887 @ BAM

887 Murray Avenue, Quebec City, Canada.The apartment block where the play’s main – and only – character actually grew up becomes alive, with the help of an incredible off-stage crew, in the form of a giant dollhouse.
Robert Lepage, who also wrote and directed this deeply personal, autobiographical play,  invites us to join him on a journey into the realm of memory. On the way, he revisits his childhood home; shares anecdotes about his friends and family; commemorates names of parks, streets and monuments – places often forgotten or no longer noticed; recalls Charles De Gaulle’s call for a Free Quebec, the time he famously ended his July 24, 1967 speech with a loud and clear ”Vive le Québec libre!”, in Montreal.

The same words that were used as a slogan by Front de Libération du Québec, the separatist group that had launched a series of terror attacks in 1963, a campaign that culminated with the kidnapping and killing of Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, in October 1970.
The trip starts with a struggle: Lepage is invited to recite ”Speak White”, a poem by the Quebecoise Michèle Lalonde, in an evening commemorating the anniversary of a poetry event that first took place in Montreal, in 1970. But, for reasons that he cannot explain, the more he tries to memorize the worlds, the more they elude him. 

So he turns to the method of loci, an ancient technique in which the items to be remembered are placed in specific places (”palace rooms”) one associates with past experiences or childhood memories. In order to retrieve them, all Lepage had to do was revisit the right ”palace room”. And we were only too happy to follow him along.

”Speak White” refers to the oppressive orders shouted at the enslaved across North American plantations, forbidding them to speak their own languages, incomprehensible to their masters. ”Speak White” was also used to shame francophone Canadians and force them to adopt the language of the British Empire.
The ”palace room” method worked; in the end, Lepage did recite the poem and it was powerful, emotional – flawless. Ironically, the most compelling performance we’d seen thus far in New York was by a francophone Canadian, translated into English.

Speak White by Michèle Lalonde: original in French and translation in English.

[…]
Speak white
Tell us again about Freedom and Democracy

We know that liberty is a black word
Just as poverty is black
And just as blood mixes with dust in the streets of Algiers
And Little Rock
[…]

All images by Erick Labbé.

887 @ BAM

March 25th, 2017

Sunday in the park with George

On a Saturday evening at the Hudson Theatre, exactly one month after its reopening on February 11th, 2017.

First opened in 1903 it served many a purpose: theatre, radio & television studio, club, porn cinema, events venue and, making a full round, a theatre again. And a Broadway one at that.

Many of its original features have been lovingly restored, like this magnificent Tiffany glass ceiling. But the seating has been completely redesigned with chairs adjusted to fit the average human measurements and not the other way round as in most (or all) other Broadway theatres.

It opened with the revival of ”Sunday in the Park with George”, a play inspired by George Seurat’s masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Jake Gyllenhaal embodied the master of pointillism and, on his side, Annaleigh Ashford performed the role of his muse and lover, Dot. The story unfolds with the perfectionist master obsessing over his work to such an extend that he ends up alienating the bourgeoisie, his peers and even his lover. His relationship is damaged, his fellow artists have rejected him, and yet…

Nothing will stop him from his quest to ”finish the hat”.

The story kicks off like this:

ACT I
Time: 1884.
A white stage. George, an artist, is sketching.

GEORGE
White. A blank page or canvas.
The challenge: bring order to the whole. (As he continues to speak, the white stage is transformed into a park on the island of La Grande Jatte. Trees descend onto the grass; a bottle glides into view; a cut out couple appear in the distance. The lighting gives the impression of early morning.)
Through design.
Composition.
Tension.
Balance.
Light.
And harmony.

1. SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
George is sketching. Dot is posing.

DOT
George. (no response) Why is it you always get to sit in the shade while I have to stand in the sun? (still no response) Hello, George? There is someone in this dress! (twitches slightly, sighs, mutters to herself)
A trickle of sweat.
The back of the head.
He always does this.
(hisses)
[…]

Until the painting was complete.

