Simone Mousset | Programme
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Photo by Marco Pavone, performers Eevi Kinnunen, Tasha Hess-Neustadt, and Hannah Parsons

Empire of a Faun Imaginary

Simone Mousset Projects



I am very excited to share this work with its first audiences. The collaboration and conversations with artists and people from different fields was extremely important to me in the making of this work, and has inspired me throughout this process. I want to thank all my collaborators for their magnificent work, and I wanted to make more space for their thoughts and processes to be heard. So I invited everyone, where possible, to offer a reflection from their journey of making this work, in a form of their choice. What follows are contributions from the team, and insights into the process. 

Credits / Partners



Simone Mousset


Tasha Hess-Neustadt, Lewys Holt, Eevi Kinnunen,

Hannah Parsons, with Jorge Motel/ Carine Baccega


Lou Cope


Neil Callaghan


Macon Holt


Alberto Ruiz Soler


Jamie McCarthy


Seth Rook Williams


Lydia Sonderegger


Ariane Koziolek, Anne-Sophie Raemy, Leonie Wienandts


Sophie Ruth Donaldson, Emilie Mathieu


Birte Meier


Cony Jegerlehner


Vasanthi Argouin


Bryony Byrne


Cathy Modert


Lisa Tsumakova


Les Indépendances

Simone Mousset Projects


Escher Theater (LU); Esch 2022 Capitale européenne de la Culture (LU); POLE-SUD, Centre de Développement Chorégraphique National, Strasbourg (FR); Centre Chorégraphique National de Nantes (FR); KLAP Maison pour la danse (FR); Les Hivernales – CDCN d’Avignon (FR); Atelier de Paris / CDCN (FR); Centre Chorégraphique National de Rillieux-la-Pape, direction Yuval PICK (FR)


The Place – London; TROIS C-L – Centre de Création Chorégraphique Luxembourgeois; CN D Centre national de la danse dans le cadre du dispositif Artistes en expérimentation à Lyon; Fondation Indépendance by BIL


Residency at La Briqueterie – CDCN du Val-de-Marne


With the support of the London Contemporary Dance School Costume Department


Simone Mousset Projects is supported by the Ministry of Culture (LU)


Simone Mousset Projects is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg. Simone Mousset is associate artist at Escher Theater (LU) and The Place (UK), and she is supported by the Fondation Cléo Thiberge Edrom.

Photo by Marco Pavone, performers Tasha Hess-Neustadt, Hannah Parsons, and Eevi Kinnunen

Lou Cope – Dramaturg

‘As we will see, the line from me – here – to you – there – is the line on which sympathy and empathy take place’

‘A simple line drawn well brings great comfort’

I started working with Simone as her dramaturg in mid 2020, long before the fauns finally found their way to the glade.


Working mainly on zoom, it has been a process of digging deep into a soul that finds the act of digging deep to be at once pointless, essential, frightening, thrilling and revealing.


Sometimes I work with artists to help them find the idea in their souls. Other times the form presents itself to them long before they fully understand it. This is how it was for Simone, and thus our collective labour was to interrogate it, ask it what it wanted of us, and ensure throughout that it somehow spoke of and aligned with Simone’s truth.


The initial form, her initial inspiration, had 3 elements. A line, a harmony and 4 fauns in a glade. And it also had the ‘not’ of those. A line not-complete, a harmony not-found and the idea that the 4 fauns may not be able to be 4 fauns forever.

‘Colour Research Hair and Faun’ – Lydia Sonderegger – Stage & Costume Designer

It feels to me now that Simone was gradually constructing a world to help her think through and understand the terrible truth that all of everything is fleeting – the love, the togetherness, the harmony – but also the pain, the fear and the desolation. And that the life we want to live – the one full of bliss, peace and love – can, with only the slightest change in atmosphere, succumb to a corrosive darkness, and be destroyed, burned and left for dead. It can happen to us and it can happen within us.


So, as the breeze passes through the glade, the unbearable joys and heavenly moments of a life lived with meaning give way to an existential undoing that renders love, art, new experience and effort all unstable at best, impossible at worst.


