Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Leslie's Picks for the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá 2012

Here are my picks for this year's theatre festival. Despite the concerns raised by a number of cancellations, it looks like there will be an interesting selection of performances this year. I have the appointment to swap my "bono" for tickets this Saturday 4 February, so if there is anything you'd like to see with me, drop me a line.

When possible I have included outside reviews, as well as the theatre festival blurb, and video clips to provide a feel for what the performance will be like.

Cayetana, su pasión
País: España
Compañía: Ballet Flamenco de Cecilia Gómez
Dirección, coreografía y baile: Cecilia Gómez
Duración: 1 hora 30 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Danza Flamenca
Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo
Del 23 al 26 de marzo.
$130.000, $100.000, $75.000, $50.000 y $30.000

Esta pieza, de la bailarina Cecilia Gómez, constituye un homenaje a la figura y esencia artística de la Duquesa de Alba, marcado por la majestuosidad de los vestidos y la sensualidad de movimientos de flamenco contemporáneo. Los primeros seis actos de la obra giran alrededor de sus numerosas aficiones: el baile flamenco, la pintura, la poesía, los caballos, sus amistades y los toros. En el séptimo acto trasciende el título nobiliario para mostrarla como mujer y fuente de inspiración. Con músicos en vivo, para las presentaciones en Colombia contamos con la participación especial de Antonio Canales.

País: India
Compañía: Madhavi Mudgal
Dirección y coreografía: Madhavi Mudgal
Duración: 1 hora 10 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Danza Odissi
Teatro Gimnasio Moderno
Del 23 al 26 de marzo
$120.000 y $75.000

La consagración al arte es, literalmente, una premisa del grupo de bailarinas Odissi que representa esta pieza teatral. El estilo de vida ascético de sus participantes, en el que se entregan no solo a la enseñanza sino a los cuidados de su maestra (Madhavi Mudgal) conservando tradiciones milenarias de la India, les permite profundizar en su espiritualidad en una forma única, a través de la que son capaces de ejecutar, con genuina solemnidad, una balanceada mezcla de movimientos tradicionales con sofisticados giros, gracia y sensualidad, adornadas con majestuosos y tradicionales vestuarios y accesorios.

País: Chile
Compañía: Santiago a Mil y Teatro Cinema
Basado en la novela: El gran Cuaderno
De: Agota Kristof
Dirección: Juan Carlos Zagal y Laura Pizarro
Duración: 1 hora 50 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Teatro cinematográfico
Idioma: Español
Teatro Nacional Fanny Mikey
Del 23 al 26 de marzo
$120.000 y $70.000

Nestled within this year’s Lincoln Center Festival is a celebration of Spanish-language theater that features productions from Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Spain. The first entry in this festival within a festival is “Gemelos,” a haunting, theatrically novel story of endurance in the face of want and neglect, from the Chilean troupe Compañía Teatro Cinema.

The show, which plays through Saturday at the Pope Auditorium at Fordham University, is performed by a trio of actors on a miniature stage that resembles an unusually grand puppet theater made of carved wood, with a plush red curtain. The company’s name suggests its desire to fuse a solid bond between techniques used in theater and in film. The smaller dimensions of the stage in “Gemelos” (the title means “twins”) help smooth the way for the blending of effects from both mediums.

Miniature sets and props are easily manipulated to create changes in perspective, so that a character seen in a sort of long shot, profiled against the horizon, reappears in close-up almost instantly. Or an iris effect that recalls silent movies is used to whisk us briskly between scenes.

The narrative of “Gemelos,” which follows the hard fortunes of twin boys growing up in an unnamed country in war-torn Europe, would require a huge (or minimalist) production if it were staged full scale. The reduced size allows the designers to retain atmosphere without compromising narrative complexity. The boys can catch fish, work in the fields, blackmail a pedophile priest and give succor to an army deserter without major scenery changes.

But the shrunken dimensions of the production are apt too for a tale told largely from the point of view of two boys caught up in the brutalizing march of history. The well-known horrors of World War II blend with disarming ease into the other gothic nightmares the twins must survive in “Gemelos,” which manages the unusual feat of allowing us to experience familiar sorrows from a distinctive, slightly disorienting new perspective.

