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The age of the bouffon
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Hendrick Hondius, naar Pieter Brueghel de Oude, Drie narren

The difference between the clown and the bouffon is that while the clown is alone, the bouffon is part of a gang; while we make fun of the clown, the bouffon makes fun of us.

At the heart of the bouffon is a mockery pushed to the point of parody. Bouffons amuse themselves by reproducing the life of man in their own way, through games and pranks. The parody isn’t directly offensive with regard to the public; there is no deliberate intention to mock – the relation is of a different order.

Bouffons come from elsewhere. They are linked to the verticality of mystery and they are part of the vertical axis which links earth and heaven whose values they invert. They spit at the sky and invoke the earth; in this sense they inhabit the same space as tragedy -they meet on the same plane.

Bouffons are organised hierarchically and live in a perfect society, without conflict, where everyone finds their allotted place; an ideal image of ours. There is the bully and the bullied; the one with the right to speak who is supported by the one who hasn’t, without any revolt or any questions asked. They are polite and help each other. Why this perfection? Because they are not like us. The imagination of the mystery makes them take on another body, which enables them to maintain a distance between us and them and to be able to walk in the street, to be alongside us whilst remaining themselves and us ourselves.

Every country has, deep within its culture, a spring of the bouffon-esque which wells up in the work of bouffons; South America has the magic birds of the Volador; the English have the nocturnal enchantments of Shakespeare; the Germans, the myths of the Lorelei; the Swedes have the little monsters of the white nights.

The bouffon show fully belongs to the theatre of the image. The range of movement is transformed and finds its point of organisation in the costumes which oblige the bouffons to make only certain movements to the point of a catastrophic acrobatics which would be impossible with a normal body. Thus bouffons appear in colourful costumes, with enormous bellies, enormous chests balanced by enormous buttocks; balls grow around their joints, on their thread-like bodies. Legs either grow to the length of two metres or disappear beneath their bodies, in a ball, right on the ground. There are also bouffons with the beauty of the devil, elegant, and there are innocent ones who are protected.

The number of bouffons is legion; their limits are incalculable. There are echoes in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Père Ubu, the gargoyles on medieval cathedrals, the king’s fool, and forty-year old babies. Bouffons belong to the realm of madness, to that madness which you need the better to safeguard truth. One accepts in a madman what one wouldn’t accept in a so-called normal person. One forgives him when he says upsetting things but one listens to him as a king listens to his fool.

The imagination brings forth countless examples in bouffon performances. Each is different from the other, but they are united in the themes with which they deal. They come to show us in a multitudinous manner; very like a parade, our own follies. They play our society, the themes of power; of science, of religion, in ‘follies’ which are organised according to strict rules where the craziest directs the others and declares war because he’s bored.

Thus bouffons propose and at the same time denounce the realm of tragedy. It is for this reason that at my school I give them the great poetic texts to speak. At the most suitable moment, when the tension is maximum, one of the bouffons takes the stage, and starts speaking, without parody, lines from great texts such as the Bible, Artaud, Saint-John Perse, Eliot, Pasolini, Rimbaud, Shakespeare. Bouffons allow us to understand them better than when delivered in a poetic soiree dolled up in evening-wear. The rhythm, the dance steps hammering the earth and percussion instruments beating out the metre in rituals that prepare for the event.

― Jacques Lecoq

[Fragment overgenomen uit: Jacques Lecoq ‘Theatre of Movement and Gesture (Londen, 2006). NB: bij de workshop Bouffons door Remco Koffijberg ligt de nadruk  niet op kleding en verminkingen, maar op lichaamshouding en -energie, groepsspel en satire.]

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