We’ve spoken of nihilism, depression, religion and enlightenment; of waste, responsibility and paralysis; and of uncertainty as a necessary philosophical position. But we’ve also spoken of hope, ecstasy, poetics and humanity’s extraordinary capacity for elevation.


It is all there in this world, and the fauns fight their way to survival. They even dare to briefly hope that there is a will so strong and a determination so resolute that things can be changed: that we can redefine the landscape and rewrite the rules we live by in time to save us all. That the impossible can happen.


But in the end it doesn’t matter.

Whether we care a lot, or care a little

Whether we try to change or we allow tomorrow to be the same as today

whether there is beauty or whether there is not

whether the line and the harmony find themselves or they don’t

whether we are heard by those we call

– the glade will always be there and the fauns will continue on and on.

And so it goes.

Translating Atmospheres – The Glade is Everywhere – Lewys Holt – Performer

Part of making Empire of A Faun Imaginary has involved making a glade for the fauns to live in. I’m interested in how atmospheres are created in artworks and how they pull, either abstractly or directly, from other atmospheres in houses, towns, classrooms, forests or imaginary planets.

I am sitting at a desk in my temporary bedroom in a rented flat in Greenwich, London. I am writing this on the Monday evening of the 10th week of creation of ‘Empire of A Faun Imaginary’.

I’ve decided to use a writing exercise from Karinne Keithley Syers’ Pelagic School to translate the atmosphere in this room into another, imaginary atmosphere through a process of abstraction.

I listened to the sounds around me and made marks to represent them on paper with a pen like this:

Later I wrote unrelated descriptive sentences, translating the marks into words in various ways. Here they are:


There is a rocky hill that one could fall down. And they would fall for ages.

The different sizes of the vessels are intriguing, their shapes are like expressions. Sly, eager, inviting.

This is the way it has been for a while, petering out slowly, keeping going, stringing us all along.

I have seen a crack forming along one side. It is dark and deep, and now it is long.

Lurching around corners again, and again, it is a jarring and cyclical life.


Now, the sounds of dogs in the distance, the boiler in the next room, the buzz of the lights and the few other sounds I could pick out have produced another atmosphere in my imagination. Hills, strange vessels with face-like qualities, something dying slowly, darks cracks and some quick movements, turning in on themselves being performed by someone or something. I can fill this atmosphere in with more texture, more of my aesthetic desires, characters, lessons or themes, yet my desk remains bland, white, the room remains something close to silent.

Hannah Parsons – Performer

Quotes in blue are quotes by Simone Mousset from the process


“Saying more what I want to say, that I haven’t done so much before, and see how that goes.” 


It’s been interesting to be with a choreographer on a journey of searching for the work. 

Simone told us that this is the first time that she is working from such an emotional place, where previously her works have not tried to say something so specific and so personal. Sometimes I think Simone has a final image of what the work is, but the image can be like a mirage. It darts away and becomes intangible and ungraspable. 

As a team, we spend a lot of time talking about ideas. For me, the conversations help us collectively edge closer to this slippery image. We all throw in references, anecdotes and ideas and riff off each other. 

References are wild and varied. The first was an operatic piece of vocal music by an obscure Russian composer about the road that goes on and on and on and on forever. There was ‘Inside Out’, the Disney film about feelings living inside the head of a little girl. We spoke about the removal of God in the USSR, and the subsequent creation of something else to fill this space. The Greek God, Pan, half man, half goat who represents many things, but among them the power of nature, and from whom we have the word ‘panic’. We watched an animation where characters live in a world with a strong wind, and find different ways of dealing with the wind, and another where the characters gleefully jump out of holes in the ground, and greet each other with happy noises. We spread out the cards of the tarot deck, looked at their images and talked about their meanings. 


‘Maybe it’s something like this, or maybe it’s not at all this, but let’s try it’. 


