Les Autruches


Winter 1967
"When we start rehearsing the ostrich ballet with Yves [Brunier] we have difficulty coordinating our movements. Mary [Underwood], who has a lot of experience in dance, offers to help us. Faced with our inability to follow a strict tempo, she has the idea of manipulating a third ostrich, in the middle, who leads the dance... We have to follow her. Coordinating your right arm and left arm, while respecting fixed points – the anchor points – and not letting your body enter the corridor of light, is a huge challenge.

One of the ostriches is often out of sync – mine. Yves does rather better. My pride is stung, so I sarcastically accuse my ostrich of being the guilty party: she becomes the trouble-maker and her character develops based on my failings. I make her lose her lace tutu and she lays an egg in the middle of an arabesque - among other humiliations - leaving me a little time to get back in time and allowing me to save face. Mary soon reveals herself to be a talented puppeteer, and she will need to dig deep into her reserves of patience and dedication to get me to dance in quadruple time and coordinate my movements.

The act becomes more complex and Monique [Scheigam] soon joins the party as a fourth puppeteer. Floating in black space, a giant camera with bellows falls in love with an ostrich feather boa. This torrid scene, punctuated with onomatopoeias from Mary for the boa, and from myself for the camera, endeavours to parody our relationship. The roles are reversed, with the boa penetrating the camera through the lens and being swallowed whole before the camera lays three ostrich photographs. The ostriches escape from their photos and set out to dance a caricatured version of classic ballet to Ponchielli's famous Dance of the hours. The sketch ends with eleven hysterical ostriches dancing to a rock version of Lulu's Shout, which was very popular at the time."

Paysages intérieurs, pp. 77-79 © Actes Sud

"The finalisation of this ambitious project, in between television appearances and short contracts all over the world, took us ages. It is the longest show that I have created to date."

One of Citroën's directors, Carmen Bajot, and the vocal group "les Compagnons de la chanson" all attend a private rehearsal organised by Philippe Genty.

"... there is a lot of laughing and it is enthusiastically received... The director of Citroën is delighted and confirms his intention to produce a programme that will include the projection of the film brought back from the world tour, and all our sketches for a tour of all the French towns where the car company is represented. This could signal the end of our financial problems and a wonderful opportunity to get the show running smoothly in front of a very diverse public. The tour lasted four months, with corrections to the ostriches on an almost daily basis, and I gradually condense the sketch, keeping only the best bits..."

Paysages intérieurs, p. 82 © Actes Sud

The roaring 70s
"We join a company called Compagnie Philippe Genty in order to remain incognito.
In the chaos that we inhabit, one thing becomes urgent: to find a place to rehearse in Paris and spare us the 75 km round trip to and from Bourron-Marlotte nearly every day, and finally store our clutter, our materials and our tools in a real workshop.
The creation of a company that would give us a status becomes vital. An owner accepts to sell us a 250 m² hangar next to Bastille, in which we convert the first floor into a living space, with a rehearsal room and production area on the ground floor. The instalments are paid off over three years.

The ostriches are going to save us. They move out to Las Vegas for a year, where they mingle with the best and the worst at the Tropicana hotel, where Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald have a show.
At the same time, Roland Petit and Zizi Jeanmaire hire us for two years for their variety show at the Casino de Paris. We set up a second team that works for Yves and Monique, and then a third team to meet demand from all four corners of the world, from television shows in London, Sydney, Berlin, and Tokyo, to Radio City Hall in New York. Les Autruches are very popular, almost too popular, becoming the sole face of the company.

It was a hyperactive period. In the dressing room, between two shows, I write the dialogues for sketches that are shown every Thursday on television with Jean-Pierre Dutour, an actor and writer introduced to me by Romain Bouteille. On this show, two of our characters - Gertrude the ostrich and Barnabé the dog, manipulated by Jean-Pierre - make me look ridiculous."

Paysages intérieurs, p. 85 © Actes Sud

"I start to realise that, in a sense, Les Autruches was already an exploration of materials - the feather boa - its potential for expression, its significant ambiguities, from representational and non-representational art, from pure form to the character."