Lucas Tavernier: "Acting in front of an Orchestra, is like Riding a Dragon"

Every year, just before the Christmas holidays, Bozar and the Belgian National Orchestra put on a show for the whole family to enjoy. This year, Tchaikovsky's famous ballet The Nutcracker is on the programme. French illustrator and animator Grégoire Pont will bring the adventures of little Clara to life on the big screen with his drawing pen, while the story will be enchantingly told by actor Lucas Tavernier, who gave us an interview.

You're very well known in Flanders for your roles in TV series such as Thuis (Youri Lavrov), Zone Stad, Familie and Het verhaal van Vlaanderen. But as a polyglot, you also regularly work beyond the borders of Flanders. How did you come to do this?

I don't come from a family that particularly values culture in all its facets. Before I could train as an actor, my parents asked me to do some 'real' studies, at least four years, preferably at university. I chose Romance languages, which seemed like a good compromise. As part of the Erasmus programme, I spent most of my final year in Paris, where I also took drama classes. Once I had my degree in Romance languages, I stayed in the French capital to study acting. Firstly because, once you've passed the entrance exam in Paris, you're sure to be able to complete your training there, and perhaps also as a way of getting back at my parents. It was an incredible experience: after my training, I landed the lead role in a classic French play, L'Aiglon by Edmond Rostand, even though French was not my mother tongue. I saw it as a great reward for my hard work! In Belgium, I've already played at the Théâtre Royal du Parc, the Théâtre Royal des Galeries and Villers-la-Ville. And abroad, I've been involved in the production of films such as Monuments Men, Comandante, Subhuman and many others.

Are you a classical music fan?

Musically speaking, I consider myself to be completely ignorant! But I have boundless admiration and respect for musicians. A good friend of mine is principal viola in Paris and also produces classical music. I've already worked with him several times on shows where classical music and text meet. My first collaboration with the Belgian National Orchestra in 2019, for the Christmas concert The Snow Maiden, already with Grégoire Pont, was an extremely rewarding experience. It was a real honour to work alongside the conductor, the soprano and the tenor... It was impressive to see how the singers could thrill the entire Henry Le Boeuf hall with their powerful voices!

As with The Snow Maiden, there will be two performances of The Nutcracker reserved for schools. What's the difference between a performance for schools and one for families?

School performances are always noisier, because there are lots of children in the auditorium, supervised only by a few teachers. But that's not a bad thing, on the contrary. I still remember what the soprano in La fille des neiges said to me: "This is the best audience ever! The noise in the audience is a form of appreciation: it means that the spectators are experiencing the show with us. Singers and musicians can't change their notes and scores, but as an actor I can play my part differently depending on the audience. That's an exciting aspect of my job, especially when I'm working with children. The music needs no adaptation, because it goes straight from the ear to the heart. Texts, on the other hand, take a diversion via the brain, the ratio and understanding. And the comprehension of a six-year-old child is of course nothing like that of a thirty-six-year-old adult. You have to take this into account when you tell a story. But in any case, the energy that an audience, whoever it may be, gives off is always magical.

You'll be giving the first performance in French (with Dutch subtitles), and the second in Dutch (with French subtitles). It's said that our personality changes according to the language we speak. Is this the case for you?

I do my best to have the same basso continuo for both performances. And that's no mean feat with these two languages, which don't have the same rhythm at all! I'm still the same person telling the story, but each language has its own breath and its own limits. And its own expressiveness. I speak more with my hands in Italian than in German, for example. You'll never see a Swede putting on a show. On the other hand, the Italian language is perfect for showing off!

What is it like working with Grégoire Pont? 

When I started work on The Snow Maiden, I didn't really know what to expect from Grégoire's 'live drawings'. He was sitting in front of a computer on stage, and a projector showed his illustrations on a big screen above the orchestra. I discovered not only that his drawings were magnificent, but also that he managed to respect the rhythm of the music while drawing. I'm so fascinated by Grégoire's work that I have to be careful not to look at his drawings too much during the show, or I risk losing the thread of my narrative!

Is it impressive to be so close to an orchestra?

Yes! Acting with an orchestra as your playing partner is like riding a dragon... An eighty-headed dragon that tolerates your presence. I feel very privileged, as a non-musician, to be able to stand so close to an orchestra. This dragon twirls, breathes, vibrates and roars, and it's simply breath-taking to experience!


By Mien Bogaert