Rond comme un cube


1982, a journey to China

"The People's Republic of China has just gone through the last throes of the cultural revolution with the trial of the Gang of Four. The company is one of the first western troupes to be invited, with Rond comme un cube.

With the exception of a sequence where I come on stage to demonstrate how the puppet is manipulated, the show is silent. For this scene, I endeavour to speak the local language, not only out of courtesy, but also to familiarize myself with the spirit of its speakers. With Mandarin – or Putonghua to be precise – I was expecting it to be a challenge, but I certainly wasn't expecting it to be this hard. The same syllable can mean something completely different if it is pronounced in one of four different tones, to which you must add the tonic accents. Chinese students living in Cité Universitaire (halls of residence) in Paris translated the fourteen pages of my text phonetically, accompanied with an audio recording.

Before we leave for China, following five weeks of assiduous rehearsal, I take my exam with my translators. They congratulate me, but I see great confusion in their eyes."

Paysages intérieurs, p. 118 © Actes Sud