Battue La Terre: Love lost on the tennis court - Hindustan Times
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Battue La Terre: Love lost on the tennis court

May 14, 2024 09:09 PM IST

A unique theatrical production in New Delhi explores the end of a relationship through a game of tennis, blending emotions and sport in a thought-provoking way.

Closure they say is hard to come by, especially when it comes to romantic relationships that don’t come with a rule book. You know you want to move on but there’s always something holding you back. The whirlwind of feelings, rage and resignation takes over the senses. But what if individuals were to treat the parting aspect of a relationship with equal admiration and respect? Mulling over these deep thoughts and my own experiences with lost loves, I sit on the stands of New Delhi’s RK Khanna stadium on a surprisingly pleasant early summer evening in anticipation of a showdown between two lovers over a game of tennis. This unique theatrical creation titled Battue La Terre (or Beaten Earth in English) is about two individuals meeting one last time on a tennis court to bid each other adieu.

Battue La Terre (or Beaten Earth in English) is about two individuals meeting one last time on a tennis court to bid each other adieu. (Andreas Eggler)
Battue La Terre (or Beaten Earth in English) is about two individuals meeting one last time on a tennis court to bid each other adieu. (Andreas Eggler)

“The idea was to talk about love, and I was looking for a concrete situation in which to anchor my story.” – Chloé Zufferey (Andreas Eggler)
“The idea was to talk about love, and I was looking for a concrete situation in which to anchor my story.” – Chloé Zufferey (Andreas Eggler)

Conceptualized by Compagnie Étéya and presented by Alliance Française de Delhi, this one-of-a-kind production, which premiered in Switzerland in 2022, was staged in the capital on April 5, 2024. It tells the story of lovers Eliott and Camille (French actors Lionel Fournier and Chloé Zufferey) who have played an hour of tennis every Sunday for 416 weeks and who come together for “one last game” before parting ways for good.

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“The idea was to talk about love, and I was looking for a concrete situation in which to anchor my story. And one day while watching a tennis match on TV I realised that this was what the couple whose separation I wanted to tell had to do – to experience the catharsis of a relationship ending through a game of tennis. I was also inspired by the rituals we put in place to symbolically mark a parting with someone: a last meal, a last night, so why not a last match,” says Chloé.

Through a series of rallies replete with strong backhands, service breaks and jamming, Eliott and Camille play one last game to mark the end of their love story, to say what’s on their minds, express their anger, fears and gratitude, and also to ask themselves about the nature of love. In the beginning, it’s all very spirited and light, but soon the mood transitions to a more solemn setting. Words are exchanged, and the banter shifts to an argument.

Actors Lionel Fournier and Chloé Zufferey (Florence Zufferey)
Actors Lionel Fournier and Chloé Zufferey (Florence Zufferey)

“The great thing about sport is that it puts you in immediate touch with your emotions. You can’t cheat. When we play tennis, we don’t have time to think, we find ourselves in a state of anger, joy, pride, fear, real states that contaminate our characters and the stories we tell. The personal challenge of playing sport also creates an interesting parallel with the challenge of a break-up and heartbreak,” adds Lionel.

Tennis as a sport has an aesthetic setting. Its symmetrical space lends a certain fairness to both sides. This means each player has equal ground to express what their wishes. It is a place where both the individuals are liberated yet connected by the rules of the court. The net and the baselines also symbolise the boundaries and lines that should not be crossed. Camille’s emotional outbursts are met with Eliott’s stubborn insistence on playing fair and square. His failure to understand the gravitas of the situation and the loss they’re both about to encounter enrages her. At times, they both go quiet and all that’s heard is the sound of the ball hitting their racquets. Their silence is evocative of the end, of the game and their relationship.

That final goodbye (Naika Mathieu)
That final goodbye (Naika Mathieu)

At first glance, theatre and sport appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum of human expression. Theatre is scripted, rehearsed, and controlled, while sport is spontaneous, and unpredictable. But Battue La Terre’s innovative and thought-provoking face off blends the best qualities of both as the connection goes deeper than just performance. That’s because, on this court, there are no winning or losing sides; it’s just another common ground to say that final goodbye.

Arunima Mazumdar is an independent writer. She is @sermoninstone on Twitter and @sermonsinstone on Instagram.

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