[…]
Forever
By the blue
Purple yellow
red water
On the green
Orange violet mass
Of the grass

DOT
In our perfect park

GEORGE
Made of flecks of light
And dark

ALL
(except George end Dot)
And Parasols…

People strolling through the trees
Of a small suburban park
On an island in the river
On an ordinary Sunday…
(All begin to leave very slowly, except Dot, who remains in the park, and George, who steps outside the park.)
Sunday… (A blank white canvas descends.)

GEORGE
(looking in the book again)
“White. A blank page of canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities…”
(He looks up and sees Dot disappearing behind the white canvas.)

Sunday in the Park with George
Music: Stephen Sondheim
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: James Lapine

The Hudson Theatre, Broadway
March 11th, 2017

Dadan @ BAM

In order to create Dadan, I started rehearsals with the performers in the summer of 2007.  At that time we had no idea that we would create a piece like this. If a group of men who just wanted to strike the drums would gather and practice intensely, a performance would come out of that energy.

So we told ourselves.

As for the name of the piece, we didn’t have any assurance that we could complete it in the future. But fortunately, in 2009 we were able to create this work called Dadan, and show it to the public.

The word Dadan is written with the kanji characters that literally mean “men drumming,” but at the same time we tried to come up with a name which would put across the sense of drumming when written in roman letters, would feel dynamic, and be easy for people around the world to say.

Dadan saw its world premiere in Tokyo during September 2009, and the success of this initial run led to its foreign debut at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, France, with four sold-out performances in 2012.

Following such success abroad, Dadan toured across Japan in 2012 and was showcased twice at the “Earth Celebration” annual international performing arts festival on Sado Island. Tours in Spain and France followed during 2014, and then in October 2015, Dadan was performed in Hong Kong—a first in Asia outside of Japan. The South American debut took place in March of 2016 in Brazil. 

The 2017 Dadan performances are part of its first North American tour, and are presented as a part of Kodo’s 35th Anniversary celebrations. For Dadan’s US tour, I would like to express my gratitude to the sponsors who made this possible. I hope to be able to continue to create even better performances in the future. I will be very happy if you enjoy our performance.

—Tamasaburo Bando, Dadan Artistic Director

Never has drumming seemed so elegant, flawlessly coordinated, primal, powerful, precise and curiously meditative, until these guys came along.

*first three images from the net

Kodo performed in BAM
March 4th, 2017

The play that never was

Three old friends and a neighbor. A summer of afternoons in the backyard. Lingering sunshine and inevitable darkness.

Caryl Churchill, one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights, returns to BAM for the first time in 15 years with this by-turns hilarious and unsettling daydream. Directed by Churchill’s frequent collaborator James Macdonald (Cloud Nine; Love and Information; John Gabriel Borkman, Spring 2011), with startling performances from Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, and June Watson, Escaped Alone is doomsday in a teapot, a calmly revolutionary vision of looming collapse.

No, doomsday in a teapot was not meant to be that Saturday evening. The play had already begun and Mrs Jarrett – played by the courageous Mrs Linda Bassett – had already joined the three other ladies in the garden that sat behind the fence. But, as the conversation picked up, Mrs Bassett stood up and walked off stage, calmly, naturally as if it was part of the play. Only Mrs Bassett had been feeling unwell that day but had decided to go on with the show hoping she would manage to make it through. She didn’t, despite her strong will and professionalism; Mrs Bassett could not go on. And neither could the show.

The management offered refunds or rebookings to one of the following days and the play went ahead as scheduled. We missed it only because of a planned trip, our first away from the City since the day we arrived.

Escaped Alone, BAM
February 18th, 2017

Last Work

What we didn’t want to miss that night was the latest work by Batsheva Dance Company, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, making its NY premiere in BAM. I was prepared to be impressed and I was – by the dancer at the back of the stage running on a treadmill for the entire duration of the show! According to reviews, and as you can see below, it was supposed to be a woman (dressed in blue) but on the evening we watched she had been replaced by a man. Still standing, drenched in sweat at the end of the performance, he deserved – and received – a warm round of applause. The work itself was a barrage of beautiful, intense moves and ideas, so much so that the audience was left with no breathing space; no chance to absorb and truly appreciate the scenes. On the way out, we agreed that Last Work was aesthetically stimulating, but bringing so many elements and people on the stage together, all at the same time, resulted in cancelling out emotions it was supposed to evoke. Indeed sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.

