Thursday, 22 March 2012

Paris -17-22 March 2012

Lisbeth Gruwez who I thought I left in Belgium, funnily enough, popped up again in Paris. This time it was a screen performance - but a very, very striking one - of a drenched naked dance choreographed by Fabre under the title 'Quando l'uomo principale e la donna'. The film of the dance was exhibited as part of the exhibition Danser sa vie at Georges Pompidou centre 23 November - 2 April, which has included art, film and live performance. From Matisse's dancers, via the archive footage of Dunkan, Wigman, Fuller and Graham to dance in pop culture - this exhibition really has it all, and could comfortably fill the best part of your afternoon. Especially if, in between exhibits, you stop in to take the breathtaking views of Paris available form the top floor of this building.

My other theatrical highlights of the visit have included two takes on J.M.Coetzee. This was by no means deliberate, but the fact that one of these productions was by the Dutch director Luk Perceval and the other by the Polish Warlikowski just goes to show that wherever one goes, one is likely to stumble upon this South African author these days.

Perceval's adaptation of Disgrace takes the simple route of simply displaying the text within the installation of its set design - a chorus of African figures dotted around the stage (courtesy of designer Katrin Brack). The production opens with the disciplinary hearing of Professor David Lurie for having had an affair with a student - under house lights and with members of the disciplinary panel addressing him dotted around the auditorium. All of the seemingly private affairs of the characters are clearly brought out into the public domain - and this remains the main thesis of Perceval's reading of Coetzee's novel - skilfully condensed here for performance purposes; apartheid was not simply a political issue, it manifested itself on a personal level, and vice versa. I missed an additional interpretative level to the story however. What kept me going in reading the novel was the fact that the characters constantly seem to lack the possibility of understanding each other - Lucy keeps telling her father that he doesn't understand; Melanie's father too seems to be unbending in his own perspective on things - I wanted to know whether some meaningful communication would ever become possible in the world of this story. In addition, there was endless mirroring of characters between themselves - Lucy acts on moral principle just as her father does, just as Melanie's father does - and yet, their moral principles remain entirely unrelated to each other. I expected the adaptation to communicate a little bit of this nauseaus sense of destruction and self-destruction that afflicts the characters, but Perceval's thesis possibly had no space for it. But perhaps a difficulty in understanding was partly my own - watching a production in Dutch with French subtitles - languages which, like a true Brit, I do not understand.

Things got more difficult in this respect as I ventured to Trocadero's Theatre National de Chaillot to see Warlikowski's African Tales by Shakespeare, made as part of the Europe-wide Prospero project. This was a five hour event which constituted an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, Othello and King Lear as well as Coetzee's Summertime. In addition, the production used texts by Wajdi Mouawad, music by Schubert and references to Art Spigelman - and lots and lots more. Somehow, Warlikowski managed to tie this together into a largely meaningful and eminently watchable whole. There were memorable performances in the piece: a strong and by her circumstances (of marrying a gay man) destroyed Portia (actor's name?); a similarly ill-fated nymphomaniac Desdemona (name?).  Shylock, Othello and Lear are all played by the same actor (name?) - the latter two even seemingly fused into one character, and there are some resonant motifs between the three stories - the notion of an outsider being the main one. Summertime appears to provide a backdrop for Cordelia's own life, if I understood correctly. I didn't have a chance to confer about this with a lovely Polish librarian sitting next to me after the curtain call, as I had to rush out and get my metro back. But she had been most helpful throughout the piece in filling some of my semantic gaps. I was particularly interested in the fact that she considered Warlikowski to be faithful to Shakespeare because he does not change the actions of his characters even if they may appear out of sync with our time; he simply suggests a different feeling about the worlds they inhabit. And the words they speak of course. I was heartened by this.

Now it remains to see what Italy brings...

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