First performed in 1999, “Gemelos” was adapted by Laura Pizarro, Juan Carlos Zagal and Jaime Lorca (founders of the precursor to Compañía Teatro Cinema) from the 1986 novel “The Notebook” by the Hungarian writer Agota Kristof. Ms. Pizarro and Mr. Zagal direct the current production and appear in it with Diego Fontecilla. Mr. Zagal has also composed the melancholy, highly effective musical score.

For all the inventiveness of the staging, it is really the actors’ precise, stylized performances that capture and hold the attention. They wear half-masks that recall commedia dell’arte, and move in an angular, mechanized style that makes them resemble eerily ambulatory marionettes who have somehow escaped their string-pulling masters. Mr. Fontecilla and Mr. Zagal, as the twins, speak in contrasting voices, often in unison, to suggest their deeply entrenched emotional interdependence.

When the boys’ father goes off to war, their mother, unable to support them, takes them to live with their bitter, cruel grandmother in the countryside. Played with mesmerizing witchiness by Ms. Pizarro, her voice a shrill snarl, this crone starves and beats the boys. They react against her abuse by conducting their own course of self-discipline, re-educating their hearts and minds to ignore physical hardship and remain staunchly indifferent to the ridicule and abuse they receive from the locals. As the ugly truths of the war slowly impinge on their lives, however, the boys gradually worm their way into their grandmother’s heart, eventually learning to manipulate and even dominate her.

At nearly two hours without an intermission, “Gemelos” would probably be more effective if it were a good 20 minutes shorter. The grueling nature of the story eventually wears you down. Moments of redemption or simple pastoral beauty — a lovely sequence in which the boys learn to catch fish, for example — are relatively few. But the production’s sheer theatrical charm goes some way toward softening the harshness of its story. Memorable too is its depiction of neglected children whose instinctive love for each other allows them to retain their resilience and innate wisdom and to acquire a measure of moral maturity that their elders have somehow lost.

País: Serbia
Compañía: Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste
Dirección: Iva Milosevic
Duración: 1 hora 35 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Teatro contemporáneo
Idioma: Serbio con subtítulos en español
Teatro Nacional La Castellana
Del 23 al 27 de marzo
$120.000, $100.000 y $70.000

Mirjana Karanović as Mirjana was completely alienated from the Others, who are on the verge of being emblematic. They are intruders in her life. The others are characters reduced to marionettes, characterized by their impossibility of communication. They are flat, and they are the products of the context in which they live. (...) The Man has long time ago become the consumer and the good, unable to be alone, out by himself. The importance of this play lies in its unobtrusive intention to disclose the dreadfulness of the abyss behind the images of illusion.
Ana Isaković, Danas

Play about Mirjana and people around her is a realistic picture of lives of ordinary people, who, no matter how trivial that might seem at first sight, represent an inner journey into our personality and points to silent emptiness of the man whose potentials are tamed and who has long time ago forgotten why he exists. (...) While enjoying in this, in a way, tragicomical drama, we can recognize a part of our life so often imprisoned in everyday routine. This colorful confession about Mirjana and people around her actually represents a serious analytical representation of our trivial reality which touches, shapes, impedes or even occupies our life. This play is important because it sees the things in a clear way and calls a spade a spade, but also because it invites us to personally search for sense and self determination.

Tom Tom Crew
País: Australia
Compañía: Strut & Fret
Dirección: Scott Maidment
Dirección musical: Ben Walsh
Duración: 1 hora
Género: Teatro musical acrobático
Coliseo El Campín
$90.000, $75.000, $50.000 y $25.000
Del 23 de marzo al 1 de abril

Esta pieza cargada de energía y que mezcla acrobacias de circo con llamativos ritmos musicales atraerá sin duda la atención del público colombiano. El vértigo de los movimientos de grandes acróbatas australianos se funde maravillosamente con técnicas de beat-box ejecutadas por uno de los más grandes exponentes de esa técnica vocal, Tom Thum, así como con las fantásticas mezclas del DJ Luke Dubbs y con la genial y recursiva percusión de Ben Walsh. Puro talento australiano combinado en un solo espectáculo que rescata los valores de la cultura musical urbana y entusiasmará a la

El dictador de Copenhague
Compañía: Proyecto El dictador de Copenhague
Dirección: Martha Márquez
Género: Drama
Duración: 1 hora 40 minutos
Teatro Libre del Centro
27 y 28 de marzo
$35.000 y $20.000
Este conmovedor trabajo ha sido destacado con el Premio Nacional de Dramaturgia
del Festival de Teatro de Cali en 2010 y constituye una reflexión sobre la impunidad, la justicia y la fragilidad de la raza humana. En esta historia un maestro de escuela pública de un pueblo llamado Copenhage se ve envuelto en un difícil dilema moral (entre la posibilidad de hacer justicia por mano propia o dejarlo todo en manos del destino) cuando tiene que enfrentar la llegada al pueblo del asesino de su hijo, un violador de jóvenes
que no pudo ser capturado por falta de pruebas.