Images courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company

February 4th, 2017

Beauty queens

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a black comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh was premiered by the Druid Theatre Company in Galway, Ireland in 1996.

20+ years later, Druid made its BAM debut with this first in the trilogy of plays set in the rural village of Leenane where forty-year-old Maureen Folan, a single and lonely woman lives with her mother Mag, trapped in a dry, loveless relationship. Until Mag interferes with her daughter’s first – and probably last – romance. Her cruel interference sets in motion a chain of events simultaneously funny and horrible, a narrative that leads to a tragicomic climax and leaves the audience with a bittersweet aftertaste that lingers long after the curtain comes down.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane, about to begin:

And the Beauty Queen of Solitaire, patiently killing time:

Aisling O’Sullivan played Maureen, the daughter.
Marie Mullen, was the devious mother; most interestingly, Ms. Mullen played Maureen back in 1996, as if to confirm Maureen’s realisation when she exclaimed: Oh Gosh, I’ve turned into my mother!
Marty Rea was Pato Dooley, Maureen’s first and possibly last lover.

BAM Harvey Theater

January 14th, 2017

Love, Love, Love

An off-Broadway play by Mike Bartlett in three acts, staged by Roundabout Theatre Company.

A small, perfectly placed cast performing the roles of Kenneth (Richard Armitage), Henry (Alex Hurt), Sandra (Amy Ryan), Jamie (Ben Rosenfield) and Rose (Zoe Kazan).

A life. A play about reaching maturity without ever wanting to grow-up. About starting a family, because that’s what everyone does, without ever wanting to part with your juvenile selfishness.

A clash. Of care-free youthfulness against duty-laden responsible mid life. Of generations. Of egocentric, self-absorbed characters.

It begins in 1967.
Sandra, Henry’s smart and witty girlfriend meets his brother Kenneth, a party-going, pot-smoking, life-loving young lad; it is June 25th and the entire world is watching the historic, first ever live satellite programme in which the Beatles performed ”All you need is love”.

Sandra and Kenneth sing along; they dance; they fall in love.

1990.
Married. Two kids. Financially secure. High profile jobs. No time to waste. Not least for two needy, self-conscious, egotistic teenagers.

2011.
Parents retired. Affluent. Kids are now adults; Jamie resigned, Rose angry, both still lost deep in the generations chasm, unable to accept the world they inherited.

Rose: I want you to buy me a house.
Sandra: smiles.
Kenneth: laughs.
Sandra : A house?
Kenneth: laughs some more.
Kenneth: You’ve got a house.
Rose: I’m renting.

….

Kenneth: What’s the matter love
Sandra: Something’s wrong, isn’t it? I can tell.
Rose: laughs.

Rose: I’m thirty seven

Rose: So… my birthday. I had a little thing in a bar in Clapham, hired out this little bar, and all my friends came, and two days before I didn’t tell you this, but two days before my birthday I broke up with Andy.
Kenneth: You didn’t… oh… you’re not with.
Rose: No.
Kenneth: You didn’t say.
Rose: You never asked.
Sandra: You don’t like us asking.
Rose: Yeah so I’d already booked this bar, and I went ahead with it anyway even though I was quite… lonely… you know.
Sandra: Oh baby.
Rose: And everyone turned up and some of them with kids and stuff and we had a bit of a dance you know, kept the smiles going but then suddenly I found I was sat on a chair at the side of the room, all on my own, at my own party, and I was crying.
Sandra: Were you drinking gin?
Rose: No.
Sandra: Gin can do that.
Rose: I wasn’t drinking at all Mum but I found I was crying, and it was because I realised as I was sat there, I realised I’d completely fucked it up.

Sandra: It’s not too late, you’re not even forty.
Rose: At my age you had a house, half paid off, two kids, holidays, money.
Kenneth: It was different then.