Voice as a Powerful Phenomenon 


Throughout the process, Simone has described the use of voice as ‘weather’ and as a ‘powerful phenomenon’ that carries the work, and she sometimes thinks of the work as an opera. Guided by Jamie McCarthy, his approach to using the voice is deep and embodied. Showing us pictures of the anatomy of the vocal cords, he accompanied this with long sessions of lying down and taking the vibrations of the voice to different parts of the body. Understanding the internal apparatus, we feel our larynx rise and fall, and learn to remember the physical resonation of a specific note as a way to locate the pitch.


Since having kids, I find I need to be much more courageous a lot of the time, and I like to think, in general, more courageous than I thought I could ever be” 


Sometimes the show is, for me, like a mother telling a bedtime story to her children. Told while tucked up in bed, we are transported to a world of mythical creatures and bright colours, where humans become fauns, and magically sing in beautiful harmony. There is pleasure in indulging in the details. Perhaps the grass can talk, and the air is enchanted so that it can talk to the creatures. She crafts a world so perfect and beautiful and dreamlike. As she lets her imagination explore this animated world (and perhaps once the children are already sleeping) something deeper and darker creeps its way into the images. Horrors of our human world seep in, from the news, anxieties about the future, self-doubt, and from an unnamable worry deep in the pit of your stomach. Without noticing, the dreamworld starts to stretch and distort like a hall of mirrors. The fauns eyes grow red, fangs grow in their mouths, and they hiss at each other. They become two-dimensional, they fall down holes and explode out of volcanoes. There is pain and suffering and bleeding and breaking and screaming and crying and dying. The colours fade, and everything crumbles and crumbles until finally, the dreamworld becomes a wasteland. You realise that you are sitting among the debris. Debris of everything that ever was, and everything that ever will be. The shattering of this beautiful dream evokes a deep, guttural wail, so utterly beautiful and so utterly sad and so profoundly human, that perhaps lets us go on again when the children wake up in the morning. 


“The journey goes on and on and on and on and on and on forever… or something like that.” 

Eevi Kinnunen, Tasha Hess-Neustadt – Collage

Singing the World of the Fauns Into Being – Jamie McCarthy – Voice Work and Vocal Composition

A hot day in Lyon: ‘You’re a goat-diva performing your death-scene aria. Go …’


‘Start on any note. Hold it for the length of your own breath. Don’t coordinate with others. When you finish that breath, listen out for a new note that you can hear and want to copy. If you manage to copy that note – great – we have more unity in the sound. If you don’t and sing another note – great – we have more diversity in the sound.’ The long tones come in waves, move around the circle, merge with each other, separate, sound in clear and cloudy harmonies.


‘I was listening to these string quartets and was thinking maybe to take them as a base … as in “let’s have a go at composing with our four voices something similar, much removed of course”.’


‘Why string quartet?’

‘Simply something that is four voices and a harmonious whole …. Harmony and unity that will become struggling unity.’


‘Eevi has a question about her two screams …’


A much colder day in London earlier in the year, the dancers lying on the floor: ‘Where in the body do you feel the sound? Allow the sound to find its way there – allowing rather than making the sound.’

Listening to your body.

Listening to the sound you make and how it resonates in your body, in the room and in the people who can hear it.


‘I guess I’m wondering what the essential thing is about the string quartet movements you sent me, or the general idea of a string quartet is for you? Is it the atmosphere? The way in which the musical material works? (Repetition? Longer melodic-type lines with a more rhythmic / patterned accompaniment? The idea of layers and harmony?) … I’m happy just to turn up and see what we can come up with and to explore …’


Work on maintaining breath throughout any note or phrase you’re singing. It’s a beam of breath that carries the sound … it never falls in energy, even if the energy changes.


‘They are doing this because they have to feel safe, it is existentially important. Repetition, ritual, the universe is sung into being.’


Great growling!


My approach to using the voice has become very anchored in where sound happens in the body – perhaps you could call it the micro-choreography that happens within the body when we vocalise. My warm-ups with the company are very slow and meditative, investigating relaxation and resonance at first, before exploring how we might allow the voice to release itself.


‘Some thoughts: having explored improvised singing in that last week, this time I would like to compose something fixed – which maybe then again can be loosened up, or the other way around, something specific with melodies, or one melody, that we can all jump in to accompany, or so – but I think I would actually really like to make a four-voice harmonic thing that we learn and that is fixed. And then perhaps play with if we have time.’


