudly making fun of it, without being afraid of looking crazy, or ugly. She influenced the new generation of women by giving interviews and sharing ideas that women were meant to play music.

She played so much with codes of femininity that she got labeled as hysteric in her late famous era, which is interesting as this seems to be the burden of feminist icons.

In the nineties, another ideology of feminism was observed within punk groups. The L7 and the Lunachick were female punk bands that were famous and promoted some feminist attitudes.

However, their discourse is less radical than Courtney Love’s because they shared the idea that they believed in being musicians first and were more focused on talking about their creative process than feminist ideas. They preferred to make concerts for feminist organizations, which is where they differ from Courtney Love and her fractious feminism.

To conclude this journey through American punk music, let’s remember why punk women embodied so perfectly the antistar figure.

As we’ve seen, women were put aside when it came to surfing the popularity of rock music: they lacked independence, financial resources and self-confidence. When the punk movement occurred, first in the high classes at the Factory, then in more underground places, icons such as Debbie Harry and Patti Smith were already there to show the way to the newbies. Women understood punk was made for them: it is about rebellion, refusing to submit, advocating a free life, everything that can be felt when you are a woman in a patriarchy.

Some of them found a way to express themselves and protested against sexism via fanzines: auto-edited, auto-published, it was (and it still is) a way to express yourself easily and offer some DIY tips, educational content or feminist texts. When the Riot Grrrl movement was created, punk stars started to be perceived as activists, and politics and feminism really got mixed up with music and performances.

When hardcore punk got popular, we observed a resurgence of male monopoly over this music genre. Despite the diversity of the political statements made by these bands, few were about feminism and gender equality. Women were more present in genres such as grunge and alternative rock, and some of them, like Courtney Love, used their popularity to promote a feminist message. As they became mainstream, these star figures didn’t match the underground/hidden punk musician aesthetics anymore but surely spread punk ideology massively.

Eventually let’s remember punk is a very large movement, that contains many genres, and all of its artists weren’t living it the same way: some claimed to be apolitical, unlike most of the artists we’ve been citing in this article, and the mainstream/underground separation appears to be very thin.


Larson Jen, Hit Girls: Women of Punk in the USA 1975-1983.

Video, Zines and the punk side of publishing, Flyover culture

Video, Riot Grrrl : The 90s movement that redefined punk, Polyphonic

Gai, Frédéric. « Tentatives (désespérées) pour définir le fanzine », La Revue des revues, vol. 62, no. 2, 2019, pp. 92-109.

The Symbolism of Dance in Collective Sports

By Mila Noyer, Charlotte Bourguignon et Anna Bouillot

Have you ever noticed that some football players make a dance to celebrate their goal? Have you ever noticed the silence during Haka before starting a game of rugby? These dances are not insignificant. They have a specific meaning and an important place in sport, both for the country and for the international image.

In this article, we decided to understand the symbolism and the representation of dance in sport, particularly in football, rugby and during the Olympic Games. We decided to focus our topic on this question: to what extent does dance in collective sports represent cultural and political issues at an international level?

First of all we will talk about the cultural and political symbols and second we will study dance as a celebration.

The cultural and political symbol

The Cultural and Historical dimension of Haka

Haka is a dance executed by the All Blacks rugby players of the New Zealand team. It has always amazed us and aroused our curiosity before rugby matches. This dance is really known all over the world, almost more than the rugby rules themselves. At first, this impressive dance seems to show the strength and the power of the All Blacks and probably to disturb the opponent players. Except for the three islands Fiji, Samoa and Tonga located next to New Zealand, the All Blacks are the only ones to dance before beginning a game. It’s thus specific to their country.

What does this specific dance represent?

Actually, Haka expresses the strength and the courage of the players, but it also has a spiritual dimension. Indeed, the players call upon the God of war to help them win the battle. In reality, this dance constitutes an important part of the history and traditions of the indigenous people of New Zealand: the Māori. It’s really common to do this dance during important events like weddings, funerals or welcoming ceremonies to uphold Māori traditions and to symbolize the unity of their people.

Originally, Haka is a war dance used during colonial wars against the British Empire in the 19th century. It was inspired by the story of a Maori leader, Te Rauparaha, who had been captured by his enemies but who managed to escape. As he was prosecuted, he repeated “Ka mate, Ka mate” and after escaping “Ka ora, Ka ora” which means “I may die, I may die” and “I see the sun, I’m alive”. He created the dance introduced into rugby in 1905. Today, it is connected to national identity and cultural pride.

Two Hakas are used in rugby: the “Ka mate” which is the most famous in the world and the “Kapa o Pango”, the most aggressive form of Haka which was written for and about the All Blacks by Derek Lardelli in 2005. This artist promotes the Māori culture. He maintains a strong commitment to the culture, language, and customs of his ancestors, always keeping connections with his land. We can highlight the artistic dimension because Derek Lardelli created a choreography for an audience. However, “Kapa o Pango” has been criticized because of the aggressive and violent gesture, specifically in the end, when the players mimic a throat slitting gesture. In consequence, it has been forbidden and today All Blacks only do the “Ka Mate”. It’s still interesting to listen to the Māori signification of this gesture. In a Youtube video, All Blacks players explain another meaning, that is more introspective and therapeutic:

“It means the breath of life. The section here, bringing it across the body is energizing the vital organs ­– the heart, the lungs, all those things that need to be functioning well for a game. So that means getting their energy back into the system before they start their game.”