Rose: Look at you… ”If you can remember the sixties you weren’t really there”. What a smug fucking little thing to say. You didn’t change the world, you bought it. Privatised it. What did you stand for? Peace? Love? Nothing except being able to do whatever the fuck you wanted.

Kenneth: It’s your life Rosie.
It has to be.
He drinks from the wine.
We love you.
But you can’t blame us.
You want us to give up our retirement, our independence, our holidays, our security as we get older, you want to take all of that away from us and just give you a house.
Rose: It’s not fair.
Kenneth: Life isn’t.

And on and on and on it goes – such is the multifarious process that’s life.

Laura Pels Theatre at the Howard and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre

November 25th, 2016 (ran through December 18, 2016)

Letter to a Man

Letter to a Man is the third collaboration between two icons from the world of performing arts – Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov. I had the privilege to enjoy all three, in three different corners of the world.

Video Portraits came first in 2013; hosted by Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens Greece, it was an audiovisual feat unlike anything we’d seen before – in that part of the world, at least. A few months later and some three thousand kilometres north of Greece The Old Woman came to town, with William Dafoe joining the party in deSingel, Antwerp’s centre of contemporary arts. And, finally, three years later, a performance at the source, with Letter to a Man marking our initiation to the theatre world of New York at BAM, Brooklyn’s leading performing arts venue. We didn’t know it then but BAM would become a regular ”hangout” where we would enjoy many an entertaining weekend night out.

Letter to a Man is based on autobiographical texts by Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), with extracts from his diaries, written in less than six weeks in 1919 when Nijinsky was already succumbing to madness and trying to record and understand what was happening to him.

In Robert Wilson’s play, each passage is repeated many times in English and in Russian by Mikhail Baryshnikov alone on the set, assisted only by Wilson’s masterfully minimalist – yet grandiose – mise-en-scène on which light, sound, props, movement and text are all of equal importance; and staged to perfection by the Director himself.

Now, I will readily admit I had never been a great fan of Baryshnikov, tilting toward the ethereal grand jeters of the likes of Nureyev rather than the solid, precise movements of Mikhail. Despite his extraordinary leaps, which apparently were higher than Rudolf’s, Baryshnikov always gave me the impression that he was somehow heavier, earthbound.  And I have to take Nijinsky’s brilliance as an establish fact, since none of his performances were ever recorded.

But watching Baryshnikov alone on the stage channelling a lifetime’s worth of earthbound precision, mastering choreography and pantomime, being almost seventy years old and unstoppable, the least I can do is concede admiration. For Baryshnikov rendered Nijinsky’s descent to insanity with the brio and gentleness, compassion and deep understanding, as only another great dancer could.

This is how it began:

”I understand war because I fought with my mother-in-law,” he repeats several times while confined to a straitjacket.

”I am a beast, a predator. I will practice masturbation and spiritualism. I will eat everyone I can get hold of. I will stop at nothing.”

”I am God’s plan, and not the Antichrist’s. I am not the Antichrist. I am Christ.”

Letter to a Man, BAM, October 2016.

It will run in Barcelona on 29 June – 02 July 2017. Details for this and other productions can be found on Robert Wilson’s website.

Photo credits: all, except the last two, photos are by Lucie Jansch.

October 23rd, 2016

Strangers Gate

All strangers are welcome to come together and be strangers no more.

For some, the Gate marks an opening to enter the Park. But on that October evening it became a portal; our opening to a Human Requiem. ”Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem was written not for the dead, but for the living. The composer himself called it the “human” requiem—otherworldly music to accompany those who seek to transcend our human condition. For this unique theatrical choral event staged by Jochen Sandig and gracefully scored for piano four hands and choir, conductor Simon Halsey and Rundfunkchor Berlin craft an immersive experience of remarkable artistry where the standing audience moves organically with the production—and division between performer and audience, life and death, light and dark all seem to dissolve.”~ Excerpt from the programme.

Part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival.

Synod Hall, St. John the Divine Cathedral
W 110 St. & Amsterdam Av.

Strangers Gate on W 106 St., is one of the twenty entrances to Central Park that have been named in honour of the population of New York and represent the vision that Central Park is ”the People’s Park”.

October 16th, 2016