The chairs have been changed. An elegant sand color, slightly iridescent, has replaced the old gray. However, it only takes a glance to recognize the room with this dizzying slope which offers each spectator from the first to the last row a breathtaking view of the stage. The stage has been completely redone, with state-of-the-art equipment, but certainly a few ghosts still wander there: Pina Bausch (who passed away in 2009) who presented here, sometimes to the boos of the public, her 44 creations, Patrice Chéreau, who gave his final pieces before his death in 2013.
Soon new artists will take up the thread of the history of the Théâtre de la Ville: the hall, closed for seven years, will finally reopen. It will only host its first shows at the beginning of October, but from September 9, on the occasion of the Place Festival (see opposite), the public will be able to visit the completely renovated theater. “The oldest spectators but also the youngest who have not known it openly,” specifies its director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. It’s their theater! »
This reunion had been awaited for many years. When it closed its doors in November 2016, the theater was supposed to reopen two or even three years later, while it carried out a partial renovation which only concerned the stage. In total, the work will experience around forty site stoppages, caused by safety requirements (the installation of an electronic hanger, in particular) and unpleasant surprises, such as the discovery of lead and asbestos in multiple parts. of the building.
In 2018, the mayor of Paris, owner of the premises, asked the theater team to overhaul the project with the imperative of not increasing expenses too much and adapting to environmental issues that had become increasingly urgent. Thus, elements of the old layout have been reused and, for example, an innovative ventilation system directly linked to the nearby Seine should limit the use of air conditioning.
Ultimately, the work will have cost a little more than 40 million euros. “Then there was the Covid crisis which also slowed down the process,” adds Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. “Seven years is a very long time,” he continues. But this time allowed us to go much further than what we had planned at the beginning and to ask ourselves the question of what a theater should be in the 21st century. »
Based at the Espace Cardin, the team is experimenting “outside the walls” for the most ambitious shows in terms of size and is increasing partnerships with numerous Parisian establishments: La Villette, Chaillot (whose large room is in turn currently closed for work) or the Châtelet. “We have learned a lot and developed new ways of working in response to current issues,” analyzes Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. With the Covid crisis, the Théâtre de la Ville has also explored new ways of reaching the public – through poetic consultations – and forged fertile links with the world of health, among others.
Despite the demise of its home base, the Théâtre de la Ville (whose second location, the Théâtre des Abbesses, nevertheless continued to operate) has continued to be talked about and has nourished these special years the progress of the construction site. “We thought a lot as a group, with members of the team but also artists, as well as the architects Blond & Roux commissioned on this project,” explains Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota.
In fact, if the large room itself has changed little – although its capacity has been reduced from 1,000 to 950 seats, in order to free up 20 places for people with reduced mobility – the other spaces have been completely transformed. The large staircases that cut the hall in the middle have disappeared – subtly hidden by partitions – allowing an unsuspected light to flourish. The back of the concrete stand, designed in 1967 by the architects Fabre & Perrottet, previously hidden, welcomes – and impresses! – now the visitor.
Equipped with fully mobile equipment, the hall will be a “multi-use and connected space”, promises the director, who announces here events around the works programmed in the large room but also debates, balls, connections with the four corners of the globe, etc. The landing and the mezzanine, recently fitted out, offer a breathtaking view of the square: the palm fountain and behind, as in a mirror, the Châtelet with its almost twin facade. It is there that for four weekends many artists will follow one another: a celebration which also carries the desire to inaugurate a new dynamic in artistic life. “The theater must take over public space,” insists Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, who defends “a connection of spaces rather than a juxtaposition” and dreams in particular of seeing the gates of the square of the Saint-Jacques tower disappear.
The most difficult fences to bring down are sometimes invisible. If the Châtelet supports the Festival de la Place, the collaboration between the two theaters – both subsidized by the City of Paris, and whose boards of directors are today chaired by the same man, Xavier Couture – has remained since their creation a challenge. It is in any case at the heart of the roadmap addressed to the directors of the two establishments by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. “We are embarked on the same flagship at the center of Parisian cultural life”, explains Olivier Py, who has just taken up his post at the direction of the Châtelet, with the delicate mission of getting it back afloat after several years of artistic wanderings. which have widened a deficit estimated at several million euros.
