Category Archives: collage

Realism

A post that slipped under my radar a near-month ago, Andrew Haydon in the Guardian theatre blog complains, with the characteristic spirit of advocacy, that mainstream Anglo-American theatre tradition remains absolutely married to the idea of literal-minded mimesis.

In itself this is not a new idea, but he relates it back to the political question of representation on stage:

There is virtually no hint that anything but the text can invent meaning on stage beyond dumb representation. This is partly why arguments about the “politics” of the physical proportions of actors are possible in the first place. Because a thin woman on stage finds herself representing nothing more than a thin woman, or, by extension, thin women. It's like we've grasped the idea that something on stage is pregnant with meaning, but, thanks to our abandonment of metaphor and our largely normative, descriptive so-called “political theatre”, the level of representation simply gets plugged into boring complaints about “pretty” girls getting all the jobs.

I would be terribly interested in exploring this idea further. Particularly the abandonment of metaphor.

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We will never talk about this.

1. THE SUBMERGED AND THE SAVED

I must repeat: we, the survivors, are not the true witnesses. This is an uncomfortable notion of which I have become conscious little by little, reading the memoirs of others and reading mine at a distance of years. We survivors are not only an exiguous but also an anomalous minority: we are those who by their prevarications or abilities or good luck did not touch bottom. Those who have, those who have seen the face of the Gorgon, did not return to tell about it, or have returned wordless; but they are the 'Muslims', the submerged, the complete witnesses, the ones whose deposition would have a general significance. They are the rule, we are the exception.
– Primo Levi, I sommersi e i salvati

2. GOOD INTENTIONS

Now, anyone who has sufficient experience of human affairs knows that the distinction (the opposition, a linguist would say) good faith/bad faith is optimistic and illuminist, and is all the more so, and for much greater reason, when applied to men such as those just mentioned. It presupposes a mental clarity which few have, and which even these few immediately lose when, for whatever reason, past or present reality arouses anxiety or discomfort in them.
– Primo Levi, I sommersi e i salvati

3. MEDUSA

Théodore Géricault – Le Radeau de la Méduse

In mid-afternoon on July 4th, 1816, the French frigate Medusa ran aground on the Arguin Bank, off the west coast of Africa. Without enough lifeboats to evacuate almost 400 travellers, a raft, 20 metres in length and 7 metres in width, was quickly built. On July 5th the evacuation of the frigate started, 146 men and one woman boarding the raft tugged by the lifeboats crammed with the remaining passengers. Even only half-loaded, the raft wasn't buoyant enough, with passengers standing waist-deep in the water. Perhaps because this made it difficult to tow the raft, after about 15 kilometres the ropes were cut, and the raft abandoned, supplied with only little water, little food, and a lot of wine.

Fights rapidly broke out between the officers and passengers on one hand, and the sailors and soldiers on the other. On the first night, 20 men were killed or committed suicide. Dozens died either in fighting to get to the centre of the raft, the only place safe in the stormy weather that ensued, or because they were washed overboard by the waves. Rations dwindled. By the fourth day there were only 67 left alive on the raft, and some resorted to cannibalism. On the eighth day, the fittest began throwing the weak and wounded overboard. When the raft was found by chance on July 19 only 15 of the passengers had remained alive. Five of the survivors died within the next few days.

On August 27, a ship reached the “wreck” of the Medusa. It hadn't sank, and wouldn't sink for another few months.

Méduse's surgeon Henri Savigny and geographer Alexander Corréard released their account (Naufrage de la frégate la Méduse) of the incident in 1817. It went through five editions by 1821 and was also published in an English translation.

4.

He who has seen the truth will forever remain inconsolable. Saved is only he who has never been in danger. A ship might even appear, now, on the horizon, and speed here on the waves to arrive a second before death and take us away, and have us return alive, alive — but this would not save us, really. Even if we ever found ourselves ashore somewhere again, we shall never again be saved.
– Alessandro Baricco, Oceano mare

5. SHAME.

That many (including me) experienced ‘shame,’ that is, a feeling of guilt during the imprisonment and afterward, is an ascertained fact confirmed by numerous testimonies. It is absurd, but it is a fact. […] On a rational plane, there should not have been much to be ashamed of, but shame persisted nevertheless, especially for the few bright examples of those who had the strength and possibility to resist. […] It is a thought that had only touched us then, but that returned later: you too perhaps could have, certainly should have.