La cosmética del enemigo
Compañía: Casa Ensamble
Basado en el libro de Amélie Nothomb
Dirección: Ricardo Vélez
Género: Thriller sicológico
Duración: 1 hora 20 minutos
Sala Buenaventura – Multiplex Casa
Del 28 al 31 de marzo
Esta intrigante trama sucede en la sala de espera de un aeropuerto y convierte al espectador en un pasajero más. Aquí, los personajes se ven envueltos en un thriller psicológico, que desvelará poco a poco, a través de pequeñas historias y detalles que no dejan de lado el humor y la ironía, el lado oscuro de la psiquis masculina. Basada en la novela de Amélie Nothomb que se convirtió en un gran acontecimiento de la literatura francesa en 2001.

Los Ciegos. The blind
País: Polonia
Compañía: Teatro KTO
Inspirado en la obra de José Saramago
Director: Jerzy Zon
Duración: 1 hora. Sin intermedio
Género: Teatro físico
Palacio de los Deportes
Del 28 de marzo al 1 de abril
$60.000 y $40.000

Basada en Ensayo sobre la ceguera, de José Saramago, esta obra plantea una gran puesta en escena llena de sorpresas, música y efectos impactantes, pero en su esencia se mantiene fiel a la novela que la inspira: no contiene diálogos y gira, enteramente, alrededor de la expression corporal de la danza y de los gestos. Transcurre en un pueblo en el que una extraña epidemia deja a su población ciega y en donde un grupo de personas establece su propio orden. Esta pequeña sociedad termina revelando las tendencies bárbaras y salvajes de sus miembros. No obstante, sus esperanzas reposan sobre una única persona que puede ver y que sabe la verdad: que no todos han perdido la vista.

País: Georgia
Compañía: Teatro Estatal
de Música y Drama Tbilisi Vaso Abashidze
Director: David Doiashvili
Duración: 2 horas 25 minutos. Con intermedio
Género: Teatro clásico en versión contemporánea
Idioma: Georgiano con subtítulos en español
Teatro Libre de Chapinero
Del 29 de marzo al 1 de abril
$120.000, $75.000 y $40.000

The last night of the showcase saw a clash between Robert Sturua’s fine Rustaveli Hamlet and the premiere of a Macbeth directed by David Doiashvili. Those like me who chose the Scottish Play were rewarded with a spectacular production, making the most creative use of light and sound and foregrounding the witches in a manner which I think the great Sturua himself would have appreciated, leaving them on stage for most of the play and using them for some surprising doubling, from the Porter to Lady Macduff. The Macbeths played off one another superbly, and one quickly forgot that the actor playing the husband was still a student at the Academy. Yet for all the production’s showy acrobatics, video projections and amazing moving lights – even real fireworks to show the fall of Dunsinane – one can’t help feeling that a director who closes the play with the murderous couple in an amorous dying clinch may not have completely grasped its meaning. Still, the fact that this technically complex production had to be played in the foyer of Tbilisi’s Music and Comedy Theatre, while the main house is under reconstruction, is a tribute to Georgian persistence and ingenuity – as indeed was the whole festival, which may have made a shaky start but gives promise of developing into a major event in the European festival calendar. And there is always the legendary Georgian hospitality, which was much in evidence throughout.

Donka, una carta a Chejov
País: Suiza
Compañía: Compagnia Finzi Pasca y Chekhov
International Theatre Festival
Dirección: Daniele Finzi Pasca
Duración: 1 hora 30 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Circo contemporáneo
Teatro Jorge Eliécer Gaitán
Del 29 de marzo al 8 de abril
$120,000, $100,000, $60,000 y $30,000
Donka: A Letter to Chekhov is precisely what it claims to be: a theatrical letter to Anton Chekhov. (Reflecting Chekhov's passion for fishing, "donka" is the Russian word for a small bell attached to a fishing rod, which rings when there is a bite.) Writer/director Daniele Finzi Pasca glances off almost all of Chekhov's writing, including his sojourn to the penal colony of Sakhalin, where he took the first census of the convict population and campaigned for education for the many children born there, but the key here is lightness.

