Their translucent bodies stand out from the darkness of the Théâtre Joliette, revealing their fragility. The protagonists of Les Vagues, a creation presented Tuesday in Marseille, are ice puppets, an ephemeral material allowing one to “travel through time”, like Virginia Woolf’s characters. Between the latter, whom the British writer’s novel follows “from their very early childhood to a very advanced age” and their human-sized frosted effigies, “there was a sort of correspondence”, as “an obvious », Explains to AFP the director and visual artist Elise Vigneron, who has been working with ice for around ten years.

“It’s really a fascinating material because it is completely ephemeral,” she continues, “and at the same time, there is this possibility of going through history or of freezing”, like this “fossil” ice which has formed several thousand years ago in Antarctica and the study of which allows scientists to better understand past climate developments.

Extracted one by one from a large refrigerator-display placed at the back of the stage, Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Jinny and Louis advance towards us, suspended by their wires from high rails and delicately guided by the five performers of the show, including an actor and a dancer. “I was very apprehensive about working with ice,” confides Thomas Cordeiro, 31, a trained puppeteer who is confronting this material for the first time. “The manipulation is really in the present,” he explains, because the disadvantage of ice “is that it will break” and from then on, “it is no longer the same weights” at the end. sons so “it’s up to us to rebalance ourselves”.

It is a material “in movement, in transformation” without necessarily controlling these changes, notes Elise Vigneron. “It’s really a technical and artistic challenge” for the team, who must adapt and “accept that there is randomness,” adds the 43-year-old director, whose new creation takes place in a cycle on ice started in 2020.

A challenge that begins the day before each performance, by filling with water the various resin and silicone molds which will give shape – with 12 to 15 hours of freezing – to the limbs of the puppets, before they are assembled thanks to a stainless steel skeleton trapped in ice. “We make ice which is hollow so we have to have a fairly precise time to be able to empty the water which is in the molds. If it is too full, it will not melt enough and will be too heavy for handlers. And at the same time, if it is too thin, it breaks too quickly,” explains Elise Vigneron.

By extracting Bernard’s head from its silicone matrix, Vincent Debuire ensures that the child’s face has been sufficiently sculpted. “The difficulty with ice is that we lose the lines quite easily,” explains the young man, one of the builders responsible for making the puppets. Hence the use of talcum powder to “hang” and highlight the contours of the face. “Faced with this material, the viewer immediately identifies, there is a kind of empathy, something very sensitive which does not need words,” believes Elise Vigneron.

However, “it is an ephemeral which is not morbid” but “cyclical”, like water, “very organic” and “living” matter, which is like a metaphor for our own existence, according to the visual artist. The passage of time is also perceptible in the “different qualities of ice” which run through the show: “very very white at the start”, the puppets will gradually become “more and more transparent”, she notes. Finally, “these individuals who are quite separated during the entire show”, by melting, will “unify in the matter which is on the ground”, taking their place again in the great whole.