Zingaro, the company founded in 1985 by Bartabas and based on the Fortress of Aubervilliers, near Paris, has fascinated audiences throughout the world for almost thirty years now. And Bartabas has been demonstrating for almost thirty years that equestrianism, combined with dance, martial arts and almost all kinds of music or poetry can be a synthesis of all the arts. In 2003 a new adventure began: the founding of an academy of equestrianism in Versailles, where the great stables of the palace have been imbued with new life after having been abandoned by the horses for two centuries. In January 2015 in another equally prestigious location, the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg, the quivering movements of the horses can again be experienced when Bartabas and Marc Minkowski present a new kind of spectacle.

"It's the first time that someone has suggested a project or 'commissioned' something from me. But to be quite honest, it would have been almost impossible with Zingaro, whereas the Académie d'art équestre in Versailles is much more appropriate for this kind of collaboration because it is a 'schooling company' which can be used for projects rather like a ballet company can. I consider equestrianism to be a high art which can be taught just like other artistic disciplines such as dance or theatre. In order to be able to ride well, you also have to know how to sing, dance, fence artistically or have a command of traditional Japanese archery, not like robots performing all sorts of tricks on horseback, but so as to arouse emotions.

Actually this is nothing new – in the USA there is a long tradition of training actors like this and Maurice Béjart also made his company work along these lines. The members of our academy are particularly well prepared to take part in a project like the one we are presenting in Salzburg. What is especially attractive about this invitation is that I personally have never really been enthusiastic about opera. I find that when operas are staged, the music loses authenticity. I am moved by singers or dancers when they are rehearsing in a studio but when I see them on stage, with stage sets and lighting effects, I am no longer touched by them. I am more attracted by oratorios because from the faces of the singers, even in their body language you can see an interpretation that does not need special effects or grand gestures. In general I feel more at ease in sacred music, without knowing exactly why. Perhaps it's because with the horses it has a dimension that goes beyond illustration. That's why I was happy about Marc Minkowski's suggestion to do Davide penitente, because it is a work in which I can evolve a fantasy world without the constrictions of a dramatic concept or the physical presence of the singers. They stand apart from the horses and the riders in the arcades so that the ballet can convey a kind of vision of this music.

I was very impressed by what Pina Bausch did in her interpretation of the opera Orpheus ed Euridice because the singers were embodied by dancers. I have taken over this idea with the three soloists who will be embodied by two female riders and one male rider, and the choir will be embodied by eight riders, who at a certain moment will also sing. I find this transposition interesting and it seems to me to be more stimulating than if I try to merge the singers and the horses, because the bond between human beings standing on the ground with horses is always very difficult to create, more so than between a rider on horseback – that is already a coded language, in the collective subconscious it is always a sign of a certain claim to power.

The way the Felsenreitschule is built makes the working conditions for the horses more difficult, mainly because on the one hand the stage is very wide but has little depth, this poses real technical problems; on the other hand there is no scenery, so that the horses are always present, even when the public is admitted, and they can always be seen. These are real constraints but I like that very much, and in fact I believe that no strong work can come about without constraints, and it is by finding solutions that one can express oneself. That's why we had the idea of presenting a first piece of music to which the horses can warm up in the dark. Then comes the Masonic Funeral Music to which I will do a solo, slightly improvised, in which I listen to the music and the horse, and in which I allow myself a certain freedom. Finally comes the oratorio Davide penitente, for which counterpoint serves as the guideline of my choreography. Counterpoint is not a typical characteristic of Mozart but that is precisely what interests me in this work – with its repetitive factor together with variations. This will not be obvious to everyone but the Mozart connoisseurs will perhaps understand why I have chosen to accentuate precisely this unusual aspect for Mozart.

It is a guideline but no conclusive images should be expected; our work is open, I suggest tableaus from which everyone can make up their own story. The only aspect of my interpretation that I would like to reveal is the idea of counterpoint, the rest remains in the imagination of the individual. I can add something else: I take the structure of the music as my starting point and I like it very much when people explain to me how it is constructed, why etc…. When I worked with Pierre Boulez, he was astonished to see that I work almost like a composer, to a certain extent searching for an overall rhythmic structure more so than a meaning. Added to this are the constraints related to the horses, the location. In other words there is no dramatic concept in a psychological sense and that is the reason why I feel at ease in this cantata: you could say that it has the structure of a mass but nothing more. I do not relate a story, I present rhythms, instants: a rhythm of a storm, a flash of lightning, contrasted by slower moments to catch the breath and observe details… The audience will see extremely different things which will sometimes arouse in them memories or very personal emotions which I might never have suspected. That is exactly what I like: that each and every person finds their own interpretation in what we perform."


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