Feel the humming in your bones.

Play with the image of the vibrations from your own body spreading out through the floor.

The vibrations from your body meet the vibrations from other bodies sounding in the room.

The vibrations from your body meet the other bodies, sounding in the room.

The vibrations from other bodies sounding in the room meet your body.

Sometimes your jaw drops and an open sound releases.

The vibrations from your sound mingle in the air with the vibrations from the other bodies in the room.

Resonance in your body.

Resonance in the room.

Resonance in other people.

The dancers scream, grunt, bleat, miaow … ‘How can you let that sound happen? How can you let it release, rather than push it? Where in the body do you feel that bleat?’


Voicing – singing as a regular practice. Connecting to your own body. Connecting to the sounding bodies of the other singers and to the listeners. Connecting to the spaces and objects around you. Voice practice … repetition, deepening, softening, allowing.



Listening to each other.


Perhaps we can shape this more. Perhaps add another variation or two in what you’re singing. Not too much, but something that gives a sense of growth – progression.


Maybe we can do less here.


Shifts in tone of voice throughout the piece … soft, harsh, pure, breathy, gravelly, desperate, soothing.


Always listening to exactly where your voice wants to be and to sound within the body.


Always allowing. Releasing the sound. ‘Letting it happen’ rather than ‘making it happen’.


Repetition, deepening, softening, allowing.


Back in Lyon. Another hot day. Playing with soloing with the voice over a chord progression. Thinking about pitch levels – repetition of motifs – the overall shape of your solo.


We repeat. We make and unmake. Learning melodies and harmonies. We improvise. We make frameworks, that morph, crumble, shift. We return to music and ideas we thought we’d left behind.


Think about variety of beginnings and endings to notes / chords. Consciously care for how you start and end notes.


There’s a moment. Very clear and structured – an ordered burst of vocalisation. Tricky, exact counts. Sometimes known as ‘the birds’, sometimes ‘the mouse organ’. A burst of group sound – an exclamation.


Be aware of when you’re sliding and when you’re ‘landing’.


Keeping safe … ritual … repetition


‘It feels like Simone and the dancers have shaped what happens vocally in the piece, and I’ve input into that creation in a variety of ways. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a fair bit of music or vocal sound that I’ve composed in one way or another that has found its way into the piece, but it feels like the composition really belongs to the whole company.’


The dancers deal so beautifully with the demands of singing and moving, going between set musical material and improvisation (both free and within frameworks).


A mammoth appears. Perhaps it’s been lurking in the background the whole time. Can we have the mammoth sing ‘operatically’? A funereal round? ‘Can you please sing this in harmony in an operatic style with lots of vibrato inside a hairy mammoth costume with improvised bits of foam on your head?’


Repetition, ritual, this world is being sung into being.

‘Stage Model 3’ – Lydia Sonderegger – Stage & Costume Designer

Photo by Marco Pavone, performers Tasha Hess-Neustadt, Hannah Parsons, and Lewys Holt

Sketch of a lighting state, by Simone Mousset and lighting designer Seth Rook Williams

HOW TO… Thoughts on accompanying a process – Neil Callaghan – Artistic Companion to Simone

How to know where your loyalties lie – with the choreographer?  the piece? the collaborators?  Future audiences?

How to provide anecdote to isolation in the creative process?

How to take care of the thing itself?

How to draw awareness to how decisions are made?

How to offer new possibilities?

How to know when to speak up?

How to know when to shut up?

How to be at the service of embodying the thing?

How to make space for purpose and pointlessness?

How to walk alongside?

How to reflect and keep your opinions to yourself?

How to articulate opinions to generate a position to be in relation to?

How to be generative?

How to assist the process of getting creative juices flowing?

How to give permission?

How to create safety?

How to support?

How to tease?

How to create a sense of time, when deadlines feel like the oncoming storm?

How to reassure?

How to be a surface which can reflect an echo?

How to create a space for resonance?

How to be a wind that changes the air?

How to be wind that has your back?