Self-accusation is more realistic, or the accusation of having failed in terms of human solidarity. Few survivors feel guilty of having deliberately damaged, robbed, or beaten a companion. Those who did so (the kapos, but not only them) block out the memory. By contrast, however, almost everybody feels guilty of having omitted to offer to help.

Are you ashamed because you are alive in place of another? And in particular, of a man more generous, more sensitive, more useful, wiser, worthier of living than you? It is a proposition you cannot exclude: you examine your memories… no, you do not find obvious transgressions, you haven't supplanted anyone, you haven't hit (but would you have had the strength?), you didn't accept duties (but you weren't offered…), you haven't stolen anyone's bread; still, you cannot exclude it. It is no more than a supposition, indeed the shadow of a suspicion: that each man is his brother's Cain, that each one of us (but this time I say 'us' in a much vaster, indeed, universal sense) has usurped his neighbor's place and lived in his stead. It's a supposition, but it gnaws; it's deeply hidden like a moth; you can't see it from outside but it gnaws and bites.

I might be alive in the place of another, at the expense of another; I might have usurped, that is, in fact, killed. The “saved” of the Lager were not the best, those predestined to do good, the bearers of a message: what I had seen and lived through proved the exact contrary. Preferably the worst survived, the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators of the “gray zone,” the spies. It was not a clear-cut rule (there weren't and aren't any clear-cut rules in human matters), but it was a rule nonetheless. I felt innocent, yes, but enrolled among the saved and therefore in permanent search of a justification in my own eyes and those of others. The worst survived, that is, the fittest; the best all died.
– Primo Levi, I sommersi e i salvati

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Appetite: A post-critical review

ONE. YET ANOTHER MAN.
Irony and humour are close neighbours, but they should not be confused. The Anglo-Saxons have a humorous vision of that enormous ennui which characterizes their social life, and which raises fears for the future of ‘industrial society’. They need this sense of humour; it makes boredom bearable. Humour can soften a situation, then go on its way. Humour manages to metamorphose the ennui of everyday life – almost. It may fail to transform it completely, but it makes it more decorative, and so henceforth the man who is bored can at least find his boredom enjoyable. He lives a life of well-being without pressing problems and devoid of all romance, and he cannot decide whether to feel comfortable or merely bored, a dilemma for which humour offers him a kind of solution. In any sociology of boredom, the study of Anglo-Saxon humour would bulk large.
– Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity

TWO. Attempts at an angle.
1. The formalist: it was not a brave fusion of physical and text-based theatre. It was a simple dinner drama with some dance tacked on.
2. The feminist: if we are meant to sympathise with a woman who has it all without feeling in any way fulfilled, shouldn’t we know more about her than her wealth and real estate situation? Shouldn’t we know, at least, what her job is? Doesn’t one find most basic meaning of life, sense of purpose in the work one does? Not if one’s a woman, Ross?
3. The logocentric: hasn’t this type of drama been done to death, from 19th-century to Albee? Haven’t we said everything there is to be said about failed dinner parties, about seemingly casual socialisation that implodes into tragedy? Shouldn’t we at least try to surpass The Doll’s House?
4. The social commentator: why did all the mainstream media reviews seem glowing? Why was there a strong applause at the end of every performance? The abyss between the theatre lordforgive community and the general public never seemed greater.

THREE. I WILL I WANT I CAN.
I dislike unsolicited wit, and will not even attempt to describe everything that went wrong with this show. It has been done, with both despair and zesty bitterness.

But shall we view it as an exposé of a mindset? Sugary music over vacuously clever lines of dialogue. False problems, false solutions. Every smart cliché of a society was laid bare, through shoddy execution, as nothing but vacuous placebo. We will get over existential misery by living every day like we’re falling in love!, we will play autistic music, and hold hands.

This is Haneke without the outside world ever shattering the walls. Instead, a momentary illusion of escape, a failed conclusion bound to bring nothing but further misery. The audience applauds, and learns another way to delusion. What a strangely thorough failure of insight.

FOUR. CODA.

