info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

to create, not repeat

jana perkovic: eurokaz international festival of new theatre

Jana Perkovi´c is a Melbourne-based theatre writer and urbanist. She writes for vibewire.net and keeps a blog on misonou.livejournal.com.

Nature  Theater of Oklahoma, No Dice Nature Theater of Oklahoma, No Dice
photo Peter Nigrini
GORDANA VNUK, THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF EUROKAZ, RULES THE FESTIVAL WITH AN IRON FIST. SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN 1987, THE AIM OF EUROKAZ HAS BEEN NOT TO FOLLOW TRENDS IN NEW THEATRE, BUT TO ANTICIPATE THEM. CALLED, INTERCHANGEABLY, AN INSULT TO COMMON DECENCY OR A WASTE OF MONEY, AND ALMOST SHUT DOWN IN THE RELIGIOUS/NATIONALIST KITSCH IN THE POST-WAR CROATIA OF THE 1990S (WHEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH RAGED AGAINST THE FESTIVAL’S PROPAGATION OF ANTI-FAMILY VALUES) IT IS THE KIND OF FESTIVAL AUSTRALIA WOULDN’T HURT FROM HAVING: AN ENERGETIC, VISIONARY PROCLAMATION OF DELIGHT, LESS ABOUT WHAT THEATRE IS, THAN WHAT IT COULD BE.

This year, a crosscut of the American avant-garde is coupled with a showcase of a very young generation of theatre-makers, pulled straight out of the Zagreb Academy of Dramatic Arts. Two worlds with colliding interests, you might think, but the first shared motif was confused multimedia. The brilliant Wooster Group questions that supposedly undeniable quality assigned to theatre: the immediate/unmediated reality of what we see on stage, the absolute truthfulness of the moment. The second and related motif resounds through the programs and discussions: performance is only detritus, a dead shell of the living, breathing creation that happens during rehearsal. To see something real, one needs to watch the rehearsal.

The stage is cluttered with TV and video screens, multiplying, flattening, displacing and subverting the images created there. The first part of Poor Theater: A Simulacrum is a reconstruction of The Wooster Group’s encounter with Grotowski: we see films of them watching a film of his Akropolis. Their visit to his studio in Opole, Poland, is both played on stage, with actor Sheena See performing Wooster director Elizabeth LeCompte, and on screen, as confusing footage from a hidden camera. The set turns out to be a re-creation of their New York studio, in which a detailed replica of Grotowski’s studio was made (including fake parquetry); here they perform their viewing of Akropolis with a simultaneous translation from Polish, and the last 20 minutes of a rehearsal based on completely re-creating Akropolis as it comes across from the film, in Polish. The second, shorter part is an homage to William Forsythe, his lecture re-created from tape with similar methods, culminating in a riotous madness that blends with the end of Akropolis.

Poor Theater, apart from being an ingenious essay in methods of transposition, continues The Wooster Group’s preoccupation with transmission of knowledge in the age of mass media: all older modes, from oral narration to guided learning, being increasingly replaced by the false didacticism of the screen. Everything on stage is a detailed simulacrum of a lost source: from the projection of ersatz New York parquetry, fragmented gesticulation of bodies cut up by film editing, conversations reported with stutter and repetition. The result is disturbing, often hilarious, and affectionate. For what the performance is about, ultimately, is The Wooster Group themselves, and their relationship with their theatre forebears.

Starting with traditional oral narrative as a model, Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s No Dice is an epic, four-hour replication of hours of telephone conversations between group members (ranging from artistic laments to complaints about work, drinking and eating disorders, to ‘dinner theater’ experiences). It employs tropes of oral epic (repetition, variation) which clash with the tropes of Shakespearian theatre (acts, climaxes), which in turn clash with the overturned tropes of good acting (misplaced foreign accents, hyper-articulation, exaggerated costumes). Modes of communication split apart, nothing quite matching: even the gesticulation employed is their own confusing invention (including, but not limited to, the sign of the cross, thumbs up, mimed wall and some nameless but recognisable gestures, such as intravenous drug use). It is a legible, but closed system of references, until it suddenly opens towards the end: the actors take their wigs and sunglasses off and address the audience: “The question is, what do we require in order to enjoy ourselves?” Communication itself, they conclude. Poignant, semiotically imaginative, intellectually provocative but emotionally rich, Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s performance—with its roundabout, illogical, confusing conversations—is a manifesto of faith in our ability to engage with each other through speech.

