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Review 2, 9-19: No Rest for the Audience
Shadow Puppets, No-bodies, and More at the Laokoon Fest
By Bettina Preuschoff
Copyright 2002 Bettina Preuschoff
HAMBURG -- For this
year's Laokoon Festival, director Hidenaga Otori chose the theme
"History and memory in the era of globalization." The result was
a fabulous program that, notwithstanding the presence of Pina Bausch
and Sasha Waltz, shone without the usual international festival
stars, Otori instead inviting artists best known in their own countries.
The 10 troupes came from Indonesia, Australia, India, Japan, the
USA, Great Britain, Switzerland and, last but not least, Germany.
Mandiri" opened the festival on August 22. Mandiri, directly translated,
means "independent, modest, able to stand on one's own two feet,
yet still compatible enough to work in a team atmosphere." It's
a term that's become the philosophy of Putu Wijaka and his "wild
bunch" -- affectionately called so because of the patchwork backgrounds
of the performers. Which theatre company can boast such a unique
mixture of cast members whose roots include being simple workers,
students, disabled persons, ex-thieves, and Indonesian movie-t.v.
The company presented
"Luka," about a family who, against the usual cultural norms of
its time, wants to bury its grandfather in a larger than usual coffin.
The story's web beautifully unfolds in traditional forms such as
Javanese mask theater and shadow theater, as the grotesque and deeply
penetrating pictures depict the absurd bureaucratic norms that obstruct
The enormous linen cloth
that was hung across the entire stage was not an astounding new
or pioneering design that knocked you out of your seat, but it quickly
became clear that the traditional form of shadow theatre for which
it made a canvas was by no means boring.
The actors executed
the staging perfectly; it was a technical delight. They continually
broke out in front of the cloth and interacted physically as well
as verbally with the shadow figures; during the whole performance,
any rest for the audience was out of the question.
An extremely erotic
component was also introduced, a wonderful tidbit after all the
action. A female shadow dancer, undressing ever so innocently--
and slowly -- was devoured by a huge shadow monster, all the while
bathed in a more than gorgeous and titillating red light. Even though
we all knew she was a mere surreal shadow figure, she created a
beautiful feeling of realness and conveyed a touching sense of closeness
to us all. Devour or to be devoured, that's what it's all about!
All the actors conveyed
an impressive, carefree and vivid sense of reality. Frequently bombastic
and in some cases beguilingly ugly, these characters were not trying
to win any popularity contests. Yet, in the midst of all this virtual
"wholeness" of art, I felt like I was in the middle of an art gallery
regarding paintings suddenly mobilized. Pictures moved towards me,
engrossing me in the moods of all the different colours and forms.
I became a part of this story.
The moods were often
underlined with mostly loud and penetrating contemporary sound collages
that would test the nerves of any sensitive person. In my eyes,
this fit exquisitely the sometimes threatening and defiant impressions
emanating from the stage. I had expected a more quiet piece of work
and lived a turbulent, touching and refreshing experience instead.
Next, we were off to
see Arjun Raina's "The Magic Hour." Raina, from India, has developed
his own form of theater, "Khelkali." It's sprayed with a mix of
forms based on the traditional Kathakali - Temple dance and on contemporary
styles that inspired Raina as he was theatrically schooled in London.
He confronts certain passages from Shakepeare's'"Othello" and "A
Midsummer Night's Dream" with Indian dance forms. Occasionally stepping
outside the action to comment on the absurdity of this confrontation,
Raina seems to be winking and smiling inside. The way he regards
an audience is so intense that, more than once, I had the feeling
of not being able any more to breath.
For about 75 minutes,
Arjun Raina gave a strong solo performance, kidnapping the spectator
into an unknown and imaginative world.
Otto Kukla's minimalistic
video-opera "Memory," based on the documentary "Mit Haut und Haar,"
is situated in a comfortable room for elderly ladies who recall
their rich-with-detail lives via the screen.
This odyssey of life
was accompanied live and on stage with a reccuring, toying composition
performed by the string quartet AMAR. Younger actors loaned the
woman of the film their voices, like translators, producing a generational
dysfunction that wonderfully tickled the brain.
popped into my mind: How will the younger interpreting actors look
when they're as old as the filmed women whose voices they're providing?
Or, better yet, how did the women in the film look at the same age
as these fresh actors? Seemingly simple and trite childhood memories
painted smiles on the faces of everyone in the room, as we all wove
our own particular histories onto this tapestry. Individual memories
were re-awakened, until the older performers' brutal recollections
of the Third Reich came to freeze any of the joy that had been experienced
seconds before. Lots to think of was provided here, themes like
how old age can be treated as a normal part of daily life, just
as death has its ingrained position. The wisdom of old age winds
its way through the production the whole evening. It's the honest
face of old age (without any make-up) that tells the truth of thoroughly
Pina Bausch also treated
the subject of old age in "Kontakthof," previously reviewed by Rosa Mei . So I'll just say that it was one of the most
wonderful evenings I have spent in the theater in the last few years,
laughing, crying, and simply in awe!
John Jesurun chose a
completely different way of working in his suspensful "Slight Return."
Jesurun catches his (terrific) actor in a 5-camera guarded cube,
transferring the images to five screens fixed in a line on the lip
of the stage.
The scenario involves
a human being enclosed in a small room after the the collapse of
a hotel. A claustrophobian monologue never gives any moment of calm
to the audience, and the frenetically changing images on the screens
don't help either. The last evening of the festival brought Sasha
Waltz and standing ovations.
In "No Body," Waltz
tries to make the unbodylike visible on the body; break-up and death
are the main topics of this work. The stage appears nearly naked,
as a kind of somber, morbid athmosphere unfurls in the theatre,
evoking the comic-strips of Enki Bilal.
This mood is accompanied
by a noise which gets louder and louder, getting inside of everybody
and eventually making the whole theater vibrate.
had to leave; one had the impression of standing very close to an
aircraft about to take off. Dancers appeared like wretches issuing
from another world, coming together for a short moment and disappearing
afterwards like lost persons into nothingness.
The last half hour gave
the spectators an easement with more light and calm, the overexerted
senses nearly permitted to relax. Even a little grin was encouraged,
in a segment of linear choreography where the dancers wear wooden
dresses and walk like twitted dolls.
While "No Body" offered
some nice movement sequences on Waltz's technically versatile performers,
more than once I felt like I was watching a reworked improvisation.
The mixture of elements was of a kind I've already seen too many
times before; an early solo for a female dancer was nice to see,
I was really disappointed
by this work of Sasha Waltz.
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