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KunstenFestivaldesArts, Brussels

Time, intimate and epic

Lucy Taylor

Lucy Taylor is a Sydney-based performer currently appearing in Tom Wright’s Babes In the Wood, directed by Michael Kantor for Playbox, Melbourne.

Societas Raffaello Sanzio, BR#04, Tragedia Endogonidia IV Episode Societas Raffaello Sanzio, BR#04, Tragedia Endogonidia IV Episode
KunstenFestivaldesArt, Brussels, May 2003. Thirty innovative projects, 20 world premieres, 15 venues, over 3 weeks in one very edgy city. Time is of the essence. And it’s not just my experience of ‘festival time’, which always seems distorted, what with the early morning bedtimes, the running late through dark, unfamiliar streets and the twilight zone of entire days spent at the theatre. Time is a theme and an obsession in much of the work I see at Kunsten, offering structures and perceptions to interrogate and subvert.

Rushing from the airport I thankfully arrive on time for the latest offering from Societas Raffaelo Sanzio. BR#04 (IV Episode of Tragedia Endogonida) is the 4th part of a dramatic cycle to be presented over 3 years in 9 European cities. Director Romeo Castellucci’s aim is to investigate the traditions and mechanics of tragedy and reinterpret them in each city into the world of the here and now.

In Brussels, a large white marble room (perhaps it’s the lobby of some bureaucratic office at the headquarters of the EU) becomes the laboratory in which a series of scenes examine the duration of the body through life and time, from conception to death. Some of the images are devastatingly direct; the curtains open to reveal a baby lying on his belly. He is left to cry for 3 or 4 minutes. The curtains close. Other scenes are thick with complexity: apocryphal text, ancient and macabre rites, ominous figures who flash through the phosphorescence. I get the feeling that I’m not witnessing these astonishing images for the first time, but that they have been mined directly from my own or some collective subconscious, some shared dreaming. In one scene 2 policemen bludgeon a young man to death. The company is disinclined to suspend my disbelief. I watch them repeatedly apply fake blood to the young man’s skin. It spreads as he writhes. Each time he is struck the theatre shakes with violent synthetic sound and every blow to his body resonates through mine from sheer decibel power. The mechanics of theatre become the tools of brutality.

Tickets for the festival are, by Australian standards, incredibly cheap, and highly prized. Every event is full. One of the festival staff tells me that a woman who arrived late to a show because her husband was trying to park the car, threw herself screaming at the theatre doors and refused to be removed when she discovered her tickets had been resold.

The show she missed was Christoph Marthlaler’s interpretation of Schubert’s lieder cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill). Bypassing the original performative context of the recital, Marthaler dramatises the cycle in a severe flat salon, a kind of rundown eastern bloc apartment, where a troop of listless nobodies mooch with seemingly no purpose, biding time with their songs of romantic yearning and loss. The staging, full of physical comedy and absurd imagery has a kind of anti-structure, which is at odds with and entirely complementary to the music.

Most of the ensemble are not professional singers and I was particularly moved by their imperfect voices. It is as if these characters have more to lose, mainlining the audience to the fragility inherent in the songs. There’s a compelling rhythm and sense of time at work. Where, in a conventional lieder recital, Schubert’s music would provide the dominant time structure, Marthaler has employed a choreography designed to work against it. Certain songs and actions are repeated again and again, or drawn out to be painfully slow, some characters disengage mid-song and go and hide in a cupboard or sleep in an enormous feather bed. Time dilates, warps or suspends.

Edit Kaldor explores the experience of cyber-time in her ingenious solo Or Press Escape. On entering the theatre we see her sitting alone, her back to the audience, in front of her computer’s giant screen. The only sound is the amplified staccato of the keys as she types. She records last night’s dream, makes ‘to do’ lists, tidies her desktop, receives mail, downloads files, deletes them, empties the trash. It’s an unlikely script, but this silent text is utterly theatrical. Solitary thoughts are made explicit, censored and unwittingly betrayed. At one point Kaldor enters a live chat room and for the first time we see her face via the web cam on her desk, illuminating a wonderful tension between the smallness of her body sitting in the half-light and the expansiveness of her projected cyber-self.

My highlight is 5, a timed journey through a series of installation/performances created by Kris Verdonck and Aernoudt Jacobs. Their work attempts to reduce to an extreme the codes of visual and performing arts, allowing the essence of each code to inform the other, producing a hybrid form, a distillation that achieves an exquisite impact. In one installation, IN, an actress dressed as a French maid is submerged in a tank of water. She breathes via a tube connected to air canisters outside the tank. Microphones amplify her breathing and the slight movements of her body. Her senses have been distorted: she is in a trance. In another, To Sleep we enter the tiny room to discover 4 people asleep on transparent cots. They have altered their body clocks and undergone hypnosis to actually be asleep. The initial impact deepens through the 20-minute duration of each piece. Our subjective responses begin to write the narrative. In the room with the sleepers, first we creep and whisper, then sit in silence on the perimeter, ‘performing’ with as much authenticity as those we are trying not to wake.

KunstenFestivaldesArts, Brussels, Belgium, May 2-24, 2003

Die schöne Müllerin, co-production KunstenFestivaldesArts and Schauspielhaus Zürich, direction Christoph Marthaler, set & costumes Anna Viebrock, Halles de Schaerbeek, Brussels, May 6-8

BR#04, Tragedia Endogonidia IV Episode, Societas Raffaello Sanzio, direction, set, lighting & costumes Romeo Castellucci, vocal sound & score Chiara Guidi, writings Claudia Castellucci, music & live execution Scott Gibbons, La Raffinerie, Brussels, May 4-7

Or Press Escape, concept, text, performance Edit Kaldor, Kaaitheatrestudios, Brussels, May 5-9

5, concept Kris Verdonck, sound Aernoudt Jacobs, performance for IN Heike Langsdorf, BSBbis, May 11-15

Lucy Taylor is a Sydney-based performer currently appearing in Tom Wright’s Babes In the Wood, directed by Michael Kantor for Playbox, Melbourne.

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 4

© Lucy Taylor; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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