Beyond the spiritual and the social aspect, the Haka is a real show: the players have a large audience composed of the opposing team, the spectators in the stadium and the television spectators. Everybody is excited about the magic moment which gives them the chills, they pay particular attention and respect during that quiet time.

Thus, the Haka born in the context of the Māori history and culture reflects a national identity for the All Blacks and has become a real show for the rest of the world.

The Political Dimension: the Example of the Olympic Games 

Organizing the Olympic Games is an opportunity for the countries to show their power to other nations. The opening ceremony of the Olympics plays an important role in “soft power.” Soft power is the ability for a country to influence others with their opinions, culture, etc. It’s a way of attracting and convincing without the use of force.

Thereby, the opening ceremony of the Olympics is crucial. For the hosting country, the international visibility offered by this moment allows the sharing of its culture, history, and values. Openings are often astonishing and spectacular because it’s the first thing seen by other countries.

So, the opening scene of the Olympic Games sheds light on a particular culture, especially on art and dance.

To achieve this, many countries have asked for the help of famous artists, in particular dance choreographers. The first choreographer to create an opening ceremony was Philippe Decouflé in 1992 in Albertville. Decouflé is a contemporary dancer and choreographer. He revolutionized the history of Olympic openings by creating a monumental show, with circus, theater and, most importantly, dance. Decouflé wanted to place art and dance at the center of the ceremony.

According to the scenographer of Albertville games, Jean Rabasse, dance and sport are connected: “We wanted to say: Look, gestures in sports have a meaning and they’re very close to dance”.[1] For example, one of the acts in the opening presented hundreds of skiers deconstructing the skiing motion in order to create a dance choreography. 

After Decouflé, other countries were inspired by Albertville for their openings: Dimitri Papaioannou in Athens, Akram Khan in London, and even “Swan Lake” in Sochi. The idea now is to create a total artistic performance to show the culture and open-mindedness of the country to other nations.

Olympic Games 2014, Sotchi  (

For these choreographers, dance and sports are interconnected. Akram Khan said, “In both, we desire to test the limits of what we are capable of. In sports, human endurance; in art, human imagination.”[2]

Dance as a celebration

The importance of celebration in football

To show the importance of dances in celebrations, we are going to take the example of football. Winning a game in sports is more than an individual victory. It is a collective achievement. For instance, scoring during the World Cup is more than just one player scoring – it is a country, a nation, a generation.  Footballers have the power to draw attention to their country in front of thousands of viewers. It is a perfect moment to make an impression on others. It can create an identity, a kind of brand signature.
           With the development of media and especially social media, some critics argue that dance-based goal celebration started during the 2010 World Cup with the South African team as they scored the opening goal while hosting the World Cup. That does not mean it was the very first time it happened, as there had been rhythmical celebrations prior to this one, such as Roger Milla’s celebration in the 1990 World Cup or even Papa Bouba Diop’s celebration in 2002. Still, Siphiwe Tshabalala’s goal for South Africa and the team’s synchronized dance remains an important event of football history.

Three football players dancing after winning the game

Nowadays, a lot of football players celebrate by dancing. For instance, Raphinha, a Brazilian player, made the following statement to a journalist during the last World Cup : “To tell you the truth, we’ve already come up with ten dances. They aren’t specific to one player. The first dance is for the first goal, the second dance for the second goal, there’s also for the third… we have dances up to the tenth goal. After ten? We will have to innovate and come up with something else. When the time comes, we will think of something”. In this quote we can see the dimension of these celebrations: they are something players reflect on and prepare for, especially when it comes to Brazilian players, as dancing and celebrating is a part of their culture.

Even though it is very popular, these celebrations are not consensual. Some people enjoy them, learn them and reproduce them. Others criticize them as they struggle to see the legitimacy of elaborating dances to celebrate. Some go as far as considering it humiliating. Roy Keane for instance, an extremely famous ex-footballer, criticized Brazilians for their comment on coming up with many dances when the team was eliminated from the World Cup. Some players have been heavily criticized for celebrating in this way and still most of them, if not all of them, keep doing it.

We can see that dance-based celebrations take a different dimension when they happen during an international competition. Still, there are a lot of players who celebrate when they play for their team in another country: Griezmann, Neymar, Pogba, Vinicius, Lingard, Paqueta… they have all done it. Whether it is in Spain, France or England, they convey their happiness after scoring through their dances and more often than not, their teams follow.

We can see that the celebration takes a different dimension according to the level of the competition. The celebrations of the World Cup have more importance than those of a small championship like the French Cup for example.

Dance-Based Celebrations and Marketing

Celebrations bring a lot of visibility to football players. And with social media, this phenomenon is amplified. Videos are massively being shared, so player celebrations become more and more famous. The advertisement industry has been quick to understand that footballers can symbolize victory and strength – like the ad for Puma starring Antoine Griezmann to put to the fore their new deodorant.

With this ad we can understand that ads use footballers for the brand’s image. Celebrations are very important because they define footballers and help them distinguish themselves.


The examples of the haka in rugby games, the opening ceremony of the Olympic games and the dance-based celebrations in football show that dance in collective sport can have political and cultural meanings. It contributes to highlighting a country, a team, a culture, or a person. The Discofoot event which was created by the CCN (Centre Chorégraphique National) in 2018 in the Lorraine region is a great example of an interesting and humorous association between dance and sport.




When Hip Hop Meets Opera

Collectif petites vies... 

Hip hop and opera are two worlds governed by different codes. We could easily play the game of differences: they were not born at the same time nor in the same conditions, they do not have the same targets, nor the same claims.