Cynthia Hopkins’ Must Don’t Whip Um is a high-energy concert/performance, or, as Hopkins introduces it, “a detritus geomancy dhikr”: a sufi ritual of remembrance and an attempt at divination from the remains of a life. The middle part of her Accidental Nostalgia trilogy, preoccupied with the ways one’s life and art are shaped by memory, narrates the disappearance of a fictional 70s pop artist turned sufi student, Cameron Seymour, through the obsessed eyes of her daughter Mary. Layers of representation peel off as the farewell concert we are witnessing is revealed to be Mary, performing in the staged reconstruction she devised from contradictory stories of people she met while filming a documentary on Sufism and Seymour. Mary’s failure to complete the documentary is admitted in filmed fragments (often simultaneously created on stage) in between Cameron’s raging songs, saluting a bellicose, consumerist America. This hybrid monster of multimedia, shifting personae, past and present, blending stage and backstage, is saved from collapsing into incoherence by its technical accomplishment and Hopkins’ charisma. The result lacks the profundity of some other works, perhaps, but was a welcome break from more serious, less danceable experimentation.

Some of the most interesting performances were student works. Generally less sentimental than their American colleagues, Croatian kids attacked form and convention with brio. Lutkina kuca—Zmija mladoženja (Doll’s House/Viper Groom), directed by Anja Maksic, takes Ibsen’s classic and literally empties it of content, replacing the realistic dialogue of the 19th-century bourgeoisie with a lesser-known fairy tale. The principal characters establish themselves in the opening minutes on an enormous bare stage which then collapses into a dreamlike, gauzy space, and the characters reappear as faces in the bedtime story Nora is telling her children, complete with the costumes, music and singing straight out of children’s theatre. Trapped within the cyclic, repetitive world of a popular fable, characters loopily recite Ibsen’s lines, allowing insight into the formal and fabulist clichés behind the text.

The Wooster Group, Poor Theater The Wooster Group, Poor Theater
photo Paula Court
Neka cijeli ovaj svijet ili o…/Pokušaji 7, 8, 10 (Attempts 7, 8, 10) formally explores powerlessness. By setting up an enormous range of openings in the theatrical structure, Marina Petkovic teases out extraordinary results from performers and the audience in a way that belies her youth. Her actors drift off half-way into frustrated attempts to tell a story; the audience gleans information from silent video, unheard conversations, Petkovic herself interrupts to impose extra demands, ask questions, interrogate a well-known actor on his power within the spectacle machine. Given another performer’s tape recorder (“She mentions the urge to scream...can you respond?”), a dancer launches into a series of frustrated contortions, culminating in shrill cries, wails, howls; she never manages to scream, yet there is a riveting truthfulness in her search. The entire play, fresh and engaging in its unpredictable immediacy, can be identified as an attempt to forget the craft, sideline the rules.

There is, therefore, a third motif in the Eurokaz program: imperfection. This is often realised as dance—the seemingly absurd routine in between two acts of No Dice, its complex references only explained in the climactic ending; The Wooster Group’s loose carbon-copy of Forsythe’s choreography; and the circular, ritualistic repetition of A Doll’s House. Vnuk’s program draws connections between disparate theatre cultures, pointing out their shared, uncompromising desire to break out of mechanical form, to disregard the already-known. As Petkovic had announced, this is an attempt to create, not repeat.


The Wooster Group, Poor Theater: A Simulacrum, director Elizabeth LeCompte, Zagreb Youth Theatre, June 22-23; Nature Theater of Oklahoma, No Dice, concept, direction Pavol Liska, Kelly Cooper, Lado, June 23-26; Cynthia Hopkins & Gloria Deluxe, Must Don’t Whip Um, music, text Cynthia Hopkins, set, video, production design Jim Findlay, Zagreb Youth Theatre, June 28-29; Lutkina ku´ca—Zmija mladoženja, co-production Theatre &TD/ADU/Eurokaz, based on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, direction Anja Maksi´c, Theatre &TD, June 22-23; Neka cijeli ovaj svijet ili O.../Pokušaji 7, 8, 10, concept, direction Marina Petkovi´c, Theatre &TD Café, June 28; Eurokaz International Festival of New Theatre, Zagreb, June 21– July3, www.eurokaz.hr.

Jana Perkovi´c is a Melbourne-based theatre writer and urbanist. She writes for vibewire.net and keeps a blog on misonou.livejournal.com.

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg. 56

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top