Warning
Warnings: Simulated Drug Use, Full Frontal Nudity, Cigarette smoking – nicotine free, Adult themes, Strong coarse language.
– MIAF, program notes

Melbourne International Arts Festival. Appetite. Directed by Kate Denborough. Writer: Ross Mueller. Dramaturg: Brett Adam. Composer & Musician: New Buffalo. Set Design: Kennedy Nolan Architects. Costume Design: Paula Levis. Performers: Michelle Heaven, Brian Lucas, Catherine McClements, Carlee Mellow, James Saunders & Gerard Van Dyck. KAGE at the Arts Centre. Season hopefully ended.

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City as stage:

1. City as stage… for social upheaval.

2. Speaking of city as stage, I should explain that I have missed most of Fringe08, will miss most of the rest due to reckless MIAF-prioritizing this year, and am sad about it. What makes Fringe special is rarely shows in singular, this or that performance. Fringe really should be a flurry of quickly exchanging experiences. Take the exemplary case of Born Dancin'. Now there's a person enjoying life.

I will report on a few things I've managed to catch. Long and considerate, as optimal as it is, may not be possible, but I will attempt to write longer than short.

3. In a very interesting moment for Australian theatre, David Tyndall, the artistic director of Dancehouse, responds to one of those short and flurrious Fringe reviews from The Age. Though I think it is misguided, in this case, to throw rocks at the reviewer, and not the publication (due to the balance of power each command in the case of these reviews), he makes some points that are very rarely made in this country:

Now, I am not responding because the review was particularly unfavourable. I've read too many reviews to allow the unfavourable ones to bother me. But, what does bother me, in this case, is the combination of unfavourable with lazy, ill-informed, insulting and utterly useless. (…) Following the “How to write an Arts Review for a Major Media Publication” textbook, Vincent covers all the bases in the six paragraphs I have no doubt she was confined to. The first is for the skimmers, specifically designed to deliver the overall message of the review. The second attempts to describe the setting in which the action takes place. The third brings a description of the movement and the lighting. The fourth paragraph covers the music and costume. The fifth an attempt to contextualise the work in relation to the artist's previous work and the last paragraph is the closer that in one simple (and I mean Simple) sentence manages to contradict itself perfectly in an attempt to give a lasting opinion. (…) All wrapped up in a nice, neat, well-structured, traditional package, this kind of simple writing is so utterly useless to the artist, to Dance, to the audience and to the reader of The Age that it brings into question the investment made in it and the space provided for it.

It makes no attempt to provide the reader with a vivid narrative of the experience the performance (though I understand there are word limits). It gives little attempt at investigating the performance in relation to the artist's intentions, progression, history and current creative context. It gives no opinion into how and/or why it was created and produced. It makes no attempt at helping to educate the reader in the appreciation or understanding of dance (I accept that it is arguable whether this should be the critics role) and it barely even manages to inform the reader about whether or not they should go and see it (which surely is fundamental to the critics role).

What do you say to this, critics?

Promised lands

Yoram Kaniuk:

Eugene O'Neill says man is born broken and life is mending. The grace of God is glue. Susan is the only person I know who found the grace of God within herself. She glued herself from all these broken pieces. [Susan came] without history. Susan rejected her history. Even when she said she was a Jew, I can't say she meant it the way I would. She has to invent history. I didn't have to invent myself. I do it in books. Her writing and her being are one and the same. It's magic to be Susan Sontag in her writing and in her life. She is like a moving land, a moving country, a moving entity.

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The stage is theological for as long as its structure, following the entirety of tradition, comports the following elements: an author-creator who, absent and from afar, is armed with a text and keeps watch over, assembles, regulated the time or the meaning of representation, letting this latter represent him as concerns what is called the content of his thoughts, his intentions, his ideas. He lets representation represent him through representatives, directors or actors, enslaved interpreters who represent characters who, primarily through what they say, more or less directly represent the thought of the “creator”. Interpretive slaves who faithfully execute the providential designs of the “master”. -Derrida

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Theatre notes

1. This gentlewoman of fortune wishes to announce she will be landing on Australian soil next Sunday. Regular transmission will be resumed soon after. These last weeks are always spent primarily in transition and motion.

2. Happiness is (…) finding yourself in a city, and being welcomed by a completely unexpected, unannounced and unplanned for puppet theatre festival. Those of you who know me better know that I love puppet theatre more than anything else in the world, including contemporary dance, cheese and pornography; and those of you who know Australia better know that my itch is rarely scratched. Needless to say, I am spending my last small change on abstract puppetry based on Bela Bartok, Russian puppet shows based on Tolstoy, and similar treats. Some writing may ensue, but I will be happy enough to sit, watch and shiver cold happy shivers of a cold turkey temporarily calm.