Whereas in hip hop there is a whole dimension of opposition, a claim to freedom and a very committed message, in opera there is above all a claim to aesthetics and virtuosity.

And yet, despite these differences, they have ONE thing in common, which lies in the definitions. Indeed, these words are portmanteau words that mean several things.

When we talk about Hip Hop we talk about a culture, a musical genre and also a style of dance.

When we talk about opera, we talk about a kind of musical show, a place and, incidentally, a type of French cake.

Apart from that, everything seems to oppose them, and yet in many cases we find that the so-called opposites attract, as is the case with several cultural events.

Among these is the Hip Hop Symphonique concert that takes place every year in Paris at Radio France headquarters in which rappers perform their titles accompanied by a philharmonic orchestra.

Then there is also the show “Les Indes Galantes” by Clément Cogitore: an opera ballet from 1735 adapted with Hip Hop dancers.

It is a subject that mixes personal convictions and professional aspirations. We already had vague knowledge on the subject and it was this what made us want to go deeper into it. We grew up in the Hip-Hop world, we followed its evolutions and today we wonder about its future.

For my part, to talk about these two worlds is to talk about the whole relationship of my art practice “at home” and “at school”.

Indeed, when I was younger I was part of a neighborhood house that gave us the opportunity to do hip hop, in my neighborhood we all listened to hip hop and the shows we had the opportunity to attend and participate in were hip hop battles. And then, at school, I was given all the prospect of indoor performance, where I was able to go to the theatre, see philharmonie concerts play, and also see the Opera.

For me, these two worlds also represent personal culture and the culture instilled by the school.

Today, and even more so as part of our bachelor’s degree, we have the opportunity to work on current topics in art, and it is an opportunity to highlight things that we hear less about and that are important to us.

It’s a way to bring home culture to school.

The idea for this topic came while we were discussing the topics we wanted to research. We started from what drove us personally… The topic came up quite quickly after the announcement of the blog exercise.

For a few days I had been listening on repeat to the interpretation of an artist who participated in the Symphonic Hip Hop.

Jane Avril – A Dancer between Madness and Innovation?

By Emmanuel, Mikal & Marion

Poster by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1899) showing Jane Avril

The cabaret was a place that brought together different social classes, which do not usually mix. It was also a place of refuge, a safe place for people who were excluded from society. The cabaret allowed different people, who went through trauma or who were discriminated against by society, to have a place of refuge but also a place which allowed them to find recognition and make a breakthrough as well as giving them the opportunity to create links with other people who came to the cabaret.

Indeed, cabaret offered a voice to marginalized artists and performers, who did not find a place in traditional artistic circuits and who were able to express themselves more freely in an alternative framework. This has also helped to diversify the art scene.

Artists have used cabaret to address social and political issues, which created a sense of solidarity and belonging.

Some cabarets have helped deconstruct stereotypes by offering representations of sexuality, gender identity and other aspects of day-to-day life. These spaces played an educational role by exposing the public to diverse perspectives and promoting the understanding of others.

It was during the Belle Époque that the cabaret experienced its biggest growth. The expression “Belle Époque”, which spread throughout the twentieth century, reflects a somewhat distorted and embellished perception which is nevertheless based on a certain number of realities: the political stability, the rapid economic growth oriented towards modernity, the improvement of the quality of life of French citizens, which was accompanied by a  reduction of poverty and the development of leisure and sporting activities.

During this period, French society was very hierarchical, but people began to realize that they belonged to a single nation and, therefore, that different social classes could coexist.

Artists began to deviate from realism to give birth to abstract art, art nouveau which was an avant-garde style. Social dance practices at balls or in cabarets brought people together, regardless of their social class.

One of the great cabaret personalities of this period was Jane Avril, who defended personal development and healing psychological trauma through dancing. She was one of the most famous dancers of the Moulin Rouge, she was also the ambassador of the French cancan to European capitals. She was revolutionary in the modern dance scene.

We think that through her personal story, it is easier to understand the importance of cabaret, its history, and the different ideas it defends. This will help us understand the importance of cabaret as a place of refuge and expression for people who are discriminated against. So: what is the legacy of Jane Avril? 

Jane Avril’s childhood and her beginning 

Jane Avril, whose real name was Jeanne Louise Beaudon, was born on June 9, 1868 and died on January 17, 1943. Jane was raised by her abusive mother. At the age of 13, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital called the Salpêtrière, for “ovarian hysteria”. At that time, the internment of women could easily be carried out at the request of fathers, husbands or even brothers for generally futile reasons such as refusal of marital duty, a refusal to do housework or even for reading novels.

In the case of Jane Avril, we understand through the various studies that have been carried out that she suffered from epilepsy.

It was therefore during her internment at the Salpêtrière that she discovered her passion for dance, more precisely during the Bal des Folles, which was an event where everyone in Paris was invited to a big ball in the company of the various hospitalized women. It was a sort of “human zoo”, in fact those women were exhibited for public therapy or hypnosis sessions. This event was an attraction for outsiders, it was also eagerly awaited for by women who were interned since it allowed them to briefly break away from the routine of their confinement.

It is during one of those events that Jane had a seizure, she started dancing like a “crazy woman”.

She saw dance as a soothing remedy. In fact, she grappled with the psychological challenges resulting from the mistreatment she endured through the medium of dance.

 Her success in the world of cabaret

Weakened by her trauma, illness, and various hospital stays, Jane attempted to end her life by throwing herself into the Seine. After her suicide attempt, she was taken in by the keeper of a Parisian brothel. She discovered the Parisian nightlife, where women were half dancers and half prostitutes. It was at the Bal Bullier that her career as a dancer began. She discovered she had a gift for dance, and was noticed for her style, her seductive movements and her outstanding personality.

