Theatre Art Director/Curator, Co-owner
Interview via email on November 23rd, 2016
KL: Tell us a little about you, Philippe, what is your history in the music/theatre scene before China. I noticed your Chinese is fantastic, how did you end up in Beijing and how long have you been here?
PB: I worked as an archaeologist for different French institutions (Louvre Museum, Lutece street, French Senat) from 1979 to 1990.
From 1989 to 2002, I composed music for cartoons and films, such as Sharky and George (104 episodes), Canal+, “Sur le pont d’Avignon” cartoon, music for educational DVDs etc.
From 1998, I worked as light engineer in different kinds of spaces (outside stage, theatre, church) in different countries.
Since 1995, I have been working on over 100 projects as music producer & art director in Europe, Africa and China. Projects include collaborations with renowned European recording companies such as Musique du monde, Nord-Sud, Night and Day, Al Sur and many others.
Besides that, I was also photographer for CD covers, magazines and personal exhibitions in China and France.
KL: Have you been involved in any other art or culture projects in China?
PB: During my first trips to China, I produced two albums of popular Qiang ethnic songs in the North part of Sichuan province and made photography exhibitions linked to those music recordings.
I also plan exhibition with French artists in La Plantation and some in France for Chinese artists.
KL: Can you give us an overview of La Plantation? How long have you been around? Where can we find you and what do you do?
The idea of “La Plantation” is born from our shared cultural interests and the discovery of an industrial wasteland in January 2006.
We dreamed of an art project for La Plantation more than for a business one,
We wanted a space which look like us, curious, open-minded floricultural and designed with a feeling of warmness and originality, even by keeping the industrial past of the place alive.
La Plantation offers concerts: classical music, jazz, world music and fusion on Saturdays at 7:00 PM and on Sundays at 4:00 PM. We have organized more than 200 concerts in La Plantation concert hall with international artists.
KL: What was your mission with opening the theatre? Was the idea to spread western classical music or was there a larger intention to engage with Chinese musicians?
PB: I did not have any missions I think, I was just attracted by the country dynamism and people’s energy.
If I try to work as well as possible to promote different kind of arts, I’m not the government and do not have any “mission” here! I am just interested in musicians really motivated, wherever they come from.
KL: Loreli’s modus operandi is to encourage collaboration between artists of different styles and mediums; does La Plantation do anything to connect musicians of varying backgrounds and styles? Do you have any interest in musical hybrids, crossovers and experimentation or does the theatre stick to more traditional bands and orchestras?
PB: We did residencies around dance and music, art exhibitions with French and Chinese artists. I am quite open to many kinds of art, I already designed some video, photos on stage or during art exhibitions to offer some new ways to the audience. I am into real creative contemporary composers more than recycling music stuff as many these days are.
KL: The theatre itself is beautifully designed with wooden stairs descending into a central pit/performance space. The original industrial warehouse space is visible above the audience’s heads while wooden panelling creates the perfect cocoon for the music. Who designed the space? How long did it take to realise the theatre from conception to opening?
PB: The design is the work of Zhang Xing 张行my best friend in China and his wife Shu Kun 束坤, both famous designers who are working all over China. We renovated and redesigned the location of La Plantation from 2007 to 2009.
KL: The upper level of the theatre space showcases large canvasses. Is showing visual art an important part of what the theatre wants to achieve? Is the exhibition permanent or will it change periodically?
PB: I often have long time partnership with French artists, so I regularly change the exhibition in the gallery above the theatre.
All the place must have an artistic mood to make the difference with others.
KL: You mentioned to me that there are few independent Chinese led chamber groups in Beijing with most classical music being organised through official Chinese channels. Why do you think there is so few and is La Plantation doing anything to remedy this?
PB: Chamber music needs a market, so it will take generations to improve the amount of theatres, audiences and orchestras. I cannot remedy that, it is a matter for society, this will come over time. That’s why we hold concerts with musicians like Chu Yibing who did create a six cello chamber orchestra on his own 10 years ago, he is a pioneer and he will play again in La Plantation on the 26th of November 2016.
KL: La Plantation is located in Art base 1, Hegezhuang Village in Beijing’s Northeast past Wangjing. Does this provide any problems or challenges with running a theatre program? I was out there a week before to visit the Wen Pulin archive in the nearby Red Brick Gallery and the space was humming but for a night show everything is closed and dark and my walk back to the station alone was slightly harrowing. Are you able to counter the remoteness in anyway? You mentioned about live streaming events.
PB: Far from where? This is the point! We are 24 million people in Beijing, just around us there is Wangjing, Shunyi and Chaoyang. It’s like 6 million people, already three times Paris!
Beijing subway line 15 arrived in 2011, line 14 in 2015 with more and more connections to the city center, it takes 50 mn to go to Dawanglu or Nanluoguxiang … and now there is an electric shuttle service from and to the subway station from 7am to 11pm! Of course it is a challenge to catch people from the inner city, but the quality of concerts we propose make people come, whatever the distance.
KL: How do you feel about the Beijing “art space” scene? With the success of 798 Art District we have had more and more large industrial parks dedicated to art and design open on the fringes of the city. Due you think this is conducive to cultural awareness or innovation in the city? Operating in one of the spaces, do you think they are successful?
PB: In a way, yes, on a long term, this is part of the modernity of a capital.
If we talk about economic success, no, I think culture is improving day after day and some are going well, some are collapsing. Being still here after 10 years is already a success.
KL: The theatre feels distinctly French in many ways, do you work together with other purveyors of French culture such as the Institut Francais to promote or collaborate?
PB: My Chinese partners have been to France several times with me and they like the life quality, art protection and variety of French culture, so we all respect France and China through our design and programs.
Thanks to my past in France and collaborations with French organizations in Beijing since 2009 (Festival Croisements and Alliance Francaise), I also offer contemporary dance performances, object theatre or object puppetry and the new French circus.
KL: Does nationality and culture matter when sharing music?
PB: Not at all, only education makes the difference, whatever the nationality is. Music has no passport.
KL: Do you have any passion projects that you would love to see come to fruition at La Plantation? What are your long-term goals for the theatre?
PB: Improve the amount of shows and concerts, do more contemporary dance and new circus but also develop collaborations with international and Chinese schools to make the students discover, as soon as possible, what is the benefit of live performances compared to the very cheap mobile world!
Philippe Bouvet has a history in archaeology, music composition, sound engineering and photography. He has been the art director, curator and co-owner of La Plantation Theatre since its inception in 2007. He also works in lighting design and championing the traditional music of regional China.
Contact him for more information of what La Plantation has on offer at email@example.com.