The Chekhov summoned here is more the letter writer than the tragedian. Donka leaps from the playfulness and surreality that shines in some of his earlier, lesser known short stories, or the love of absurdity and wicked sense of humour of his letters, which must be among the most enjoyable authorial correspondence ever published, and which reveal a man who is a far cry from the melancholic Russian depressive his name commonly summons. Chekhov the sensualist was, for a long time, edited out of the biographies: but a sensualist he was.

He was a man of the theatre, with passionate relationships with actors and directors (among many others, the avant garde director Vsevolod Meyerhold and Chekhov were regular correspondents). And he also shared the love of his peers for circus, which in early 20th century Russia entered the theatre as an art form. The poet Vladimir Mayakovsky remains, at least to my knowledge, the only person to have written literary works for circus. It's this tradition of circus which is summoned in this show.

Rolando Tarquini, in a white summer suit based on a famous photograph of Chekhov, represents the writer, although he doesn't, as it were, play Chekhov: Donka is an exercise in metatheatrics as much as anything else. Rather, he and his fellow clowns present a show in which various images are introduced - skating, fishing, hospital beds - that become symbolic of different aspects of Chekhov's life. These in turn become occasions for some sublimely lyrical circus acts. Using standard circus tropes - aerial acts, juggling, the wheel, shadow play - the company creates visual fantasias that quicken into an imaginative life that is purely their own.

The performers are as skilled as any I've seen, but what is most breath-taking is how the choreography and design lifts circus into poetic performance. There are moments of joyous wit, as when two acrobats lying on the ground are projected onto a curtain front-stage, so we see their vertical images as they move on the horizontal plane. The vertical image shows an apparent chair act, in which the performers appear to be - quite literally - defying gravity. At the same time, the performers on the ground are perfectly visible. We are in on the joke, and enjoy its ingenuity: at the same, we catch that childlike astonishment - look, she is walking on his fingertips! - that is something like wonder. Then there are others, as in a set piece where an ice chandelier descends on the stage and is smashed to pieces by the cast, which aside from their compellingly strange beauty, foreground the sense of transience that is the emotional timbre of the show.

Maybe the key phrase is a quote from The Seagull: "Life should be represented, not as it is, not as it should be, but as it appears in a dream": this is a performer's dream of Chekhov. Underlying its lightness is a preoccupation with death, a search for what vanishes (where is the soul?) and what remains behind. A recurring image is Chekhov's death bed, and close to the end is an absurd representation of a duel, where the duellists spray endless bottles of sparkling stage blood all over the stage. As the show unfolded, I began to find it almost unbearably moving: as each act succeeded the other, its images created and dismantled before my eyes, Donka's transparency, ingenuity and beauty began cumulatively to reveal something about the fragility of the act of making theatre.

Donka strikes me very much as a recognition of and tribute to Chekhov's delight in the serious play and illusion of theatre. To represent death on stage is an absurdity: Donka allows us recognise this, and then, by exposing its artifice, reminds how it is theatre itself that is mortal, a gesture drawn on the air that shines for a moment and then vanishes forever, to exist only in the memories of those who saw it. Chekhov understood this as well as Beckett did. Yes, it's a show about pleasure, and is a crowd-pleasing, sensuous riot notable for the beauty of its design and lighting. But it reminded me how profound pleasure can be.

País: Australia
Compañía: Strut & Fret y el Festival de Brisbane
Dirección: Scott Maidment
Duración: 1 hora y 10 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Cabaret circo
Teatro Faenza
$130.000 y $75.000
Del 31 de marzo al 7 de abril

Cantina is a darkly funny, vintage-inspired circus cabaret show that has gathered significant interest in the lead-up to this years Fringe.

Hyped as The Garden’s “must see” show for 2011, it follows a recent trend of popularity for modern vaudevillian circus-cabaret shows led by La Clique and Smoke & Mirrors. Polished, professional and incredibly entertaining, these offer a programme that goes above and beyond the standard set of circus acrobatics and trickery.

Managing to fuse coy, sexy, intense and comedic, Cantina delivers on expectations, earning its stripes amongst this class. Taking its inspiration from violence and passion of 1950’s Paris, the cast performs solo and in company to enact the theme through dance, movement, music, acrobatics and contortion.

