Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Posted: October 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage), The Place, October 7

François Testory as Medea (photo: Manuel Vason)

Just how Medea (Written in Rage) ended up on the stage of The Place is an example of cooperation between a raft of organisations (NFA International Arts & Culture, SACD, Institut Français, Arts Council England, Theatre of Europe, FOLKE, Southeast Dance and The Place) that shows how Europe can work together seamlessly in the realm of arts production. The artistic team is also multi-national, where Lia Prentaki and Nelson Fernandez are the producers of a Neil Bartlett translation, adaptation and direction of a Jean-René Lemoine play — Médée, poème enragé — with actor François Testory, music composition by Phil Von and lighting by Chahine Yavroyan. There is an ironic coincidence of timing between this no-holds-barred 90-minute monologue of Medea’s vengeful family relations and the pathological UK Conservative Party seeking to subvert with similar sang-froid but less éclat the very union that made this kind of production possible.

Were Testory a demagogue, you could sense the rapt audience would follow him unquestioningly because of the commanding nature of his performance, dissolving convincingly from a male portraying a female to the female being portrayed. Von, onstage with a battery of sound equipment and musical instruments, steps in on occasion to prompt Medea to explain a particularly unsavoury action or her reason for doing it, and she obliges. Medea, in turn, asks Von to fast forward or rewind the details of her story, and he obliges. Yavroyan’s dramatic, hazy lighting and Mr. Pearl’s haute couture gown and platform shoes place the visual centre of the performance on the charismatic presence of Testory himself, specifically on his eloquent face and hands and the network of sinews and muscles that animates them. From these articulate physical instruments arises a voice that when singing the aria E lucevan le stelle has a wealth of emotion but when recounting his sordid tale has a disarmingly dispassionate tone; it is the words themselves that carry the horror of the images that Lemoine/Bartlett/Testory conjure up in giving Medea the opportunity to tell her own tale from the beginning. This is fertile and congenial ground for Bartlett who over the years has given voice to historical and literary figures, conjuring them up from oblivion and notoriety in theatrical performances that merge the personal and the political, spectacle and intimacy. Medea (Written in Rage) is no exception.

The story draws on Euripides’ play and on Medea’s famous monologues as well as from other versions of the classical legend and modern references. Medea invokes the spirit of similar mythical figures in bearing witness to the love and pain that run through her story of betrayal and bloody revenge. Lemoine riddles the text with ambivalence, layering meanings and imbuing the ancient legend with current undertones so that as a genderless, stateless, and raceless figure, Medea’s tragic story resonates with the sorrow of exile, the drama of being an ‘outsider’, of never belonging. There are echoes of the current refugee crisis, of sexual, racial and gender discrimination and exploitation that infuse the horror with grief and the desolation of a life that paradoxically seems to find a form of liberation only in violence. For the sake of Jason, Medea is disloyal to her father and kills her brother, betrays herself and becomes ‘occidentale’ in a vain attempt to please her partner. When Jason abandons her for a younger woman she punishes him by drowning their two sons and poisoning his new bride. There is neither justification nor condonation of the violence: Medea writes herself in rage. The character and the story are one and the same; rage is both the historical context and the personal response.

Medea’s fate is weighted by her actions, but even more by the aggression hidden in the biases, intolerance and double standards that society imposes on her. ‘I am not guilty’, Medea claims towards the end of her tale. ‘Life is punishment enough.’ Testory’s high platform shoes well convey the difficult balancing act of a character at the boundaries of acceptability with the constant peril of stumbling but his restrained performance does not yield to dismay, nor allow us bathos. Medea’s story is ancient but still tragically topical, a sober act of drama whose horror seems to continue to repeat itself over time, its scale no longer mythical but far too human.


Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Frauke Requardt & David Rosenberg’s DeadClub™, The Place, September 15

Requardt & Rosenberg’s DeadClub™ (photo: Manuel Vason)

The last time I saw a collaboration between Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg was at night in a freezing carpark on a deserted site near the Brighton Marina in 2012. The scope of Motor Show was to rein in the forces of an outdoor venue through a binaural technology that brought the action to the space between your ears; the scale was visually heroic and aurally intimate. In their fourth and most recent collaboration, DeadClub, they have assembled a similarly scaled performance in which the heroic resides in notions of memory and dream, and the intimate in the way the auditorium of The Place has been shrunk and transformed, thanks to Hannah Clark, to a raised gaming table within David Price’s auditory den. In keeping with a theme of random processes, we are each issued a raffle ticket that corresponds to our numbered, standing-only place around the perimeter of the table/stage. It’s a unique perspective from which to see the show, not only looking up at the performers but looking across at other members of the audience. We may have arrived with a friend, but our relationships have been shuffled in the DeadClub pack.

