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Flash Review, 9-16: Cosmogenies
'Seasons' greetings from Romeo Castelucci

By Pauline Testut
Copyright 2013 Pauline Testut

Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

In 2011 Romeo Castelluci created a storm with his piece "On the concept of the visage of the Son of God," not only among the artistic community but also with a larger societal dimension. This event in effect coincided with the public emergence of a certain Catholic extremism, incarnated in France by several movements such as Civitas and Action Francaise, which have re-surfaced the past few months on the media scene during the debate over the gay marriage law recently passed by the French legislature.

Demonstrations and even active eruptions in the theater directed against the audience were touched off by the artist's deliberately staining a reproduction of Messine's celebrated portrait of Christ.

A certain aroma of suffering has surrounded Castelucci and his new piece, "The Four Seasons Restaurant," performed April 17 - 27 at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt. The work's title, inspired by an episode in the life of Mark Rothko (who refused to expose his paintings in the restaurant of the same name in 1958, protesting against dinner art), refers to the concepts of disappearance, annihilation, and manifestation, all acts of faith for the artist.

A mystic dimension is present from the moment the curtain rises, with a sound recorded by NASA: that of a black hole -- literally the noise sound of emptiness. The idea of the cosmic, even cosmogenic, is disseminated throughout the work, accompanied by noises sometimes strident and brusque, evoking an impressive natural and aesthetic effects produced by an omnipotent divine being.

Following this a dozen female personages take the stage, incarnations of the eternal 'young girl,' giving the spectator a multiplicity of possible references: innocence, purity, the muse.... Costumed conservatively in robes and aprons, they decorate the stage with sobriety, even as their acts are extremely violent: one by one they cut off their tongues, gradually transforming themselves into a choir of chilling lamentations. Next their tongues are devoured by a dog. (Hard to not catch the allusion to a certain censorship.) Then they appear with tommy-guns at a gym decorated with confederate flags, elements as disparate as they are strange.

Concentrating on this group of young women, Castelluci creates dialogues and postures which seem to re-assemble themselves infinitely, mannerist figures of art, of antiquity, and of Western history which are also modern, mixed together the better to make them disappear little by little in a staging which announces the ineducable. The relative complexity of the ensemble, mixing Christian metaphors and well-chosen words from Friedrich Hoderlin's poem "La Mort d'Empedocle" (Empedocle having committed suicide by jumping in the Etna volcano), all at a staggering rhythm, pierces the spectator, who alternates regularly between curious passivity and emotional shock. Melancholy and death are pre-eminent, as is spirituality, and the game of the actresses, with their slow and gracious model-like poses, as well as the incredible presence of the score form a total art.

The work's conclusion is dominated by the deafening music of Wagner's "Tristan and Ysolde," which invades the theater during a scene qualifiable as the 'final bouquet," during which a Christ-like androgynous visage appears amidst swirls of smoke and powder, a veritable destruction of the world, an eruption of this all-powerful Etna, and possibly an homage to Lars Von Trier's film "Melancholia."

It's shocked by the incredible scenic violence of this final vision that the spectator recovers the thread of his ideas, trying to associate his own symbols, his vision of the spirituality and the incredible density of the images and sensations distilled by Castelucci's piece.

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