In the French theatrical landscape, Julie Berès is known for shaping onstage the contours of “mental space,” deliberately eschewing naturalism – and for conceiving each work as a “dream voyage” in which we will find elements of reality (which may come from specific texts or a collection of personal statements) as well as her own poetic imagination. The images created with her polyphonic stage vocabulary (including text, sounds and music, video, transforming sets) make a dramaturgical framework, much more than what is erroneously called “visual theatre.” The term “suggestive theatre” is perhaps closer to her intent: it requires the spectator’s perception to be engaged, creating an environment open to dreaming (sometimes bemused) as well as deeper reflection.
Born in 1972, Julie Berès spent much of her childhood in Africa. When she arrived in France at the age of 18, her intent was to study philosophy. But each summer her parents had taken her to the Avignon Festival, where she met the famous director Ariane Mnouchkine – and did a mask workshop with her at the Théâtre du Soleil. Her plans changed. In 1997 she entered the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique in Paris.
With Poudre!, which she premiered in 2001 at the Théâtre National de Chaillot, Julie Berès founded her company Les Cambrioleurs. And even in this first piece, she set the tone for her journey forward, described by Libération as “a blend of the magical and the burlesque.” Her next pieces were in a similar vein – in which faulty or absent memories shape the wandering of a fantasized mental space: Ou le lapin me tuera (2003) and e muet (2004), as well as a collective work created with four other directors, Grand-mère quéquette (2004), a theatrical adaptation of a novel by Christian Prigent.
Her interest in “plural dramaturgy,” in which crisscrossing agendas are reflected in texts, set design, sound design and video, became clearer in On n’est pas seul dans sa peau, created in 2006. With this work, in which the delicate issue of aging and memory loss was explored, Julie Berès inaugurated a work process she called “documentary immersion,” collaborating with a playwright, Elsa Dourdet, and a video director, Christian Archambeau. For a time she shared the daily lives of seniors living in a retirement home, while also doing preparatory interviews with doctors, gerontologists and sociologists. Often, the performance of this piece also included encounters with active associations and groups working with seniors in France.
She used her documentary immersion technique again in 2008 for the creation of Sous les visages, dealing with the pathologies of addiction, and in 2010 with Notre besoin de consolation, which dealt with contemporary issues of bio-ethics. Berès went all the way to India to meet surrogate mothers in a specialized clinic, and in Denmark she met the director of one of the largest sperm banks in Europe. As she prepares her new work Red line (a creation planned for 2018), she will be addressing planetary concerns about climate change, creating a collection of archival images as well as filming in situ places in the world where environmental and human consequences of global warming are already evident.
Along with her unique ability to document important societal themes which anchor her theatrical creations in the larger issues facing our society, Julie Berès has also developed a stage language which is not in the least realistic, choosing instead to explore the unconscious, dreams and the fantasies which punctuate and haunt our lives.