In 1889, she met Charles Zilder, the founder of the Moulin Rouge. He decided to hire her in his cabaret. From the very beginning of her career, Jane set herself apart through her distinctive style by performing solo, and by crafting her own choreographies and costumes. She wore exclusively red underwear, whereas at the time dancers wore white underwear. 

She went on to become an emblematic figure of the French cancan. This new style of dance was introduced to cabarets by Joseph Oller. The ambition of the co-founder of Le Moulin Rouge was to create an entertainment venue with a new way of dancing in which the dancers lift their legs to reveal their underwear. Jane once again stood out for her style, with no vulgarity and more modesty. This was a point that she asserted herself, insisting that she was not a prostitute but a dancer.

She was also an emblematic figure in the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a Montmartre artist who befriended Jane. He produced a large series of posters of Jane dancing. 

Mainly known for her roles at the Moulin Rouge, she also made her mark on other Parisian stages such as the Décadents, the Divan Japonais, and the Folies Bergère. She was known as Melinite, the name of an explosive, referring to her exaltation for dancing. She represented the embodiment of dance. On stage, she transmitted great energy and grace and was seen as an acrobatic dancer.

Jane Avril, a Lasting Influence

Artistic Legacy 

Jane Avril has left a lasting artistic legacy, thanks in large part to the pictorial representations by artist Toulouse-Lautrec, who took her as one of his muses.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s iconic works highlight Jane Avril’s magnetic presence on stage and her contribution to the art of the French cancan. Her unique style and charisma are vividly captured in these paintings, making her an icon of the era. A notable aspect of Jane Avril’s legacy is her role in the evolution of the French cancan. With her energy and presence on stage, she left a lasting impression with her solos. Her innovative approach opened new possibilities for dancers to express themselves individually and showcase their unique talents. In fact, it is thanks to her that we have the tradition of solo dancers wearing red stockings. Originally a demand on her part, it has now become a customary attire for all solo dancers in the French cancan.

Artistic Innovation

The collaboration between Jane Avril and Toulouse-Lautrec also contributed to the emergence of Art Nouveau, an artistic movement characterized by its inventiveness, organic motifs inspired by nature, and bold use of colors. The striking images of Jane Avril dancing, immortalized by Toulouse-Lautrec, served as inspiration for many Art Nouveau artists to create posters and illustrations that captured the energy and vitality of dance. Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster depicting Jane Avril dancing with an expression of joy and vivacity has become one of the most iconic images of Art Nouveau. This poster, with its fluid lines, vibrant colors, and floral motifs, perfectly embodies the aesthetics of this artistic movement.

Contemporary Influence 

Jane Avril has directly and indirectly influenced contemporary dance as an inspiring model. The fundamental values of contemporary dance include the liberation of the body, creativity, and expressiveness, all of which Jane Avril embodied in her own dance. For example, contemporary choreographer Marie Chouinard drew inspiration from Jane Avril to create choreographies that explore freedom of movement and bodily expression. In her performances, Chouinard uses expressive gestures and postures, while playing with the stage space in a similar way to Jane Avril. Similarly, Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui draws inspiration from Jane Avril’s innovative approach to create pieces that blend tradition and modernity, integrating elements of historical dance into a contemporary context.

Social legacy

19th-century society forbade women the slightest desire of ambition and freedom, and Jane Avril’s journey goes against this assertion. She broke the rules and had an impact on changing the vision of the role of women in society especially in cabaret. She made it clear she was not a prostitute but just a dancer. At a time when women conformed to what society expected of them, Jane was provocative and created a new representation of women. She refused to conform to the expectations and the traditional conventions of the cabaret dance. By dancing alone she showed that a woman can be autonomous, expressive, and creative, inspiring many women to break away from the roles they had been assigned for years.

The complicated childhood of Jane Avril led her to discover dance and cabaret. A place in which social norms are often set aside. It also allowed her to find a place to assert herself and confront her mental health. During her career, she set herself apart from the rest for her style and made an impact on the artistic and social aspects, leaving behind a strong and lasting legacy that remains a benchmark still to this day.

The Courrier of St Petersburg: an Equestrian Tradition

By Pierre Ayel and Sylvie

Scène de cirque
Croquis d’homme tenant un cheval
Serge Choubine (1900-1931)

Dear  readers, 

Have you recently seen, in the Théâtre de la cité, the new show of the circus company Baro d’Evel? If you saw it, you may have been, like me, surprised by the apparition of a horse on the stage. But, after having read this article, you will see that horses and circus have been linked since the end of the eighteenth century. 

At that time in England, the royal law, with the 1737 Licensing Act, allowed only three venues to perform “legitimate theater”. So, these royal venues and the king’s theater companies who had the license had a monopoly on real drama, which was spoken theater. All the others had only the possibility to perform “public dancing and music” and “other public entrainements of the like kind”.

To pass off the prohibition and perform real drama, one man, Philip Astley, an equestrian, following the success of trick-riding displays, started to organize equestrian shows. He adapted common stories and plays in a way where trained horses performed the leading roles of a drama, carrying out the plot. The first show on the legitimate stage of London was performed in February 1811. Hippodrama was born. This new kind of pantomime had a great international success: Astley had his own circus in London, as did some of his rivals, and cities around the world like New-York, Philadelphia, Sydney or St Petersburg. 

