The French Cultural Center in Mounira yesterday evening welcomed Belgian comedian Noémie Dujardin, who read excerpts from novels in the French language by six women writers.
During her 55 minutes on stage, Noémie Dujardin lent her voice to various female characters, from a dying woman to an African emigrant and a hysterical French teacher.
On stage a table and a few chairs were assembled. Dujardin, hair neatly combed back in a ponytail, hands holding stiff brown sheets of paper, began the story of Louise, an old woman on her hospital deathbed.
With a soft voice, Dujardin described Louise’s emaciated face, buried in cushions, and the visit of her three sisters who loudly lament Louise’s imminent death. Instead of paying attention to her sickly condition, they rehash nonsense over her motionless body. “She was planning to go on holidays, she even had her hotel booked!” exclaims one of the three old women.
An instant later, the first notes of Natasha Atlas’ song “Au nom de la rose” filled the dimmed stage. Dujardin re-entered, this time in a woolly-blond wig and huge bag which she frenetically searched, stamping her feet and giving out piercing cries. This was Rose-Marie Ajamian, the French teacher in Dominique Edde’s novel Cerf-volant (The Kite), and while embodying this character Dujardin told the story of a woman in love, in a harem, in La Bien-aimée (The Beloved) by Miriam Antaki.
Rolling her “r’s”, the hysterical teacher lost herself in this sensual story while nervously playing with the pearl necklace around her neck.
The last excerpt Dujardin read was from Marie Ndiaye’s Trois femmes puissantes (Three Powerful Women), which received the Goncourt Prize for Literature in 2009. Sitting on the floor with legs crossed, a grave and sweet expression on her face, Dujardin told the story of Kadi Demba, an African woman whose husband has died and who is forced by her in-laws to emmigrate to France to earn money to send back home. Kadi finds herself buffeted from truck to boat, alone and scared to death, on a journey she cannot understand. The lights went out; Dujardin grabbed a flashlight and pointed its beam at the audience while the sound of waves filled the room.
This was the end of the show, and for a few additional minutes no one in the room stirred; each seemingly unwilling to detach themself from the spellbinding narratives.
A few minutes after finishing her outstanding performance, Dujardin sat on the edge of the stage with Al-Masry Al-Youm to discuss her texts and her career.
“I was given this selection of excerpts, which I read millions of times on the floor, on my bed, until I was completely immersed in [the characters’] universes,” she explained. Dujardin compares her text-reading on stage to her acting, saying that “when you read a text you have to follow stricter instructions than when you act, because everything is said in the text.”
Dujardin joined the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles from 2000 to 2002, before becoming a student at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique in Paris from 2003 to 2006. Her first appearance on stage was in 2001 in Brussels when she acted in Marivaux’s Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard (The Game of Love and Chance). A few years later she was directed by film director Roman Polanski in Doutes (Doubts), playing the part of a nun. “The experience was extraordinary,” said Dujardin.
At the moment Dujardin is rehearsing for her next play which is inspired by USA, by John Dos Passos. Visibly excited about the new project, she explained that the play revolves around the topic of class struggle.
“One day you participate in major artistic projects and other times you get involved in small-scale ones […] but this has no importance at all. What truly counts is to have faith in what you do, to have the possibility to confront an audience and tell people stories,” she said.
Noémie Dujardin will perform tonight, 22 March at the French Cultural Center in Alexandria at 7 PM, and at the French Center in Heliopolis on 23 March at 7 PM.