By Ivana Bilić and Romain Taunais
The third day of the FemArt festival in Prishtina brought an intriguing performance from France inspired by Olympe de Gouges, French revolutionary and author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen in the 18th century. After this voyage between now and back then, La Chica, a French-Venezuelan artist, brought us back to the present moment with an oasis of emotions she shared in the full auditorium in the National Theater of Kosovo.
WOMEN, WAKE UP, RECOGNIZE YOUR RIGHTS!
Véronique Ataly, the leading actress of the play directed by Patrick Mons interprets the story of Olympe de Gouges, a French revolutionary woman and author of the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen”, published in 1791, who was guillotined in 1793. The leading actress guides us through history mirroring situations she finds herself in nowadays.
Echoing the combat of women today, the play is there to remind us that the 1789 French Revolution and its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the founding element of the French Republic and a model for the world, was a huge liberation for only half of the population – men – while it is often failed to be mentioned that for a lot of women the status remained unchanged. The French revolution is still shown as a model and a huge step for French democracy and is taught as such, forgetting the fate of women. Olympe’s “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen” is to a large extent unknown.
The actress playfully jumps from the 18th century to today, bringing very difficult, violent, relevant, present-day questions to the table, all in a very light manner. Starting from a very personal story, mixing it with historical facts, we might even have trouble distinguishing where Véronique, the woman, stops, and where Véronique, the actress or her character, starts. The artist neatly and smoothly changes her roles, interacts with the audience, and asks rhetorical questions to which she herself responds using sarcasm and irony. All that with a huge smile on her face, often laughing herself for being so silly – reclaiming the rights in the 21st century that were already ours three centuries ago.
Navigating through time from the Revolution to the present day, the play shows us how absurdly and violently the issue of gender equality has been treated throughout French history. In 1916, in France, the suffrage of the dead was first proposed, where the widows and mothers of soldiers killed in action could cast votes for them. Dead men were given precedence over women, whose right to vote was granted in 1944, long after many other European countries. What a most absurd idea –giving dead men the right to vote!
Furthermore, from the language and the role of the conservative “Académie Française” on the domination of the masculine grammar gender, through the under-representation of women in politics, to the catcalls and attacks experienced by these same women, the play, if it takes up historical lines to better underline their absurdity, speaks of and for women today. “Académie Française” approved only in 2019, the feminization of the profession occupations, so that ‘authoress’ (French autrice), the profession of the female author in the 18th century, now finally exists! The actress mocks the ‘progress’ we’ve made – we got back to where we were three centuries ago! Or should we put an appropriate quote from Olympe de Gauge here: “L’homme, es-tu capable d’être juste?” – Man, are you capable of being just?
At the end, Ataly used her opportunity to refer to the Lebanese play we saw yesterday. Two women, two minimalist stagings in different countries, contexts, and situations reminding us of the universality of this question. She made an interesting observation: “A woman, alone on stage, when she speaks, is not insignificant.” Or, as she told her daughter in her monologue:
“You’re a woman, prepare for combat! The combat still goes on!”
“LA CHICA IS THE POSSIBILITY TO EXPRESS MYSELF IN AN ABSOLUTE MANNER”
A French-Venezuelan singer from the picturesque neighborhood of Belleville in Paris enters the stage and lightens up the audience with her presence and energy, burning Palo Santo in order to clear her space. She captivates us from the very first moment and the magic starts. La Chica, one piano, her sparse arrangements and minimal lighting in an intimate staging echo in this elliptical theater. She takes us on a trip through her personal experiences; her emotions that mirror ours forming a whole, a complete.
The artist admits to being really shy and this project – as she calls it – is enabling her to get rid of her fear and go beyond the limits we have fixed for ourselves, beyond fears and things that prevent us from moving forward. Or, as simple as going beyond fear to get on the stage. Throughout her life, she has experienced various traumas and has had the need to express herself through sound, through an instrument which speaks for her. Trauma did not give her any other choice than to go beyond fear, to tackle it. “La Chica is the expression of who I truly am. I have the feeling that there are many of us inside and it is a social position I cannot show every day, in everyday life. So, this project is the extension of who I really am inside, the possibility to express myself in an absolute manner. The possibility of burning my fear as well…”
La Chica started every song with a short introduction, by sharing her personal stories, stories of suffering, stories of washing up, stories of being free, stories of healing. She wrote many songs while bleeding deeply inside due to different losses. But she is both she-wolf, a strong and powerful witch; and a serpent – changing her skin, getting rid of what no longer serves her. She made the entire concert so personal, so intimate, people were feeling her energy, being moved by her enchanting melodies and singing along with her in Spanish.
“I truly believe that we die more than once. We die several times.” Wow. She sang for the dead, she sang for the dear ones, she sang for all the women in the world – las brujas – the witches, she sang for all of us. But not only that. She washed us with the droplets of her music notes, she cleansed our souls with her ethereal voice, she healed us with her vulnerability and brought us joy with every touch of a piano key, and every beat and vibration. She took our broken pieces and put them together, forming a larger communion with the audience. A performance that entirely conquered our hearts.