Sunday, April 4, 2010

Carillon - 2666

Kitonb, Italy
Bogotá Bullfighting Ring
1 April 2010

It is nice that the theater festival offers different kinds of performance for different audiences. Carillon was billed as one of the “must see” shows for the whole family. Indeed I bought tickets for the whole family because it looked interesting.

The narrative pretext of the story of the creation of the world, something to do with Jupiter and bringing life to the universe, and there was something to do with the bronze age and the iron age… and a flood. If I’m a little shaky on the details, that is because the narration was so distorted that was practically inaudible. In contrast the sound for singer Rosie Wiederkehr was excellent; the music was beautiful but abstract. So let’s forget the story and just focus on the visual elements.

This is large-scale spectacle. The structure that is used for the stage was not placed in the center of the bullfighting ring, but rather at one end. My seat location, facing stage center across the ring, was a bit too far away, defeating the sense of grandeur. The cheap seats on the sides had a much better view. An extra large crane was brought in from the oilfields to maneuver the performers into position so that they appear high in the sky at different moments during the performance. These moments were beautiful, otherworldly, and sent shivers down my spine.

The best moments in the show were the appearance of the performers overhead, and the scene that had the dancers tumbling through bungee cords that are laced across the metal structure that is the main staging element, to the strains of the fast segment of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Overall conclusion: It was pretty cool but Carillon did not live up to the hype. I wish I'd paid less and had better seating. If it had been free street theater, I would have said it was fantastic. Having paid, I didn't feel that I got my money's worth.

Lliure Theater, Spain
Bellas Artes Theater
2 April 2010

Director Alex Rigola takes on the ambitious task of adapting Chilean author Roberto Bolaños' book by the same name for theater.

Following synopsis of the story is taken from Wikipedia: "The novel and the play are told in five parts, all linked by varying degrees with the unsolved murders of upwards of 300 young, poor, mostly uneducated Mexican women in Ciudad Juárez (Santa Teresa in the novel). The Part about the Critics describes a group of four European literary critics who have forged their careers around the elusive German novelist Benno von Archimboldi. Their search for Archimboldi ultimately leads them to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa in Sonora. The Part about Amalfitano concentrates on Oscar Amalfitano, a professor of philosophy at the University of Santa Teresa, who fears his daughter will be caught up in the violence of the city. The Part about Fate follows Oscar Fate, an American journalist for a black interest magazine, who is sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match (despite knowing very little about boxing) but becomes interested in the murders. The Part about the Crimes chronicles the murders of hundreds of women in Santa Teresa from 1993 to 1997. It also depicts the police force in their apathetic attempts to solve the crimes. The Part about Archimboldi reveals that the mysterious writer is in fact Hans Reiter, born in 1920 in Prussia. This section explains how a provincial German soldier on the Eastern Front became an author in contention for the Nobel Prize."

Overall director Rigola does an excellent job. Bolaños' novel is close to 1,000 pages. As such, directing choices need to be made to produce a coherent piece of theater. Rigola uses a combination of narration, having characters "tell" the story, alongside enactment. The device works very well, and reminds the audience that this is, after all, a novel.

The contrasts are striking: The academics, their obsessions and romances. The gritty underworld of Santa Teresa, which is completely relevant to Bogota and the darker side of its nightlife in a developing country. The misogynistic police force's indifference to the deaths of the women. The scene of the murdered body that is discovered in the desert illustrates the indifference of the police, who stand around telling sexist jokes, as a long list of murder victims, their names and ages, scroll past on the wall of the crime scene tent that covers the back of the stage. The corpse (at first I thought it was a dummy, she was so still) begins to writhe and scream and beg for mercy, but the police cannot hear her. The visceral reality of the scene, and the sensation that it conveys of being just one more incident in an interminable series, is horrifying. The final scene reveals the identity of the mysterious Archimboldi, telling the story of his life. A lot of information presented in this scene, and the performers have to race through their lines at a breakneck speed. It does not quite hold together with the rest. The themes of death and violence remain important, a comparison is suggesting between the Santa Teresa murders and the barbarity of nazi atrocities. Still, the author's life story becomes an academic exercise and is anticlimactic after all that has come before. The play loses momentum and dramatic tension.

I suspect that the difficulty lies with the fact that this is an adaptation from a novel and director wanted to remain true to the author’s vision. Of course a novel gives you more time to develop the story and create the necessary links. With a running time of nearly five hours (with four intermissions), there just wasn't enough time to make the last scene hold together. Despite this shortcoming, I felt that this was a brilliant piece of theater.

All of the performances were excellent, with the cast members playing multiple roles. Unfortunately the night I saw the show one of the actresses was not well and was unable to finish the performance. She had to be replaced during the last scene. I applaud the group for continuing the performance; having the replacement actress reading the script onstage was not a problem. Each performance had very clear directing codes. Each scene had different assignments for the use of physical space, and most were very successful. One actor had the job of expressing himself through dance. He was a “mute chorus,” placed in the background and providing physical, non-verbal commentary throughout the scenes. I thought it was a magnificent directing choice and an excellent, intensely focused performance. It felt fresh. In many of the scenes, the performances switched between expository narration and interaction. The transitions were smooth and effective. It is literary device and it worked very well. I loved the staging. In every case the sets created and complemented the atmosphere that was sought.

This was an ambitious and daring project. Kudos to Lliure Theater for their effort.

The reviews for the two shows I saw at the theater festival: Break Out by the Seven Sense Theater Company of Korea, The Deer House by Needcompany of Belgium, and the festival's closing ceremony Jouers de Lumiere by Group F of France, as well as my recap of festival highlights, will have to wait until I get back from the coast. So, dear readers, we will have a week off before there is a new entry.

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