3. I have seen a lot of very interesting theatre while I was here (much more than could have been deducted from the sporadic commentary I've offered). I've learned to read German and French, and polished my Portuguese, in order to devour the coverage it generated. Meanwhile, Anglophone commentary was mostly concerned with Edinburgh. Quite short-sightedly. Andrew Haydon, a rare English speaker who grasps the extent of the problem, offers an insight in The Guardian theatre blog:

Maybe Britain's position in European theatre is more integrated than it appears, but I would be very surprised. The fact is that Britain is hopelessly isolated. While my European colleagues happily discuss the work of directors from each other's countries, I feel an overwhelming jealousy.

On mainland Europe, work tours. It doesn't tour exhaustively, but work that proves popular is as likely to be seen in Tallinn, Berlin or Bratislava, as The History Boys was in Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham. It is shocking to think that, along with my colleague Rose Fenton, I could be one of only a handful of Britons who will ever see some of this work. While everyone else talks about the work of “the most important directors working in Europe” – Alvis Hermanis, Jan Klata and Stefan Kaegi – I sit in mute astonishment at the fact that most of the names mentioned have never, to the best of my knowledge, had productions staged in Britain. At the same time, British names are highly conspicuous by their absence. Our writers are doing OK, but then, in any mainland European theatre deemed worthy of consideration, writers don't count half as much as directors.

Melbourne International Theatre Festival, for all the richness of its 2008 program, shows the same aloofness for the wealth of innovation currently happening outside the small Anglophone world. It is fine (and economically sound) to bring Cynthia Hopkins and a bucketful of Tim Crouch, and it's absolutely tremendous how much support Edmunds offers to the local artists. But it's a sort of program that feeds our belief that the world is small, uniform and safe, when in fact it's brimming with powerful, courageous, often violent experimentation.

4. Most importantly, I've come to realise how badly Australia fares in terms of cultivating broad theatre discourse. (Newspaper coverage, of course, is inadequate across the board. Although it's been a shock to realise that, in a small country like Croatia (4.5 million souls), even local newspapers will regularly offer two pages of fairly decent art coverage daily.)

What's more worrying is that Australia has no platform for serious, regular theatre discussions. Apart from RealTime, a bi-monthly magazine covering a range of media and performance arts, there is no serious publication devoting space to discussion of contemporary theatre practice in the country – of which there is much to discuss. That same Croatia, with a much smaller and much less active theatre scene, and infinitely less money for the arts, can somehow support two magazines dedicated to theatre only, one for contemporary dance, and a range of more generally-focussed arts bi-weeklies.

Book publishing is another problem Australia needs to solve. I have been stocking up on books of all kinds: playtexts, theory, interviews and collected essays. While I'm reading a two-volume collection of interviews on new theatre with the key new-theatre-makers in Croatia (often very funny, as they offer gossip, praise and criticism for each other), and organising a delivery to follow me to Melbourne, I am sure that it would be possible to run a series of similarly in-depth, inquisitive yet chatty interviews with Luke Mullins, Simon Stone, Brian Lipson, not to mention comparative giants such as Andrews or Kosky (whose ABC interview was a disappointingly slack, arts-uninterested piece).

While it's certain that Croatia has, for a long time, had a strong theory without adequate practice, it's also certain that the vivacity of the theoretical debates has helped generate a lot of the fascinating developments in the current theatre-making. In Australia, I wonder, how much more could be happening if brave experiments resonated more widely, if only the discussions and responses they generated could be channeled through an appropriate medium? As things are now, it seems certain that every break-through is muted by the small echo chamber it has at disposal. And the tyranny of distance.

Day-to-day newspaper and magazine criticism is not an adequate tool to support the national scene: it is conceived as, and works as, primarily a consumer guide. In order to follow through-lines of formal or philosophical inquiry that a company or a director develop, in order to discuss paradigm shifts and collective changes of direction, in order to propose and denounce poetics and systems of interpretation, in order to argue, we would need a place to come together in peace. Blogs, I need to disagree with Alison, are not enough to fill this gaping hole. Blogs are personal spaces, not meeting points.

