Récréation. That is the name of the choreography, unprecedented and unpredictable, that Bartabas puts on for the audience of the Saut Hermès at the Grand Palais, giving free rein to seventy ponies under the glass roof of the Parisian monument. Emotion guaranteed.
By Jérôme Garcin
Horses are just like children. Ponies, particularly so. They like to play, tease each other, squabble, daydream, and enjoy the present without worrying about the past or the future. They are wary of adult bipeds, who think they can order them around with brusque gestures and sharp commands, which, if pushed too far, can give rise to a prodigious resistance that is not devoid of humour. One only has to see them galloping after one another in a field, tussling in the paddock, or nipping each other in a manège, whinnying raucously, to appreciate their ability to have fun and their disdain for the tiresome taskmasters who constantly want to ride them, train them or make them jump to order. It is this moment of freedom that the highly-skilled horseman Bartabas, transformed here into a sort of schoolmaster, sought to foster for this all-new Récréation, which offers a swift response to Hermès’ instruction: Let’s play!
At the sound of the bell signalling the end of lessons, Bartabas releases seventy young Welsh ponies – all originally from Wales – into an arena resembling a basketball court or hopscotch squares suspended between earth and sky, ready to fight it out under the glass roof of the Grand Palais. It would seem unlikely that these hairy four-legged schoolchildren could play bulldog, skipping games, tag, marbles or jacks, or swap football cards. But anything can happen, as these young ponies, assembled for the first time, have never met before and will start by sniffing and assessing each other, weighing each other up before enjoying the freedom that Bartabas, false rigorist, true rebel, grants them in front of the audience at the Saut Hermès. Will they then launch into a mad frolic or, on the contrary, roll voluptuously in the white sand? Will they rival each other with their levades and croupades? Will the older ones sharply impose their law on their juniors? Will they be able to curb their desire to leave the Grand Palais as a wild pack, and bolt hell for leather up the Champs-Élysées? No-one yet knows. For there can be no Récréation without improvisation. No amusement without mishap. No leisure without surprise. By letting go of the bridles of his unruly youngsters, the lord of the horses knows exactly what he is doing; but he does not yet know where this live performance will take him, and us, and what its impromptu choreography will be. A roll of the dice, a game of chance…
It is five months since the creation of Ex Anima, at the equestrian theatre Zingaro in Aubervilliers, in which Bartabas demonstrates his love for his cavalry by unbridling, unsaddling and releasing them, whereupon they turn away from culture and return to nature. His latest piece is a further demonstration of his new philosophy (indeed, adding a simple hyphen to ‘recreation’ gives ‘re-creation’): to glorify the beauty of horses without human interference, to honour the animals with movements of absolute purity, to prompt piaffes without a whip and Spanish trotting without spurs. Even the horsewomen of the Equestrian Academy of Versailles, whose remarkable displays have for years graced the interludes of the Saut Hermès at the Grand Palais, are invited to take part in this Dionysian festival and to join the ponies of Récréation in celebrating the infancy of the art form. These talented actresses here become innocent spectators. Meanwhile in the shadows, the master of ceremonies, a little over sixty years of age, laughs up his sleeve with the laughter of a streetwise rascal. It certainly seems that the older Bartabas becomes, the younger he grows.