The show opens with an elevated meeting between lovers, with Chelsea McGuffin (La Clique, Circa) showing that women really can do it better as she walks the tightrope in heels.

Finland’s Henna Kaikula (Cirkus Cirkor) performs a ‘rag doll’ act that will shock and delight. Her sickening displays of disjointedness had the audience gasping and cringing in disbelief, and its conclusion was met with much relieved laughter.

Mozes (La Clique, Acrobat) captivates the hushed audience with a dark and dangerous aerial swinging performance that is visually powerful.

In the occasional weak point, the drama of the show is overplayed but this is a small criticism in an otherwise well-directed piece. It is technically and physically challenging, with beautiful choreography and costuming. The show is backed by a fittingly manic soundtrack of pianola, and music from Nara Demasson(Vulgargrad), who performs ukele, guitar and vocals.

The cast is talented and experienced; no one artist is just an acrobat, just a strongman, or just a dancer. Perhaps the only exception to this is contortionist Kaikula, who appears noticeably one-dimensional within the group. However, she is so exceptionally good at what she does that all is forgiven.

Cantina is a must-see, though comes with a warning for the easily offended - it does contain a moment of full frontal male nudity.

For those not put off by this, note that the show contains a lot of floor work, particularly in the first half, so if you want a clear view of the stage without having to crane your neck or rise from your seat, it’s highly recommended that you arrive early to get a front row position. Now sit back and enjoy!


Compañía: Colectivo inventarios
Duración: 1 hora 15 minutos
Género: Performance
Teatro R101
Abril 2

Esta segunda iniciativa del colectivo promete ser una experiencia inolvidable para el espectador. El montaje no convencional invita al público a hacer un recorrido en la privacidad de tres mujeres a través del contacto directo con elementos de su cotidianidad, en su propia casa. Entre recuerdos personales y objetos acumulados, los invitados en esta
“casa tomada” podrán hacer parte de una ingeniosa puesta en escena que involucra
diferentes lenguajes escénicos tales como la performance y el happening. Un
inventario que pone al desnudo íntimos secretos y los rastros del paso del tiempo.

Vertical Road
País: Gran Bretaña
Compañía: Akram Khan Company
Dirección y Coreografía: Akram Khan
Duración: 1 hora 10 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Danza contemporánea
Precauciones: El espectáculo utiliza luces estroboscópicas.
Auditorio León de Greiff, U. Nacional
Del 4 al 8 de abril
$120.000, $75.000 y $40.000

Vertical Road is Akram Khan's latest contemporary ensemble work. Khan has assembled a cast of very special performers from across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. With a specially commissioned score by long-term collaborator composer, Nitin Sawhney, Vertical Road draws inspiration from the Sufi tradition and the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi. Exploring man's earthly nature, his rituals and the consequences of human actions, Vertical Road becomes a meditation on the journey from gravity to grace.
By Sarah Crompton
There are nights when I wonder why I spent so much of my life watching dance – and other nights so visceral and original that I have no doubts.

Akram Khan’s new work Vertical Road definitely falls in the latter camp. Created for a wonderful company of eight, it is a meditation on spirituality, on the difficulty of pursuing the “vertical road” towards truth and enlightenment when engrossed and in thrall to the “horizontal path” of contemporary life.

If that sounds dull and difficult, any doubts are dispelled by an opening in which, to the sound of running water, the huge figure of Salah El Brogy butts his head against a membrane-like skin of silk that hides the back wall. As he moves his arm, ripples spread through the fabric, like waves. In front of him crouch the other seven dancers, bent double and still. In the next scene, they stand with heads bowed.

When El Brogy appears among them, they finally move, pounding clouds of white dust from their draperies, like statutes from some lost world coming to life. To the relentless beat of Nitin Sawhney’s powerful score, they twitch and whirl in ritualised movement, their legs heavy, arms fierce and fast. They look other-worldly and mystical, interacting with El Brogy, who seems to take the role of a searcher for truth, both teacher and taught. The dance is relentless, thrilling and compelling.

It is sometimes hard to follow and slightly loses momentum about two-thirds of the way through. But its quality lies in the way Khan and his committed performers have embodied in dance the thought he is pursuing. And the end, where El Brogy is again in a spotlight, convulsively reaching up to heaven as his body roots him to the floor, is incredibly moving.

