Something in the air

L’Après-midi D’Un Foehn. Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

When Phia Ménard and her company Non Nova first came to Thailand in 2011 with P.P.P., they were playing with ice. This time, they are playing with wind. As part of La Fête, Non Nova is presenting L’Après-midi D’Un Foehn, a ballet of plastic bags set to Claude Debussy’s composition of the same title, and Vortex, a performance exploring identity and transformation. The two shows continue today and tomorrow at the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University.

Ménard talks with Life about wind, freedom and transformation.

You’ve said that L’Après-midi D’Un Foehn is in a way like when a child plays and gives life to objects. Is childhood the place you go to often when you create your work?

Yes, I think that I search for my childhood and that in L’Après-midi D’Un Foehn our childhood is not far away. I want human beings to remain children. When I was creating this piece with these plastic materials, I thought immediately of a child who gives life to something.

Why did you choose to work with non-biodegradable plastic bags instead of biodegradable ones?

I use an object that is not very beautiful. Plastic reflects our fossil-fuel society. What I’m saying about our society is that we can transform it like I transform these plastic bags into living characters. I am interested in these plastic bags as our assassins. So does the act of making these assassins beautiful allow us to become aware of this world we have transformed. And it’s also to remind us that this material is part of us because it is we who created it.

Could you talk about the challenges of working with wind?

I like to work with elements. Five years ago with P.P.P., I worked with ice. Wind is life. A tree doesn’t look alive without wind. When a tree moves, I think, ‘That’s life’. Wind is in constant relationship with our body. When there’s wind, you feel the movement, you feel your hair, you feel your fingers. So for me, to work with wind is to work with life.

There’s wordplay with ‘faune’ and ‘foehn’. You said you were interested in a type of wind that affects our mood.

Foehn is a wind in the Alps. When I started to work with wind, I read many mythologies about wind. I read in a study that whenever the foehn arrives, the rate of accidents, crime and suicides increases.

Is that why you chose Debussy’s music?

When I saw the puppet for the first time and decided to move it with wind, she became a dancer. It was the first time I realised that I had created a dancer like Nijinsky. It’s like a dream. She can do all the movements and is never tired. She moves all the time.

Apart from the use of wind, are there other connections between L’Après-midi D’Un Foehn and Vortex?

In L’Après-midi D’Un Foehn, I realised that if I could create a dancer, I could create a ballet. But when I created this pink puppet, I realised that I had created my assassin. I studied art, dance, juggling — many forms of art — and when I place the puppet on stage, you just look at the puppet and I lose my job. My thought was, ‘I have created my assassin. How can I continue?’. I decided to kill the puppet, [which meant] I had passed on to the other side of humanity. Vortex is an adventure, an adventure inside my body to know exactly who I am, where I am, how I can continue. It’s a search for my identity.

The theme of freedom and transformation seems to be at the core of your work.

When I started creating a show with wind, I reflected on why I wanted to work with wind. Wind is terrible. You can’t control it. It’s the wind that decides. I’m in control every day. But in the wind, I’m totally lost, like a small child, like a baby. And it’s amazing to feel that. The most important thing for me when I create this type of show is to be against didactic movement.

Could you describe the feeling of performing with the wind in Vortex?

Sometimes I joke that Vortex is like a striptease, but not an erotic striptease. When I was born, 46 years ago, I was who I was. I’ve had many lives. I was a man. I became a woman. Perhaps I’ll become an old woman. Vortex feels like a striptease of many parts of our life. Like the snake that loses its skin, in Vortex I lose many skinsSometimes on stage with Vortex, I feel as if I were with a tiger, and the wind is the tiger. And you never know with the tiger: sometimes he wants to play; sometimes he wants to kill you. So sometimes you’re afraid; sometimes you’re so happy.

  • L’Après-midi D’Un Foehn continues today and tomorrow at 2pm and 4.30pm, at the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. Tickets are 200 baht (100 baht for students).
  • Vortex continues today and tomorrow at 7.30pm, at the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts. Tickets are 600 baht (300 baht for students).
  • For more details, visit