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In Performance

In Performance: Philippe Quesne/Vivarium Studio – La Melancolie des Dragons (Out There Festival)

In Performance: Philippe Quesne/Vivarium Studio – La Melancolie des Dragons (Out There Festival)

La Melancolie des Dragons
Philippe Quesne/Vivarium Studio
Walker Art Center

A group of long-haired metalheads sits in a stalled vintage Citroën in a wintery forest. They fiddle with the car radio, share snacks, and chat under cover of blasting music. Then arrives their friend Isabelle, a wise Snow White figure to the metalheads’ seven dwarves. After determining (through inspection and tinkering) that their Citroën won’t be going anywhere tonight, she asks the stranded metalheads to pass the time by demonstrating the attractions of the amusement park they are developing.

Here, Philippe Quesne’s penchant for using simple tools to create surreal images shines. The would-be amusement park creators display each attraction for Isabelle, often calling her away from the previous one like a child eager for his mother’s attention. And, with a mother’s love, Isabelle is sincerely delighted in what they’ve made. A real sense of childlike wonder pervades the piece as Isabelle is guided through the amusement park’s offerings, which include an installation of long-haired wigs blown with a fan, a ski jump accomplished by lifting the end of one roll of fake “snow” carpeting, and choreographies performed with inflated plastic shapes. Though each display is quite straightforward, they transcend the sum of their parts to become dream-like and sublime. When Isabelle stands atop a ladder while fog and bubbles swirl and her in the wind from a handheld fan and the music swells, it feels as triumphant as any high-tech spectacle.

Like Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort’s Germinal, part of last year’s Out There Festival, La Melancolie des Dragons plays with the tools of presentation and theatricality. In this case, the amusement park creators revel in simple beauties and encourage the appreciation of objects and experiences for their basic properties. Here can be found in abundance unselfconscious enjoyment of the kind displayed by metelheads and classical music fans alike. La Melancolie des Dragons quietly demonstrates the joy in allowing oneself to love without inhibition.

Photo: La Melancolie des dragons – Philippe Quesne – Theatre Nanterre-Amandiers

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Margo Gray is a performance maker and curator based in Minneapolis. Her practice centers around interactive and participatory performance, Current research includes emerging techniques in interactive theatre and performance-adjacent disciplines such as alternate reality gaming (ARGs) and Nordic live-action role-playing. She is currently the Producing Artistic Director of Playable Artworks (a sponsored project of Springboard for the Arts), a Twin Cities-based performance engine. Margo is a former Fulbright Fellow at the Moscow Art Theatre School. She holds a BA in Russian from Grinnell College and an MFA from Carnegie Mellon University. For more information, visit and

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