Compañía: Teatro Nacional Radu Stanca de Rumania contemporánea.
Dirección: Mihai Maniutiu
Duración: 1 hora 20 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Teatro clásico en versión contemporánea
Idioma: Rumano con subtítulos en español
Teatro Nacional La Castellana
Del 4 al 8 de abril
$120.000, $100.000 y $70.000

Măniuţiu’s Electra premiered at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival, and won several awards, including best directing and dramaturgy, at the Marida Festival in Spain.

Electra, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, seeks the aid of her brother Orestes to avenge the murder of her father by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon for his sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia to the gods during the Trojan War.

Mihai Măniuţiu graduated from the National Institute of Theatre Art and Cinema in Bucharest, he describes his style as an “ars combinatorica”, which can be seen in the current fusion of two classical Greek texts with a contemporary arrangement of Romanian folk music.

País: Francia
Compañía: Productions Illimitées y Compagnie
des Indes
Dirección: Michéle Guigon, Sury Firth y Patrice
Duración: 1 hora 20 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Teatro gestual
Teatro Gimnasio Moderno
Del 4 al 8 de abril
$120.000 y $75.000

When a show starts off with peals of uproarious laughter, where can it go from there? Well, in the case of the two man French comic mime show,Cocorico, it set the standard for the remaining 74 minutes.

Running for just 60 minutes may have sufficed, but the audience was surprised, charmed, delighted and intrigued by the timing and the miming of Patrice Thibaud and his partner, contortionist musician, Philippe Leygnac throughout. Their boundless invention at showing human dynamics and interaction through keenly observed and beautifully interpreted body language was hugely absorbing.

They go through a gamut of the rejected lover to cowboy to de Gaulle to a full brass band to James Bond to clown, to name only a fraction of what was on offer.

It is all done seamlessly, with Thibaud morphing skilfully from one to the other. Their imagination created the show, but their skill allows the audience to use their own imagination in Thibaud’s words ‘...to complete the proposition...’

This show is a delightful blend of adult and childhood; playfulness and thoughtfulness. Their versatility is also shown in their clever shadow shows that intersperse the act.

A visual treat of mime, mockery and music that transcends language with sophisticated innocence.

Julio CesarPaís: Francia
Compañía: Centro Dramático Nacional de Orleans
Dirección: Arthur Nauzyciel
Duración: 3 horas 10 minutos. Con intermedio
Género: Teatro clásico en versión contemporánea
Idioma: Inglés con subtítulos en español
Teatro William Shakespeare
Del 4 al 8 de abril
$120.000 y $75.000

Esta adaptación del clásico shakesperiano, ambientada en el contexto de la alta burguesía
norteamericana de la década del 60, destaca no solo por su refinamiento, su elegancia y el estupendo desempeño de sus actores (del American Repertory Theater de Boston), sino por la impactante forma en la que se resuelve una escena cuyo montaje siempre ha sido complejo. Gracias a un magnífico recurso de escenario, el público se ve envuelto en el asesinato de Julio César, casi como en un coliseo romano, donde el crimen pasa a convertirse en un solemne entretenimiento y en un desgarrador testimonio del comportamiento humano. La obra está acompañada por un trío de jazz.

Leonardo – Trabajo Practico No.1País: Argentina
Compañía: La Arena Circo
Dirección: Gerardo Hochman
Duración: 1 hora 10 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Nuevo Circo
Idioma: Español
Palacio de los Deportes
Del 4 al 8 de abril
$60.000 y $40.000

Inspirado en la intrigante vida y obra de Leonardo da Vinci, este espectáculo utiliza
la animación de objetos, el video, las ilustraciones animadas, la música en vivo, la destreza de ocho actores-acróbatas y, como hilo conductor, el libro de recetas del maestro. Todo empieza cuando un grupo de estudiantes prepara una investigación sobre Da Vinci y son atrapados por la personalidad del genio; así toman vida las reflexiones, descubrimientos, obras pictóricas y escultóricas, inventos fallidos y no realizados, estudios anatómicos y hasta la magnífica máquina de volar que aparece en el escenario.