During this creative and successful period for hippodrama, some other equestrians became famous. One of them, Andrew Ducrow named “the colossus of equestrian performers” created an equestrian performance which became so famous that it’s still performed today. This performance named ‘The Courier of St.Petersburg” tells the story of a courier who crosses Europe country by country to reach their goal. The horses have flags that represent the countries crossed by the courier during this imaginary itinerary. The equestrian stands on two galloping horses, one foot on each of them forming a human bridge. The horses gallop under her/his legs and she/he has to grab long reins on their back. 

At first, Ducrow did this equestrian feat with five horses, but others developed it up to thirteen galloping horses. At that point the whole circus ring is full of galloping horses forming a spiral in motion for a few seconds. Then, the horses disappear, leaving the spectators with this last impression.  

So dear readers, next time you see horses on a stage, don’t be surprised! 


Let’s Leave the Decks to Women!

By Clémence Léo and Lyna

In this article, we are going to talk about the place of women DJs in electronic music. We are a group of three students who chose to work on this subject because we regularly go to electronic music events and we have women DJs as friends. We are witnesses of the difficulties they face as women in a predominantly male sector and we want to understand the causes for the underrepresentation of female artists in electronic music scenes.
In this context, we came up with the following question: why is it so hard to be a woman DJ in the electronic music world and what difficulties do they have to face? Then, we will see what actions are set up to make women DJs visible in the city of Toulouse.
To answer these questions, we first did research about the history of electronic music and about the statistics that identify inequalities in programmation. We also went to an event and we did an interview to learn more about the actions that are put in place in Toulouse to make women DJs more visible.

Since the 1960s, with the arrival of the electric guitar, there is a link between technology and masculinity. Mavis Bayton, the author of the book Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music (2011) talks about the fact that, historically, “many girls played the acoustic guitar and sang […] but the idea of playing the electric guitar was alien to them.” The electronic dance music scene evolved in the early 1980s and the use of machines and digital music technologies became an essential precondition for DJ music making. As we can see, there is a symbolic association between technology and masculinity, men and machines in society in general and in electronic dance music scenes in particular.
In chapter 3 of the book DJ Culture in the Mix: Power, Technology, and Social Change in Electronic Dance Music1, the authors explain that “across historical, local and cultural contexts, DJ cultures have been, and continue to be, overwhelmingly “male dominated”.” The authors conducted a fieldwork among DJs in Berlin, Stockholm, London and Vienna, and observed that “male DJs constituted the majority of DJs in the electronic music scene […] The majority of the “big names” among international and local DJs remain male, scoring the top positions on DJ lists and representing music genres despite the growing presence of female DJs.” In the same book, a female DJ based in Berlin declared that “there are a lot of girl DJs but the thing is that there are still a lot of men in business […] most of the party organizers, the club owners, promotion people are guys.”

A study of the CNM (Centre National de Musique) shows that in 2019 in electronic music, only 11% of the gender lead are women.

Graph 1 – Gender lead (issued by the CNM, Centre National de Musique)

There is no equality between men and women in the programming of electronic music events, but also in the profession of programmers. Indeed, the job is largely dominated by men. In this context, it may be hard for women to dare to start as DJs and to feel confident and legitimate in a male environment full of stereotypes. The authors of DJ Culture in the Mix: Power, Technology, and Social Change in Electronic Dance Music explain the scarcity of women artists by the “gendered social construction of technology” and the “images of male artist/musician/producer/entrepreneur and the sexualized images of (young) women […]. The history of music, regardless of genre, has been shaped by a mutually constituting relationship between technology and masculinity, with exclusionary effects for women who wish to become musicians, DJs and/or music producers”.

We met Camille Mathon, the artistic director of the feminist association “La petite”, created to highlight women artists. In our interview, she told us about the resistance to programming women.

“Resistance was observed among programmers. What came up a lot was that people said: ‘We would like to program women but there are none’.”

Camille Mathon
Artistic director of “La Petite”

The association “La petite” runs the “Girls Don’t Cry” project. They act for a larger representation of women on the electronic scene and want to show that women DJs exist, that they are active and talented contrary to what some programmers may say.

La petite organizes the Girls Don’t Cry festival which is an exclusively female festival. They act by creating events but also by fighting against sexual and gender-based violence. In the world of electronic music by setting up training workshops for example.

During our interview, Camille told us how precious the associations that specialize in feminist actions are:

“We prefer several independent actions. This is consistent with our values of self-determination. It is the strength of our feminist network in France, to have different structures. This does not prevent us from being connected, we know each other’s associations.”

Camille Mathon
Artistic director of La Petite

In Toulouse, some feminist initiatives are put in place to help women artists to be more visible and more confident. We went to an event called Les Halles de la Cartoucherie X Kaonashi dedicated to women and non-binary or trans people in electronic music in Toulouse. A workshop was organized to introduce the female audience to mixing and there was a round table about the representation of women on the Toulouse electronic scene in the afternoon. A lot of feminist collectives were present, including programmers, artists, media, university researchers etc. This discussion allowed professional women in the electronic music sector to exchange experiences and findings to provide solutions.Among them, a member of the collective Freessons which acts to create inclusive events to talk about feminist movements in rave parties, noticed an adjacent problem : “Today, programmers invite women DJs just to give a positive image of their event with a female quota but women still get booked for the warm-up and are not recognized for their talent.” Indeed, we noticed that most of the time, when women are programmed, they play at the beginning of the party and men do the closing. This fact shows that women are not enough considered for their music and not much valued in electronic music events and they might feel illegitimate to professionalize as DJs.