Will the square and its municipal theaters regain the luster of its beginnings? Both were opened in 1862, built by the same architect, Gabriel Davioud, at the request of Baron Haussmann. It was then a question of rebuilding two of the seven destroyed theaters with part of the Boulevard du Temple, the famous “boulevard du crime”, to create the current Place de la République. A third, the Gaîté-Lyrique, will be moved to rue Papin in the 3rd arrondissement. Place du Châtelet was a fortress which served as both a court and a prison, which was destroyed in 1802.
“The choice of this place, in the heart of the new Haussmannian Paris, to inaugurate two large theaters is very interesting,” observes historian Jean-Claude Yon. It shows the power of theater at the time, its central role in society. It has since become quite elite but you have to imagine that in the 19th century the theater was really at the heart of public life. In Paris, everyone knew the plays, the characters, even without having seen the shows. In the streets, barrel organs played opera tunes. Theater constituted a common culture, comparable to television, the Internet, and series today. »
In 1862, two establishments on the “Boulevard du Crime” moved to the banks of the Seine, opposite the Conciergerie. The Lyric Theater, where Gounod created his famous Faust in 1859, kept its name and moved into the current Théâtre de la Ville. The Olympic Circus becomes the Châtelet theater. Stables are built with a view to equestrian shows, they will never be used as such, but these vast clearances at the rear will make possible large-scale productions that will make the reputation of the place. “Le Châtelet, which has never changed its name, had a fairly linear destiny”, sums up Jean-Claude Yon.
The Italian room, with its 2,000 crimson armchairs, has remained substantially the same as originally. It keeps the memory of some of the great adventures of the 20th century. It was there, for example, that the Ballets Russes revolutionized dance from 1909. A few years later, Isadora Duncan and Loïe Fuller also upset the codes of ballet there. In the 1950s, place for operetta: The Singer of Mexico created by Luis Mariano is on display at the Châtelet for more than 900 performances. After a long period dedicated to the lyric – in particular under the direction of Stéphane Lissner and Jean-Pierre Brossmann between 1988 and 2006 – operetta and musical comedy will make their return with Jean-Luc Choplin, at the head of the house until in 2017. Music remains at the center of Olivier Py’s project for years to come.
Opposite, the Théâtre de la Ville has had a more eventful destiny. Burned during the Commune, the Lyric Theater reopened in 1874, with a program geared towards young upstarts in classical music. From 1887 to 1899, it hosted the Opéra-Comique troupe, which was also destroyed by fire. In 1899, the first great turning point for the theatre: the actress Sarah Bernhardt, a superstar before her time, took over the management and gave her her name. She remained at its head until her death in 1923, crowned with some legendary successes such as L’Aiglon by Edmond Rostand in 1901.
For a long time, spectators could come out of a performance and stop in front of a room designated as Sarah Bernhardt’s dressing room. The renovation of the theater has now made it disappear, and the few objects it contained – a bathtub, armchairs – are currently being restored. “It was not the real dressing room of Sarah Bernhardt, who actually had an entire apartment here,” recalls Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota. Everything was destroyed at the turn of the 1960s with the Italian-style room. At the time, only the facade had been preserved as it was, and in 1968, under the direction of Jean Mercure, followed by another historical director, Gérard Violette, the “Théâtre municipal populaire” was born, quickly renamed “Théâtre de the city “.
On the occasion of its reopening, at the request of the town hall of Paris, the name of Sarah Bernhardt will be attached to it. “It’s a very good initiative, salutes Jean-Claude Yon. Sarah Bernhardt was, according to Cocteau’s expression, the first “sacred monster” of the theatre, and she is a figure who, through her talent and her commitments, speaks a lot in our time. A good fairy for a future teeming with challenges.