How to be a sidewind that lets you feel the contours of form?

How to infect a process?

How to know how much to contribute to a process?

How to navigate?

How to recognise what needs to be done?

How to do it?

How to see again?

How to re-see?

How to rehearse?

How to do it differently?

How to warm up?

How to prepare?

How to be content enough?

How to recognise what you need?

How to recognise what it needs?

How to give it what it needs?

How to navigate the pressure?

How to sit with conflict?

How to make sure things don’t catch fire?

How to begin?

How to end?

How to know the right time to make decisions?

How to notice habits of relating?

How to notice habits of making?

How to know which habits to keep and which to ditch?

How to listen to the tiny voice?

How to make space for wonder?

How to create a frame that people can relate to?

How to make a space where mistakes are encouraged?

How to encourage mistakes when the stakes are so high?

How to find depth?

How to feel the ground?

How to make the impossible possible?

How to maintain optimism and keep a healthy scepticism?

How to keep your integrity?

How to know when to be clear and when to make space for the un-knowing?

How to be discerning?

How to do the most with the resources you have?

The Trauma of an Irrevocable Transformation – Macon Holt – Cultural Theorist

In the short story Simone Mousset composed to express narrative nested within The Empire of the Faun Imaginary, we are introduced to a magical reality on a far off planet on which four alien Fauns live in a white glade. They regulate their breathing as the air pressure shifts through the course of this strange world’s day by singing in apparently ‘harmonious’ unison. The story not only offers hints of the conceptual infrastructure that undergirds this piece, but it also articulates a problem that haunts our every attempt to make sense of our own reality as it unfolds with complete ambivalence to our very existence. The problem becomes apparent when, eventually, the ‘harmonious’ existence of the Fauns is ruptured when one faun sings out of unison. This doesn’t cause a problem for their breathing. The singing alone is sufficient to regulate it, which reveals something unsettling about their, now lost, unity. They persist in attempting to reclaim their ‘harmony’, becoming increasingly frustrated as they fail to achieve again something that had previously not even been possible to think of in terms of achievement. The ‘harmony’ had just been what it was to exist. And the quasi-immortality of the fauns meant that they have experienced the non-conscious ease of producing their collective song for millennia. This rupture, then, is so confounding for them because it is like a tear in the fabric of their reality. But it is this tear that makes reality apprehensible to them as something at all.


The tear, then, provides the vantage point from which what they are doing can be understood as singing. When bees dance, they are communicating the location of pollen. When birds sing, they are looking for or calling to a mate. These things are practical activities for the reproduction of life. It is us, humans, outsiders to these creatures concerns, that add these aesthetic meanings to these activities as we do to our own. This isn’t to trivialize aestheticization, rather it is to point to the complex work it does to link material reality to our ideas about it. The loss of ‘unity’ sets the fauns on a journey to perform the same act of abstraction on what had been their immediate, unmediated state of being. The aesthetic judgment, following the rupture, transforms their vocalization into a song.


Something happens to the Fauns, then, when they realise the fallibility of the life sustaining processes they had taken for granted. They still sustain life, but the subtle failure has left the process reified. The ‘harmony’ that had been their reality becomes something they prefer to the discord they are currently stricken with. And with this feeling of preference, their reality is split between what apparently is, and a mental representation of what once was and what could be again. But the very act of producing this preference, of representing their world to themselves, means it will never be realised again. And, by representing their world to themselves, they start to cast doubts as to whether it was ever actually like they now imagine it was before. Even if it was, it can never be again because, definitionally, representation can never be identical to what it represents.


This irresolvable disjunction permeates the conversations and correspondences between Mousset and myself as we talk about this project. The Empire of the Faun Imaginary, then, is a piece that exists in the melancholy of what Mousset has described as her motivation, what she calls a “painful pull towards irrevocable transformation”. This is what happens to the Fauns. The disruption to their patterning of existence has introduced them to their own preferences, which becomes the very moment at which it is no longer possible to meet them. They have been transformed into creatures like us, creatures that represent the world to themselves in ways that cannot match experience. In a perhaps overly grand sense, this is a problematic that permeates the Western art tradition, and is the source of unending angst for artists concerned about living up to an ideal of art making and who are continually faced, instead, with whatever particularity they produced in actuality. But really it is more common place than that. It is the party one hosts that cannot live up to your expectations, the education one takes that didn’t provide you the answers you sought, the job that barely even fulfils the ideal of making a living, and the partner who, in the end, you didn’t like as much as you hoped you would. 