“If we program at least 50% of women or show a 10% change from the previous year to reach parity, we have access to fundings from the local authorities. But all culture fundings in the area have this rule so instead, it is if people do not follow the rule that they’re going to lose money”

Camille Mathon
Artistic director of La Petite

Therefore, women DJs feel they might be programmed to an event just to fill in the “female quota” and not for their talent because programmers could get funding by respecting women-men equality in their programming. This may be considered as a step forward, but it is important to question the place of female artists beyond their mere presence.
The presence of several members of women collectives in the event Les Halles de la Cartoucherie X Kaonashi shows that the city of Toulouse is committed to give a place to women artists.

Here are some examples of the collectives that were present, with the objectives of their actions:

It is composed of five women. Their objective is to create inclusive events to talk about feminist movements in rave parties (for example eco-feminism).

This collective is composed of 8 women. They are artists and organizers and they create events to program and to gain visibility.

This association creates events promoting the place of women in the world of bass music.

This initiative was created by The Metronum, a concert hall in Toulouse. It’s a training workshop intended for women who would like to develop a personal musical project. In this training, it’s possible for women to meet programmers and legitimize themselves to build their career as artists and also to be more confident in their artistic practices.

=> All these initiatives exist in other cities in France and Europe and testify of changes in society to create a movement for the place of women DJs in electronic music. By making round tables, creating women-only events, making women artists more visible, we progressively create changes. All these initiatives such as feminist events, vindications and the creation of new collectives and training contribute to make things evolve. The studies and the statistics help to highlight the remaining inequality, and it’s important to talk about these problems which are found in many areas of society.

  1. DJ Culture in the Mix: Power, Technology, and Social Change in Electronic Dance Music, Bernardo Alexander Attias, Anna Gavanas, Hillegonda Rietveld, 2013, Continuum Publishing Corporation. ↩︎

Non-Dance: a French Revolution

by Frédéric and Garance

1995. On stage, a naked woman exposes her intimacy and flesh as material to be explored. At the performance of Jérôme Bel’s eponymous play, the critic and journalist Dominique Buffard, without a doubt disoriented by what she saw, described this work as “non-danse“. Although Orazio Massaro was considered as the precursor of this movement in 1990, it was in the early 2000s that a trend began to emerge: in several dance performances, or at least those labelled as such, there was little or no dance.

“No to gratuitous gesture! No to scenery! No to costumes! No lighting effects!” These principles laid down by dancer and choreographer Boris Charmatz were applied on French stages in the works of Alain Buffard (Good Boy, 1998), Christian Rizzo (100% Polyester, objet dansant n°(à définir)) and Maguy Marin (Turba, 2007). 

Most non-dance choreographers were performers in the eighties, the period of La Nouvelle Danse Française, also known as Jeune Danse Française. La Nouvelle Danse Française sought to break free from the codes of both modern and classical dance, and while it was based on an egalitarian approach, it also encouraged the singularity of its creators.

In 1981, Jack Lang, a theater man, was appointed Minister of Culture by François Mitterrand. The government was banking on choreographic development to help French talents emerge. The French government then starts a policy of decentralisation and Jack Lang creates institutions to facilitate creation all over the territory. Choreographers received their first grants and made experiments. This marked the emergence of the Centres Chorégraphiques Nationaux (CCN), run by French artists who wanted to move towards a model of equality in social relations. This was the beginning of what is known as contemporary dance, a dance offering a sensitive experience for both performers and spectators.

Unfortunately, this institutionalisation of art created a new academicism. The choreographers of La Nouvelle Danse Française had shaped their repertoire and by the end of the nineties their dancers rebeled.

Non-dance is rooted in this process of rebellion, pushing the choreographer’s thoughts to the point of developing creations in which dance movement disappears. Theatre, literature, visual arts, music, video, film, projections- the subject is no longer dance but the body. The body becomes fundamental in its own right. It is no longer just a tool to be mastered, but a medium through which a form of presence is expressed. Movement is becoming rarer, resisting the projection, dynamism and bodily expressiveness that were over-emphasised in the eighties. More intimate, more sensitive, bodies move less and space is emptied to question the very need to dance.

By re-evaluating the very notion of dance and placing the presence or disappearance of the body at the heart of their experiments, artists have helped to change the contemporary choreographic landscape. Dance performances in which the creative process is at work are less confusing for audiences in the venues where they are performed. Hybrid forms of performances begin to appear in theatre programmings.

The authors behind this shift have in fact not given up on dance. Thanks to their research and reflections, they have imposed new methods of creation. By questioning the parameters of dance shows, they have brought choreographic works closer to visual installations or performative theater. The dancers’ bodies are freed from the demands of movement conditioned by the performance. Gestures no longer necessarily emanate from the choreographer alone, the brilliant creator above the dancers. By shaking up the codes, choreographers have also imposed the idea that a performance is not an object that spectators watch passively: in a generous, if sometimes radical, approach, they have invited spectators to broaden their perception of a play and to participate in it. 

Above all, choreographers have continued to tell human stories through and with dance, and to make choreographic art more than ever in touch with the world. And French contemporary dance, following the example of Yvonne Rainer who brought American contemporary dance into the postmodern period with the No Manifesto in 1964, has made its own revolution.



CAIRN, « « Non-danse »  déconstructions postmodernes »: « Non-danse » déconstructions postmodernes |

Introducing Orazio Massaro, non-dance precursor : Orazio Massaro

Centre Pompidou « Danse ou non-danse : par où la danse ? »: 6. Danse ou non-danse: par où la danse?

