This week I saw five outstanding performances. Four of these shows were a part of the Dialog Festival 9th edition and the fifth was from Los Angeles at the invitation from the Grotowski Institute. Here are just some brief notes and impressions from these shows:
“En avant, marche!”
les ballets C de la B (Ghent, Belgium)
Dir. Alain Platel, Frank Van Laecke
What sweet music. I want a playlist of these songs. It was the story of a man who was dying and had to come to terms with leaving his brass orchestra in the hands of younger artists. This was presented in several languages and joyfully enlisted the help of local musicians. The movement was fabulous. A drum solo became a two man expression of the manic life of a young artist. So much joy and vitality in this story about facing our end.
An Enemy of the People
Dir. Jan Klata Poland
The director says he does not reenact classic plays but rather makes “remixes and covers of literature.” I have never seen this play and have been recently keen on Ibsen. The production had plenty of reimaginings that fit perfectly with the original themes. The show features pop music interludes and a heavy metal loving Morten Kiil. The updates of both music, set, and costuming were perfectly tuned. In the middle of the show the main actor, the brilliant Juliusz Chrząstowski, takes liberty to speak on the current political situation in Poland (and the world). Even with the knowledge that he may be preaching to the choir, this show brought urgent attention to the fact that the mechanisms Ibsen wrote about over a century ago are still at work. It was a perfect fit in this festival as the theme of this year is: “Onward – but where to?!”
les ballets C de la B (Ghent, Belgium)
Dir. Alain Platel
This was the most challenging of all the performances I saw. It was a dance piece set to the music of Gustav Mahler. The director vaguely points to a vision of an apocalyptic future. There are elements of violence and ritual but there are very few answers. It is a reminder for me to be present and to appreciate each movement in isolation. I love shows that allow me to have my own experience, that let my imagination wander. Whatever it is about for me is what it is about. The ability of a company or director to create these conditions, like Teatr Zar, is part of the reason I am in Wroclaw. Though I couldn’t help but feel a certain discomfort with how les ballets C de la B appropriated the culture of the black dancers and enacted violence upon the one woman dancer. While these are examples of my “contemporary fear, uncertainty [and] omnipresent violence” I felt like much of it was unexplained, unexplored and unresolved. I like being challenged to question my needs as an audience member (the need for story, character and context for example) but the movements by themselves were unfulfilling. If it is going to be about movement, and the thread of relationships or story will be constantly snipped, then why have a dead horse as your scenographic centerpiece?
“Jeden gest” (One Gesture)
Dir. Wojtek Ziemilski Poland
This was a highlight of the week. It reminded me of how Teatr Kana’s “Projekt: Matka” (Project Mother) simplified all of the avant-urges swirling about the Theater Olympics Last Year. One Gesture was a refreshing breeze of simple storytelling. It opened my eyes wider onto the deaf community in Poland and invited me to question the nature of Deafness and performance. There are debates which divide the Deaf community and this performance was a call to unite. There was an outstanding moment in the show when a deaf actor was rigged with body microphones and created a soundscape which then scored a mash up of anime videos.
The director of the show has a very healthy attitude towards theater that I fully embrace: “When I go to the theatre, to a place that is supposed to be different, that has laboratory conditions and can study the world, I expect to see in this space something that is an experiment, an event. And what will emerge as a result is not supposed to happen only on stage but also – above all! – within me as a spectator. That I, by experiencing this, experience something that places me elsewhere in the reality. […] It’s not that a theatrical performance has to be a religious experience for me. It does not have to be great, but evidently should change something. Make the spectators feel. It is enough for me to feel as if I were getting to know someone or something new. And theatre has excellent conditions to do just that.” -“Eksperyment dzieje się w głowie” [An experiment takes place inside the head”], Agnieszka Kobroń, an interview with Wojtek Ziemilski, Afisz teatralny
“Theatre, a place that… can study the world.” I love that.
Ghost Rad Company (Los Angeles, USA)
Dir. Katharine Noon
Last but not least, Asyerion by some new friends from Los Angeles. I lived in LA for seven years and did not see any work by Ghost Road Company. They are a devised theater company who create their works over time. From everything I have heard about them and their own point of view on cultural production, they are a wonderful example of the kind of Small Art Theater I relish. I was extremely excited to see their touring production “Asyerion” which was based on the myth of the Minotaur. (Lucky for me I had just finished Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth, so I was imaginatively prepped.) The show was swift and powerful. There was a relentless quality about the piece and overall, the story, the characters, and the movement all felt heavy. Not finessed. There were of course, exceptions peppered throughout, moments of relationships, tenderness, blended with dynamic and subtle movement. This is not a prescription about the work of the company or of this production. I liked it. The shows I typically like the best are those that give me something to critique and talk about. “Asyeron” left me with appreciation for the work where it is in its life cycle and left me wanting more. I met with the lighting designer Brandon Baruch before the show and got caught up on LA theater scene. I can honestly say it was the best lighting design I have seen in the Grotowski Institute. And the music which was introduced in the most recent phase of development was beautiful. Thank you Ghost Road for bringing your style to Wroclaw. We need more of it!