The issue here though is not reality. It is instead our relation to it. For the Fauns, it is their inability to accept that they are unable to live what they idealise. The pain Mousset speaks of is caused not merely by representing the world through unreasonable expectations, but by occupying a meta position of representations which supposes our representations of reality should have some bearing on it. The pain of believing that what you experience as a will for the world to be or become a certain way is capable of shaping the world towards its desires, when nothing could be further from the truth. When that will for what could be encounters what is, it will have to negotiate with it on those terms. The party, the education, the job, the partner can only do what they can do, and your representations of them often fails to take that into account.


The routes through this are fraught and traumatic. This is what we see the Fauns go through, the trauma of an irrevocable transformation. In her own words, Mousset describes how what she expresses in this piece, “is a delirious and fantasising yearning for this all too familiar tussle with loss and meaninglessness to be transformed or be transcended by an unimaginable, catastrophic and perhaps even cathartic change of the very essence of all things, towards an unknown, but other state.” So, what we see with the Fauns is a close up, concrete examination of an abstract problem. The piece then is an unfolding of what Donna Haraway might call “staying with the trouble”. And while it is abstract, the trouble here is one with a great deal of contemporary relevance.


For people of mine and Mousset’s generation, the class were a part of, in the part of the planet we’re from, we grew up, much like the Fauns, in an apparently stable world. A world in which we were told the future would either be like the past or an improvement on it. But in the last fifteen years we have come to learn that this is not necessarily the case, and for most people, it never was. Whatever systems had allowed the life of the Fauns to seem stable to them worked by slowly falling apart. And then those systems fell apart entirely. This is a very similar moment for us and those still fortunate enough to work in the arts or who get to see performances such as this one. The world built after the horrors of the 20th century – after European extractive violence had turned on itself, and commitments were made to not let it happen again by intensifying market interdependency and individualizing experience – has slowly been coming apart from within for decades. In this winter of crisis at the beginning of what will be a decade of crises, our pseudo stable world may well fall further apart still. 


From our conversations, The Empire of the Faun Imaginary is an opportunity to objectify the traumatic process of transformations. Through the Fauns, we can perhaps objectify the violence we inflict on ourselves and others when we insist on committing to representations that no longer, in any way, match the world. The irrevocable transformation then offers an open, ambivalent question. Will we go out screaming about that which has been already lost forever, just to hold on to who we believed we were? Or will we let ourselves become something else with and through the new world that is emerging?

Image by visual artist William Fairbrother, inspired by the short story from Simone Mousset and set design by Lydia Sonderegger

Simone Mousset – Extract of a Short Story

The following is an extract (with additional writing by Lou Cope) from the short story I wrote to articulate and give form to the themes and atmospheres of this work. This writing influenced the making of the work right from the beginning of rehearsals.


When it was all over, the fauns got up, slowly. There was no more light, no more shadow, no more beauty, no more death, no more fear, nothing more to stay for. It was as if a veil had fallen from them, as if they were no longer fauns. They seemed to melt and abandon themselves to the weight that had suddenly both fallen off and fallen on. Tearing the glade with them, they slowly paved their way away. The lake was pulled out of its bed, the rocks were lifted and moved and pushed, the small caves and grottos gave way as the four of them left, and took the landscape with them. 
Finally, finally, there was some rest. It spoke of all the exhaustion, of all the tiredness of the troubled souls, of all the changes that had failed and all the changes they hadn’t even tried. 
It spoke of the magnificent pointlessness of the beauty and the terrific everness of the dull. 
It spoke of line and not-line. 

Photo by Marco Pavone, performers Eevi Kinnunen, Lewys Holt, Tasha Hess-Neustadt, and Hannah Parsons