over the next three days there are five more shows, and the panel i speak on. First, the shows:
1) Diary of a Madman, from Kuwait
One of the more innovative of the arab shows we've seen, so far. Again - no surtitles or translation, so it's impossible to judge how well the Gogol was adapted. The actor is lit onstage by black-clad technicians who move with him, shining mobile light sources on both him, and the many props scattered around the darkened stage. each shift in character is accompanied by a shift in light. It contributes to a film noir feel - and seems quite effective. it is also one of the only pieces we see that uses humour - which is a welcome change. again - i wish i could understand the text.
2) Life as a Dream: Salvador Dali (Russian Stage Theatre, in Germany)
The less said about this the better. Amateurish. Painful. How this managed to find a place at an international festival is puzzling - especially given how much very good german and/or russian work there is in the world. Curation seems to be uneven here.
3) The Law of Gravity, from Tunisia
Amazing. As my compadre from Slovenia (AD of the Maribor Festival), Alja Predan says, this is the first modern actor we've seen here - someone at home with a complex physical stage language that is not naturalistic. Meher Awachri, from Tunisia, acts a show about a construction worker in Tunis, with text masterfully written by Awachri, based on verbatim sources (Awachri is also the director).
Awachri's physicality is astonishing - non-naturalisitc physically-demanding work coupled with a beautiful, poetic text (and there are SURTITLES!). This is the piece that won the first prize at the Kiel Festival in Germany last year - and deserves to travel widely. It is a brilliant and haunting journey into the world of the labourer in Tunisia - a world of pride, and skill, and degradation.
4) Miss Julie, from Sweden
A post-dramatic-live-video-cameras-on-stage piece. the woman performer - Anna Pettersson - takes on all the parts of the Strindberg herself with precision. But its reason-for-being is unclear. There is a feminist question posed near the very end - why should Julie be the one to pay with her life - not the man? it's a good question - but it doesn't seem to inform the work that has preceded. without a carefully constructed political journey, this kind of self-conscious, high-tech theatre can too-easily seem simply derivative - an exercise in trickery - rather than a deep political questioning of how society is organized. a missed opportunity.
5) Human Form 1, from Japan, via Germany
Wow. This is a dance/theatre piece heavily informed by Butoh. The performer - Minako Seki, from Japan, now based in Germany - is virtuosic. As we enter, a white clad, bug-like figure is seated at a small white table. The costume is terrific. Think: Elton John in concert meets The Fly, by David Cronenberg. There is an endlessly looping minimalist soundtrack - part buzzing, part electronic music.
The piece is demanding of its audience. It is excrutiatingly slowly paced - it takes forever for Seki to evolve in her movements from an insect like creature (with a physical vocab that is part pop-and-lock, and part Butoh) to an anguished, utterly raw soul - with an entirely different movement vocabulary (jagged and chaotic and full of abandon and risk). There are many walk outs during the first 20 to 30 minutes. I fight boredom. But i have seen this notion of elongated stage time before from Japan, and the performer is clearly accomplished, so i struggle to stay with it. Then, at some hard-to-define point, it happens: i find myself leaning forward, and am soon utterly captured by the piece.
There is something in this kind of slow set-up, this playing with boredom, and minimal movement - that allows a very deep entanglement with the piece later on. By the time Seki is downstage, perhaps 70 minutes later, after evolving finally to a point of writhing and howling - i am completely inside the artwork. Emotions stream across her face - as if all of human experience is being conducted through her to us. I don't think these words can remotely capture the feeling of being in the audience, nor do i think this piece would be possible without a long, painfully boring (to the Western eye) section at its beginning. It's probably not everyone's cup of tea, but for me, it is masterful work.
Finally, a little about the panel i speak on. Once again, women's voices are absent (in this case - there are NO women on the panel - just 6 men, from 6 different countries).
The title is: "What's Left of Theatre (New Realities, New Trends)". Having learned from the panel a few days before, we collectively resolve to be brief! We all stick to speeches that are 7-8 minutes long.
Savas Patsilidas, from Greece, gives perhaps the more scholarly paper of the group. One of the points he makes is that with the rise of the Internet age, he perceives a shift in emphasis in our Globalised societies from the source of meaning, to the reception of meaning. Target is more central than source.
Hans-Georg Knopp from Germany (now based in Shanghai) speaks of the kind of experimentation being done by Rimini Protokol, where non-performer civilians and new technologies are used on stage. As an example, he speaks of the piece Rimini did in Vancouver with some game designers and a memorable crossing guard.
Then it's my turn. I speak of three revolutions i see happening around me:
1) A Revolution in the understanding of the Human Brain - this is based on the work of Scottish neuropsychiatrist Iain McGilchrist. Essentially - Western post-industrial society has favoured Left Brain ascendency, and this has led to all kinds of problems (link for more info here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/02/1). Our world is becoming increasingly schizophrenic due to this phenomenon (the rise of extreme points of view, simplistic thinking, adherence to dogma regardless of evidence, etc.). Art - which is a Right Brain activity - can offer a way to re-balance the brain. The need for complexity in our discourse and reengagement of Right brain function is of tremendous importance, i would argue, to our survival. Theatre is especially well-suited, as a form, to complex expression.
2) A Revolution in Who is Making Theatre - In Toronto, the rise of a generation of theatre makers that is multicultural is good news - leading to a hybrid, many-voiced, complex platform.
3) A Revolution in Theatrical Space - site-specific work / headphone work / virtual reality goggle work / one-on-one performance / storefront theatre / placing non-performers together with performers on stage / etc. what constitutes a theatrical space has been exploded.
William Sun Huizhu, from the Shanghai Theatre Academy and one of the editors of The Drama Review, points out that he is the only non-Westerner on the panel, and, as such, offers a different perspective. In Shanghai, he speaks of three active considerations in how theatre should evolve, if it is to remain vibrant: The Avant Garde, Tradition and Community. All three must be paid attention to. The wholesale introduction of Western techniques does not work - since current Western practice is itself built on, and deeply connected to, Western tradition. If one's society does not have this same tradition, one cannot simply adopt new techniques and hope to see them take root.
There is a telling moment from our moderator, Dr. Habib, in response to William's talk about theatre practice and the ideal role for government (in non-Western cultures). He says, "Because you mention the Emirati Government, i cannot talk about this at all!". He laughs. Hmmm.
The New Zealander on the panel, Anatoly Frusin, speaks of how - as theatre goes forward - the ability to transgress must be protected.
Finally, Englishman Colin Watkeys brings us home with a passionate defense of solo theatre, and the necessity for the intimate relationship it engenders between the performer and the audience - and the essential engagement of the imagination that is at the core of theatre.