Le Monde, article by Rosita Boisseau- April 25 2009 : Dans beaucoup de spectacles de danse, on ne danse plus


Danse et non-danse, vingt-cinq ans d’histoires by Dominique Frétard, Édition Cercle d’Art, 2004.


The “Nouvelle Danse Française” of the 1980s| Numeridanse tv

Is Drag Culture Giving Clowns a New life?

Kinder-Garten © ranobrac

Outrageous makeup, a cringing sense of humor, entertaining contents with a political dimension – drag artists and clowns have a lot in common. Even though they have their own existences and history, clowns have been inspiring drag artists  for years. More than just an inspiration, it’s about taking ownership.

The word “clown” was coined during the 17th century in England. From fair protagonists to circus icons, clowns slowly started to leave the circus tent to become iconic figures of pop culture. Far from the entertainment they were originally assigned to, clowns became one of the best known horror figures. Killer clowns are everywhere, mostly in books and movies like for example IT by Andrés Muschietti (2017) but also in real life in attraction parks and escape game rooms. The clown figure has also been reappropriated by political movements in the 90s. 

In Joker by Todd Philip the word “clown” is used by stigmatized colored people in NY to describe themselves by how they’re treated by cops and society.  The word “drag queen” also comes from the UK. During the last decade drag has seen its visibility  increase with the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race and alternative shows like The Boulet Brothers Dragula (rejecting the pageant codes of Drag Race).

ClubKids appeared in the 90’s with clubbing culture. Even if they claim they belong to drag art, they’re destroying  gender codes with a more infantile and preposterous aesthetic really inspired by clown’s influence.

Tiggy Thorn © ranobrac

“For years I’ve been thinking about becoming a teacher, then I realized I hate children, so I decided to become a child by myself.” 

Tiggy Thorn, co-founder of Kindergarten party, in Tracks, April 2019

Another example of drag art meeting clown figures is the 8th episode of the 4th season of The Boulet Brothers Dragula.  The challenge was to make a Floorshow, a kind of performative and narrative runway on Killer Clowns figure. Each  finalist decided on their own interpretation during the performance – popcorn clown, tramp, Korean theater clown or sad  pantomime, which shows the diversity of horror clown figures, their influence and the ability for the artist to take  ownership of those codes.

One of the contestants, Dahli, definitely built their drag character on clown codes. Dahli confessed during the show that they were fascinated by clowncore to the point that they developed a sort of clown kink. 

Dahli © Darina.Doolittle

Clowns and drag artists are kinds of cousins in their own artistic dynamics. They both use the image of buffoons and  freaks they’ve been reduced to in order to claim their messages on stage. In a society where LGBTQIA+ people are  still stigmatized and oppressed it seems logical to take the dusty clown figure out of the closet to give it a new life. 

Thearseniek © ranobrac

“I’m a clown for Adults.” 

Le Filip, in Divergente podcast, 2019

Kinder-Garten © ranobrac

Adapting Classical Texts in Puppet Theatre

The Example of the Belova-Iacobelli Company through Three of their Shows

by Soizic Kukla

Pierre-Yves Jortay (source: company website)

The Belova-Iacobelli Company was born from a meeting in 2012 between Tita Iacobelli and Natacha Belova in Santiago (Chile) as part of the Festival La Rebelión de Los Muñecos. In the same city, in 2015, they created a research laboratory around contemporary puppet theatre.

Tita Iacobelli started in 2001 as an actress. In 2005 she became involved in the company Viajeinmóvil (created by Jaime Lorca) as co-director, actress and puppeteer. She teaches in puppet workshops and has toured in different countries with several shows.

Natacha Belova is a historian by training. She was born in Russia and has lived in Belgium since 1995. It was as a costume designer and scenographer that she took her first steps in the performing arts, then specialized in the art of puppetry. She works on different projects, theater, dance, circus, cinema, opera, as well as exhibitions. In 2016 she created a research and training center “IFO asbl” in Brussels on puppetry arts. In 2017, she directed her first production.

In 2015, Tita Iacobelli and Natacha Belova decided to stage their first show “Tchaïka”. The first performance took place in June 2018 at the Festival La Rebelión de Los Muñecos. This show is freely inspired by Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. The form of interpretation is a single actress-puppeteer on stage, Tita Iacobelli, and a puppet: “Tchaïka addresses the theme of the violence of old age, the loss of memory, the loneliness of retirement, and the richness in human subjectivity through the poetic imagination of an actress. This show is built on a permanent tension between masterpieces of classical theatre, puppet theatre and choreographed movement,” as stated by the note of intent on the company’s online website. They add:

“It is a play that describes impatient and radical young artists, but also the older generation that is happy with keeping the positions they acquired. […] It also deals with mutual misunderstanding, cruel troubles of fate. Finally, it is a play about the search for ‘true meaning’ without which life is only arduousness and horror”.

The second show, “Loco” was presented for the first time in Charleville-Mézières (Ardennes) during the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionettes in 2021. I attended the performance in a gymnasium that had been reorganized for the occasion. The interpretation brings together two actress-puppeteers, Tita Lacobelli and Marta Pereira (a puppeteer and graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières). This creation is freely inspired by Nicolaï Gogol’s Diary of a Fool.  The note of intent of the show indicates:

Through the story of this little employee and Gogol’s life, we will question our own solitudes, desires, frustrations and troubles in the face of what is established and reasonable […], the vital need to acquire a rewarding place within society while noting the absurdity of its values, the identity conflict between “being” and “appearing” constantly stirred by the demands of seduction and performance that surround us”.