This kind of attention to detail brings the audience together as part of the show; we are not simply spectators but collectively share in the staged experience. In each place there’s a black and white party hat to match the decor, but putting it on is optional. At intervals, a spotlight scans the inside of the four sides of the square like a ball flying round a roulette wheel to stop in front of a randomly picked person (how randomly I’m not sure, as it never stopped in front of an empty space and on one occasion picked out Requardt herself for a cameo response). The highlighted person is either asked a question or becomes the focus of a particular dance. There are a lot of sleight-of-hand appearances and disappearances of the five performers emerging through trapdoors as if from an underworld and descending back into the depths like contortionist dolls; ‘severed arms’ and ‘stuffed crows’ drop on to the stage, small-scale plaster figures suddenly arrive out of the dark and appear to speak, while microphone stands and pianos rise up from below and once played descend again with all the logic of an arbitrary event. It is a phantasmagoria of the inexplicable and the absurd that borrows as much from Sigmund Freud as it does from neuro-psychological concepts about the function of remembering which, according to current models, serve to make sense of our present, aid in our socialization and help us to imagine the future.

It is this last function that fascinates Requardt and Rosenberg. Memories are not straightforward images from the past but composite mental reconstructions that we adapt to our present and future projections. As Dr. Denis McKeown, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Leeds, writes in the program notes, “Memories are like dreams. They are an internal world played upon by an internal consciousness, often outside our awareness.” Indeed, the visual vocabulary of DeadClub makes the analogy with dreams overt by gesturing not only to Surrealism but to film, a medium akin to remembering not so much because of its possibility of flashback but because of the malleability of its internal procedures. Like the moving image, Requardt and Rosenberg’s imagination is a fluid element that has the possibility of flying of its own volition but when it comes into contact with so many overtly theatrical effects held together with tape, screws and hinges, and magnified by our proximity to the stage, its wings are clipped. The sheer complexity of the staging is staggering but it draws our attention for the wrong reason: the theatricality is just too clunky, making DeadClub appear to be a raft of dream-like concepts trapped in the wrong medium.

The one technical asset that mediates between the ideas and the scenic elements is the lighting by Chahine Yavroyan for he can use his palette to smooth physical edges, focus on the essential action or reduce the stage to total darkness. His use of light allies the stage to the cinema: he allows the fluid traces of ideas in Valentina Formenti’s songs of death, in Neil Callaghan’s ghostly presence and in the solos by Jordan Ajadi and Owen Ridley-Demonik to exist apart from the substantive woodwork and machinery underneath them so as to express their intrinsic aural, dramatic and rhythmic poetry. These are the overriding successes of DeadClub, but outside these contemplative moments, even Yavroyan cannot avoid the theatrical framework becoming the centre of preoccupation.


Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Posted: November 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play, Laban Theatre, October 17.

Programming is everything in a triple bill; it can be an uneasy alliance of repertoire and new work, an indigestible three-course meal, or it can be like three acts of a play, an analogy Candoco Dance Company adopted for its most recent triple bill. Two of the acts are welcome re-stagings — Trisha Brown’s Set Reset/Reset and Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm — and the third is a new duet for Mirjam Gurtner and Dan Daw, Studies for C, by Javier de Frutos.

