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Everything depends on dramaturgy

Ben Brooker: Interview, Romeo Castellucci, Go Down, Moses

Go Down, Moses Go Down, Moses
photo Luca del Pia
A fully-formed human being entering the world from a shapeless, liquescent mass. A robot head reciting numbers to a baby. An Auschwitz populated by children who ride a toy train and take tea with a Mad Hatter. These are some of the images that will be familiar to those lucky enough to have witnessed the works of Italian theatre maker and artistic director of Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, Romeo Castellucci. A former painter, Castellucci’s imagistic, richly evocative mise en scènes retain some of their fascination in YouTube clips. The effect of these works in the theatre, however, remains mysterious to me and is made tantalising by their wide-ranging documentation and discussion, as well as the awed word of mouth generated by the company’s previous appearances in Australia in productions such as Giulio Cesare in the 2000 Adelaide Festival and Genesi, From the Museum of Sleep in the 2002 Melbourne International Arts Festival. Via email, I put a series of questions to Castellucci about a new work, Go Down, Moses, which looks set to be a contemporary performance highpoint at next year’s Adelaide Festival of Arts.

Your last work to feature in the Adelaide was Giulio Cesare. What are your memories of that festival and of how the work was received by Adelaide audiences?

My memories of that voyage are a bit blurry. I recall, in any case, the abnormal kind of interest shown by the audience towards the performance. There was a strange reaction during the applause, which I remember as being particularly slow, perhaps stunned. Then, later, a huge number of people came to a debate, with me sitting behind a desk covered in boxes of chocolate, like they were on display in front of me (I think it was because of the sponsor). The audience in Adelaide clearly knew Shakespeare’s world very well, which gave them an enormous advantage in understanding the performance’s structure; they had access to the work at a profound level.

As with Giulio Cesare, Go Down, Moses uses a canonical text—in this case, the Book of Exodus as opposed to Shakespeare—as its source material. What is it about such material that holds appeal for you? Is it because their reverence makes them more powerful to subvert?

It’s not a question of subversion or desecration. If anything, the procedure used is quite the opposite. It’s a matter of using the same material to delve into language itself. Go Down, Moses is a homeopathic and linguistic kind of work. These texts, moreover, offer mythological material that is, by definition, universal and comprehensible at a ‘lower’ level.

Can you explain the significance of the title and its relationship to African-American slave history?

The topic of slavery is found throughout Exodus, like a mosaic. The song referred to in the title alludes to the need to be freed again by someone, in much the same way as the African-Americans awaited the arrival of a new Moses. And so, a young mother dreams of the liberation not of one particular group of people but of all humanity, which, according to her, has fallen into a new slavery, unconsciously and invisibly. We are still—according to this mother, who abandons her newborn child just as Moses’ mother did—slaves of the Pharaohs.

You were quoted in RealTime as saying that “Genesis frightens me much more than the Apocalypse”. What did you mean by that exactly, and what is it about Biblical themes that both inspire your work and create a sense of terror for you?

This reflection concerned tragedy, in a strictly ‘Greek’ sense. Genesis represents creation, that is, the fact that there is something rather than nothing. The fact of being is the fundamental problem. As far as Greek tragedy is concerned, the problem is that we were born, not that we must die. Creation represents possibility, the pure potential of the creative act. Here, “anything is possible” becomes a threatening statement, not one that conveys a sense of freedom or openness. Creation, in Genesis, allowed for everything, even the word Auschwitz (which was in fact the title of the second act [Genesi From The Museum of Sleep]). From Genesis originates the mystery of evil in the world and, in the end, the divine plan. The philosopher Luigi Pareyson has written remarkable things about a ‘tragic’ conflict within the sphere of the divine; but we could also simply recall Dostoevsky.

Romeo Castellucci Romeo Castellucci
photo Luca del Pia
Go Down, Moses doesn’t contain conventional dialogue, but the text is credited to you and Claudia Castellucci. What does the text consist of, and what is its relationship to the wider work, which, like all of your work, is highly visual?

My work is dramaturgical more than textual. I use every possible tool and anti-tool: things that are to be seen and things that one cannot put into focus, vivid images and the triumph of the banal, words and silence, narration and events that do not arouse the slightest neural fluctuation. Anything is possible, as I was saying before. There is no difference. Touch is what counts the most. And I don’t have a style. Or, more precisely, my style consists in not having a style.

American electro-acoustic composer Scott Gibbons is providing the score. He is a frequent collaborator of yours. What can you tell me of his contribution to Go Down, Moses?

Since Genesi (1999) I’ve worked exclusively with him on every theatre production. He is the best composer in the world (second only to Wagner, and I mean that seriously). I feel extremely fortunate and privileged to work at his side. He is a great artist. We do not need to talk too much. We are the same in a way. We each carry the other within us.

You have worked widely with non-professional performers and those who have unconventional bodies. Will you be doing so again in Go Down, Moses?

Everything depends on dramaturgy. I’m not the one who chooses people! I might even say that it’s not my problem. The shape of bodies and their attitudes come solely from the requirements that dramaturgy imposes at any given moment. That’s all.

Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, Go Down, Moses, direction, set, costumes, lights Romeo Castellucci, music Scott Gibbons, text Claudia Castellucci, Romeo Castellucci, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival of Arts, 25-28 Feb 2016

RealTime issue #130 Dec-Jan 2016 pg. 22

© Ben Brooker; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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