Natacha Belova, the director explains:

“The starting point was a memory of a staging of TheDiary of a Madman, seen in the Soviet Union in 1990. My father staged it in his little theater in Russia and he himself played the role of Popritchine, the madman. This show was not a great success, but I remember especially the silence after Popritchine’s last monologue when he wants to rest on his mother’s chest away from the taunts of men, from his desk, from the beatings of the stick inflicted on him in the asylum, away from his own delusions. My father, a little man sitting on the floor in the middle of a cardboard set, his big blue eyes frozen on the projector of his small theatre; the light was too dim and the audience seemed to grow larger in this great silence. I have many other, more honourable memories of my father: director, actor, eloquent teacher, a great man. But why does memory send me back this miserable image more often? […] Our intention is to mix the fiction of the story with the reality of its author who lived a solitary life in voluntary exile far from Russia. […] It is not a play in praise of madness as a pathology, but a need to “reshuffle the cards”, to get out of the usual discourse, to seek a new axis of view on reality. Leaving behind the usual logic, to dream of something else.”

The intention on the festival program stated only, “Poprichtchin loves Sophie, the daughter of his boss. Except that he himself is at the bottom of the ladder. But what if he was actually King Ferdinand VIII of Spain. This is the story of a crazy love.”

At first, I knew only one thing: the play was about madness, the story of a man and loneliness –why would I go see such a show, especially at the end of a day on the festival? But, well, I still had a ticket on my festival package and then it was a “recommended” show, so without little conviction, I decided to go! It was a revelation. The two puppeteers (loose, long hair and black clothes) manipulated the puppet together on a human scale: his face has a tormented human expression, his chin is mobile. The only other elements – his torso, his arms, his legs– are those of the puppeteers who are also actresses and as the story unfolds, they play with their bodies. The audience smile and laugh at the way their hair becomes a dog for a moment. Accessories also enter the game such as the bed, sheets or a suitcase. Light effects reinforce this solitude. A giant ball of paper expresses the weight of the character’s loneliness and stress. A show to see for its exploration of the thread of emotion, tenderness, distress, madness.

The company’s 2022 creation is street theatre. The puppet is still the focal point, but this time in the form of a moving visual element, “It is a performance project that consists of evoking a mythical figure in urban consumption spaces to create a poetic disturbance in a commercial movement,” according to the note of intent. In “Sisypholia” the central element is a giant ball made up of a multitude of clothes. This ball is rolled in busy places like shopping streets or shopping centers…

“Our Sisyphus will roll this giant ball of clothes down one or more streets, until he reaches a point where the ball will return to the starting point. Sisyphus, fully aware of the absurdity of his effort, will repeat the same task over and over again, without hope or intention of transcendence, with discipline and vitality. And just like Camus’s Sisyphus, he is happy to accept this reality, in a perfectly absurd way. We wanted to talk about our daily desires for consumption. We have looked for a way that allows us to address this theme without placing ourselves in a moralistic position or a role of giving lessons. Freely inspired from the myth of Sisyphus we imagined a strange puppet figure who will embark on an absurd and repetitive quest, in an environment unsuited to his approach in order to create a slight disturbance. An image that leaves room for free interpretation, that blurs the tracks of understanding, but will create a blank, a pause, a disturbance of meaning in the daily movement of a crowd. This is not about caricature nor aggression. Instead, we want to create a chaotic and disproportionate object that would be a kind of ironic creator of chaos capable of extracting us from the compulsive rhythm of our society.

The public premieres took place in Toulouse from Wednesday 5 to Saturday 8 October 2022 on the busy shopping street rue d’Alsace Lorraine, as part of the programming of “La Biennale Internationale des Arts Vivants.” It was free and lasted for 40 minutes. Natacha Belova and Dorian Chavez directed the staging. Natacha Belova designed the ball. Dorian Chavez (an Ecuadorian artist) was Sisyphus.

The creations of the company Compagnie Belova-Iacobelli have a link. The conclusion of the proposals of these shows are not in the closed form of a period or an exclamation mark, or even a question, or three dots. The conclusion is in the hands of the spectators, where to place the cursor of values, their own and those of others.


Company website:



Facebook site: /

World Puppet Festival website:

Philip Astley

The Father of Modern Circus

by Fiona Labbé

In this article, I would like to speak about a man considered as the father of modern circus: Philip Astley. In the 1750s in England, the first equestrian exhibitions appeared. Jacob Bates was the first man who showcased equestrian exhibitions in a circular space. A few years later, in 1768 (a date that marks the beginning of the modern circus), Philip Astley created his own equestrian show: he made his first parade and his first show in London. He was a former military equestrian who gave riding lessons during the day, and proposed equestrian shows during the night. He is considered as the father of modern circus because, on top of equestrian exhibitions, he added small clown shows with young men amusing the audience by failing to ride horses.

Then, in 1770, Philip Astley created the first wooden riding hall he called Amphitheatre Riding House. Furthermore, he had the idea of putting sawdust on the ground to avoid mud and to outline the track in the riding hall with a rope and pegs and he rethought its structure to make it transportable. Finally, with this structure, he toured France where he imported the concept.

Philip Astley’s students did important things for the circus as well. For example, Charles Hugues was the first man to use the word « circus » which had not been used since the Middle Ages when he created the Royal Circus Academy in 1782. Then, there is John Bill Ricketts who opened the first American circus in 1792 in Philadephia.

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