Let's Forgo Gravity Just This Once, Shall We? | Jaco Van Dormael and Michèle Anne De Mey Pilot “On the Wings of Hermès” to Los Angeles

Via Issue 187, The Critical Mass Issue!

Written by

Matthew Bedard

Photographed by

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Styled by

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“No Gravity” ©Nacása & Partners Inc. Image Courtesy Of Hermès.

We’ve seen the depictions for centuries. From the renaissance to William Blake to Beyoncé. Observe: the protagonist’s context is pressurized—any choice stricken with fear, folly, foil. Surrounded by melodiously odious onlookers, they’re stuck. Rather than lurch decisively forward or backward, though, our subject digs deep within and contrarily ascends—their spirit assuming wings, sloughing like a winter skin the turmoil that surrounds their physical body below.

Though these portrayals tend to portend the metaphysical, they symbolize a human universal: sometimes we just want to fly, sometimes we long for weightless abandon. It is in this spirit, with a sprinkle of that HOP-distinctive awe and elegance, that Hermès of Paris presents “On the Wings of Hermès,” a touring performance celebrating humankind’s innate desire to spread its occasionally angelic, sometimes laden wings. “Wings” has thus far alit in Paris and Tokyo, and will next stage in Los Angeles at Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar this July. The performance, open to the public, will take place over multiple days and feature a handful of daily seatings.

The Flight Of The Migratory Gloves.” ©Nacása & Partners Inc. Image Courtesy Of Hermès.

At the helm of this appetite for flight, this imaginary universe, is Belgian artistic duo, director Jaco Van Dormael and choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey. Along with the Astragales dance company (founded by De Mey in 1989), the two will present a phantasmic blend of dance, music, cinema within cinema, utopic worlds, poetry, puppet-like twirling hands, and a theater of objects, all feathered into a winged extravaganza an ode to daydreaming, to the imperative of once in a while weightlessness.

Fittingly for Tinsel Town, the “Wings” set unfurls on stage in an imaginary film studio, with seven unique sketches, the likes of which include the fable of Pegasus, the winged mythical horse, among others. There is also a “Kelly” Hermès bag-powered opera, a mini circus, entwined lovers in dance, and soaring surprises. Centric to the playtime are the values unique to the unequivocal heritage and ethos of Hermès—playfulness, whimsy, imagination, and generous escapism. Time and gravity have no purpose here, and so we might as well enjoy the moment.

Benjamin Schmuck. “The Circus.” Image Courtesy Of Hermès.

We enjoyed a couple of moments with Van Dormael— whose 30-plus year career has seen him write and direct several award-winning films, plays, operas, and comics come to life—alongside De Mey, whose extensive choreography career has seen her found dance companies, collaborate with operas to artists, as varied as Robert Wyatt and Jonathan Harvey, inspire films, and create experiences that have been lauded in 30 plus countries, translated into nearly a dozen languages, and counting.

Before we reach cruising speed with the two creators in question, though, we’ll enjoy a few lines of poetry, heard during an interlude in this article’s writing, that ironically seemed to punctuate the very mission of this special activation. The progenitor is, of course, David Bowie, and the lines belong to his marvelous 1986 song, “Absolute Beginners:” 

If our love song
Could fly over mountains 
Could laugh at the ocean 
Just like the films
There’s no reason
To feel all the hard times
To lay down the hard lines 
It’s absolutely true

“On The Wings Of Hermès.” Image Courtesy Of Hermès.

What about the process of working with Hermès has been unexpected?

De Mey: We met by chance. What we have in common are hands and craftsmanship, as well as the very meticulous way we have to create collectively. Hermès gives us total freedom on the way we express ourselves, on the way to make people dream. Working with Hermès has opened new possibilities for expression. We learned how to mimic a horse’s legs using our fingers, as well as the movement of marionettes. For the opera of four bags, the marionette crew custom-made a Kelly bag and taught the dancers how to use it. The experiences with Hermès have been very happy ones.

The performance evokes oneirism, or what we might call ‘daydreaming.’ Daydreaming can sometimes have a negative connotation as if it portends idleness or lack of focus. But why is daydreaming meaningful? 

Van Dormael: Each year, Pierre-Alexis Dumas gives a theme, and this year it was Lightheartedness. Once the theme is given, we have total freedom, so we searched for various evocations of Lightheartedness that can be physical, a thought, a feeling, a sensation, a memory. We offered a variety of these sensations. Stories are there to support a sensation. It is important to remember that it is a collective performance made of voices, sounds, and music that all lead to a dream.

How about themes of the theatricality witnessed having a sort of real-time construction?

Van Dormael and De Mey: The house was very interested in the process of craftsmanship of our shows where we see, almost in real-time, manufacturing being undone. We distinguish a technician behind his smoke machine, another holding a small cloud at the end of a branch.

And what about the notion of zero gravity in the final product?

Van Dormael and De Mey: We use our own techniques reimagined and redesigned for this show. The mix of scales and the inverted gravity is inspired by cinema à la Méliès or Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding by Stanley Donen. It is often a fairly simple DIY with cameras, magic but no digital special effects. 

“Reverse Gravity.” ©Nacása & Partners Inc. Image Courtesy Of Hermès.

Written by Matthew Bedard

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Hèrmes, Jaco Van Dormael, Michèle De Mey, On The Wings of Hèrmes, Matthew Bedard, Issue 187, The Critical Mass Issue,