5. All of which reminds me: my article on Eurokaz festival in Zagreb is now available, in print and online, in RealTime 86, and can be accessed here.

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Meryl Tankard

1. PETER THOMPSON: What is it about dance that you love so much?

MERYL TANKARD:I think…it's just an expression of your insides, I mean your soul somehow. Tamasaburo, the beautiful Kabuki actor, once said that dance was an act of devotion and in some ways it is, because you are constantly…you know, your body is your only source of creativity, so it's coming from really inside.

PETER THOMPSON: So what does it do to people?

MERYL TANKARD:It moves them, it really does. You get touched in a way that you couldn't otherwise be touched. When I was studying I felt that it was the ultimate art form, because it combined music, visuals, but it used your body, and all you had was your body. It's like music, certain pieces of music will touch you and you can't really say why. It's even stronger with movement, because you have a human being there in front of you.

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2.


Songs with Mara. Photo: Régis Lansac.

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3. I saw & wrote on Meryl's Inuk2 before seeing The Black Swan. A documentary on her life and work, it completely blew me away.

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Diaries of a murdered;

In one of the most harrowing articles on political prosecution, Anna Alchuk's husband talks about her book of dreams:

Something dawned on me during that time. Namely that it's not automatic that events on the major political stage manifest themselves as a common fate in the personal tragedies of individual people. Each person experiences it in his own way, and not even the most broad-sweeping policy can work without the participation of each individual. It is not enough to give the order: 'Do it like this!' The violent act of dictating orders from above must be covertly masked to lend it the appearance of free will and it must become a behavioural imperative for many, many people.

In an authoritarian social climate, a person who is declared guilty, begins slowly but surely to think of himself as guilty. He internalises the guilt,not because all others around him are convinced of his guilt (he has friends, even if they can no longer offer their help), but because he was charged as guilty by an authority which speaks in the name of everyone. And so everyone, regardless of whether they think the smear victim is guilty or not, will behave towards him as if his guilt had been long established. The chosen scapegoat begins, with time, to inscribe the guilt into his own body. At some point the desire emerges to peel off this body, to break out into a space beyond this perverted society which condemned him.

Wherever one seeks refuge in such a world, there is none to be found.The insecurity and the feeling of being defencelessly at the mercy of others, eventually gain the upper hand. She dreamt of a war breaking out and the world being in flames and the most important thing was to rescue the children from a burning house. My wife wrote up this dream on 17 October 2006, one and a half years after the trial against the organisers of the “Caution: Religion!” exhibition (more here).”I am standing next to a stone wall, behind which a fire is raging.Soon the fire will jump over the wall. I have to get away as soon as possible. But the most important thing is to take the children with me.'Faster, faster,' I urge them. Then we are standing in front of an underground bunker. We cross the threshold and then the doors close behind us. 'One more minute and we would have been dead,' I think,relieved. In the second dream, the world was about to be destroyed. I have to get dressed and go away…”

Michail Ryklin, In the burning house.

On art criticism; a theory; a contrast.

1. (…) The strategies of reasoning and argumentation, the rhetorical twists which are summoned in public talking and writing about art are particularly worthwhile object of study. In many cases these are degenerate forms of argumentative speech. Texts on art rarely explain what they profess to explain; they simply simulate the explainability of their theories.From this point of view, I should add that the differences between review, catalogue text, laudatio and artist profile are nominal.However varied the forms of writing which circulate in the art world,they are unified in their claim to truth, in their allegation of stringency and factuality. Even a Kunstverein press release doesn't want to be read as some dubious rhapsody, but as a reliable source of information and coherent aid to understanding, in other words, as criticism in the best sense of the word.

Christian Demand, Inflated phrases

2. The actors who set out to play the life of today ask themselves: How can you act that?What stories are left to tell? Of course any newspaper article about”theatre today” has to operate with the crassest of generalisations,but the big picture shows us a clear pattern. Stories of determined actions are told in television and the cinema (and these days in computer games too) while theatre tells of being attended to,being excluded, waiting. Whereas television and cinema like to go”round the outside” and follow the great global escapology performance with boyish admiration, the theatre sneaks into the silent interior of the trap for quiet contemplation. The former celebrate the destruction of freedom as a global festival of suspense, the theatre shows it as endgame.

Peter Kűmmel, Escapology and the endgame