Annie Hanauer and cast in Set and Reset/Reset. Photo: Hugo Glendenning

I saw Set and Reset/Reset last year in the company’s Turning Twenty program and thought it suited the company beautifully. It still does. Robert Rauschenberg’s design floats above the stage, though it seems there is a little less floating than before. Even though there is a structure to the choreography, the dancers seem to walk or run on as the spirit takes them, joining in Laurie Anderson’s musical procession that strolls down the west coast of California with its bells, assorted sirens and vocal improvisations in a spirit of carefree timelessness. There is a seductive dynamic of improvisation in the dance, too, a freedom of movement in which the dancers bump into each other and ricochet off each other with singular unconcern. The wings are of diaphanous material so we see what is going on off stage as well as on, a spatial continuum that Brown clearly enjoys and which is enhanced by Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting. The dancers are quite at ease, partly because the choreography is at ease and partly because the dancers have contributed to some of the choreography in the creative re-setting process. ‘Go with the flow’ seems to be the philosophical underpinning of the work, with its random connections, playful exits and entrances and a lightness that comes from Brown’s joy in exploring the air. As might be expected, there is no purposeful ending; the music fades away into the distance and the dance continues until we can no longer see it.

Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Studies for C. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Studies for C is pure magic. The setting suggests a domestic hearth with a carpet and two chairs, drawn in to an intimate space by de Frutos’ own lighting and haze, but the context suggests a wrestling ring with Daw and Gurtner fully masked and wearing leather jackets covered in painted phrases like ‘Better to Die’, and ‘The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks’. The inspiration is more Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real than Becket’s Waiting for Godot, but the songs by Lila Downs take us definitively to Mexico. In this rich juxtaposition of influences, Daw and Gurtner converse or argue with mute passion in their carpeted ring, giving a rich reading of the characters. The effect of the masks pushes the physical element to a stifling pitch of psychological intensity. Gurtner is mad, and flies across the floor. Daw is upset and stands truculently with his hands on hips. They are a couple that feels trapped by their familiarity, and struggles in vain to break free. The masks add an insectile quality to the characters and the inclusion of the song of La Cucaracha suggests two cucarachas down on their luck going through their death throes, legs in the air, trembling on the edge of extinction. They crawl over each other, Daw pulling at Gurtner’s mask. She kicks him, he howls and after a semblance of compassionate support, the two retreat to their respective corners to the lament, Yunu Yucu Ninu. Gurtner starts to take off her mask as the lights go down. Will she break free? We never see her face.

Victoria Malin in Imperfect Storm. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Annie Hanauer takes the microphone at the beginning of Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm, surrounded by her group of actors. ‘Tonight we were going to do The Tempest, by Shakespeare. William Shakespeare. But we found it a little wordy.’ Deciding to act it without the text, the only way to get people on and off the stage is to use the stage directions, she explains, and to use lighting (by Chahine Yavroyan) to create a series of tableaux, like paintings layered with costumes. Enter Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio; enter Ferdinand and Gonzalo; enter Prospero; enter Boatswain. Miranda’s already at the microphone. John Avery created just the right music, and Nicola Fitchett found just the right ruffs, hats and other assorted costumes and props. Each character picks a vestige of costume from the overturned costume rack. Sound of storm and lashing rain. Daw puts on his Boatswain’s hat, while others are quaking from the storm, pitched and tossed across the stage. Alonso pulls in a string of lights and drapes then around the shipwrecked group. Victoria Malin begins to recite snatches of Prospero’s lines, which devolve into a commentary on the progress of the play (‘we got trapped in this corner…by lighting’) as three characters fight with two wooden swords and a coat hanger. Malin continues with a brilliant monologue on the courage to stay… while all the characters leave. She then describes the stages of a storm that Daw illustrates in an extended solo, dancing in the spotlight. It is wonderful, from feeling the wind in his face (stage 1) to leaves rustling (stage 2) to whole trees in motion (stage 5) and widespread structural damage (stage 7) by which time Daw is running around in a circle jumping and flapping his arms. Alonso and Miranda enter and Daw is carried off, exhausted.

For all its apparent chaos, Imperfect Storm is a sophisticated work with beautiful writing (Houstoun takes sophistication and writing to another level in her 50 Acts). Houstoun allows the dancers to be themselves on stage while playing a failed amateur drama group without hamming it up. What comes across is a work that seems built up from an acute observation of what the dancers can do, and with their creative cooperation: a work that is not imposed on them, but grows out of them.

We have arrived at the finale, the end. Hanauer muses on how best to achieve the ending since everyone has already left and there are no more stage directions. Perhaps the lights fade slowly to black, or the lights could go off one by one, or there could be hundreds of candles we could blow out, or someone with a torch and the battery runs down. Or perhaps…

And as she continues to muse, the lights go suddenly and convincingly to blackout.