Sinopsis de la obra
Un grupo de jóvenes universitarios prepara un trabajo de investigación sobre Leonardo da Vinci.
Buscando información en libros, se van zambullendo en el universo “Leonardesco” y casi sin darse cuenta se ven envueltos en los temas, las reflexiones, la producción y aspectos de la personalidad del Genio del Renacimiento, convirtiendo todo lo que descubren en escenas de gran carga visual atravesadas por un inquietante y poético contenido expresivo que funde los dos lenguajes.
Sus estudios anatómicos, su obra pictórica, sus notas sobre cocina, sus reflexiones sobre el ser humano, la relación con sus maestros, colegas, discípulos y sus métodos compositivos son algunos de los aspectos que se abordan en esta puesta en escena que visita la época de los hechos, pero desde una perspectiva actual.

Translunar Paradise
País: Gran Bretaña
Compañía: Teatro Ad infinitum
Dirección: George Mann
Duración: 1 hora 10 minutos. Sin intermedio
Género: Teatro gestual
Teatro Nacional Fanny Mikey
Del 5 al 8 de abril
$120.000 y $70.000
An old man, recently bereaved, sits and sits, the minutes ticking by with painful slowness. He makes tea, and out of habit pours two cups, one for him and one for his dead wife. And still he sits. Watching him in anguish is the spirit of his wife, desperate to help, to tell him that it is OK to let her go. She tries to move ‘her’ cup away; she flutters round him in the house they have shared together for so many years. He makes a desolate attempt to sort through her belongings. A small case contains all her most treasured possessions – her favourite necklace, a bundle of letters – and these he lingers over sorrowfully. Each object becomes a conduit for a milestone memory from their shared life: their courtship and marriage; a baby that doesn’t survive infancy; the relived trauma of wartime injury after he is demobilised; the difficult patch in their marriage when she is given the opportunity to study or to forge her own career path. And eventually the inevitable as one partner (she) dies after a long illness and the other (he) is left to grieve.

It is a simple, universal story. Interview anyone over the age of seventy, speak to your parents (or grandparents, depending on your age!), and some version of the story above will emerge. That, for me, is a positive not a negative. At the heart of the success of this piece is the universality of the story, and the beauty with which it is executed.

There is not a second of Translunar Paradise that hasn’t been plotted with infinite care, nor performed with immaculate craft and precision. George Mann as the widower and Deborah Pugh as the spirit wife are a perfect match, their wordless storytelling exhibiting the expertise in mime and physical performance that a Lecoq training gives you, yet going way beyond the technical into a really gifted subtlety and expressiveness. Handheld masks are used beautifully to represent the characters in old age, the masks flying away as memories unfold and the characters become their younger selves. Each moment of transformation is seamless, and there are some particularly lovely sections where a removed mask takes on a puppetesque quality, the older character observing a younger self or partner. Objects are manipulated with tender care: a cup fought over between the real and spirit worlds; a necklace that dances with exquisite joy; the little suitcase that has its own narrative in the play, representing the one thing that she (when younger) has to hang on to, and that he (when older) has to let go of.

The physical action is supported by an onstage, visible accordionist (Kim Heron) who provides the perfectly-pitched soundtrack – playing or whistling snatches of songs that have accompanied the couple’s life journey, from ‘We’ll Meet Again’ to ‘Girl From Ipanema’; tapping out the interminable ticking of a clock with the accordion buttons; providing the labouring breath of a dying woman with the instrument’s bellows.

A word also about the audience. I don’t think I have ever seen a more attentive audience, at the Edinburgh Fringe or elsewhere. From the opening image of the widower sat at his kitchen table to a closing ‘life flashes by’ whirlwind of reprised memories as the ghost departs, the whole audience is almost holding its collective breath, and as the lights come up to rapturous applause, it is clear that there is hardly a dry eye in the house.

A near-perfect example of contemporary wordless theatre – and proof (should anyone need it) that theatre without words can engage the head, touch the heart, and nourish the soul just as effectively as any other form. A little taste of paradise on earth!

Leonce y Lena
Compañía: Teatro Cluj. Dirección: Gábor Tompa.
Duración: 1 hora 30 minutos. Sin intermedio.
Género: Comedia clásica.
Idioma: Rumano con subtítulos en español.
Teatro de Bellas Artes de Bogotá
Del 5 al 8 de abril
$120.000, $90.000 y $60.000

Con una alucinante puesta en escena que se mueve entre la estética rococó y
la pintura expresionista alemana, maquillajes recargados, suntuosos vestuarios
y coreografías, este montaje nos cuenta la historia de Leonce, el príncipe de
Popo, y Lena, la princesa de Pipi, los dos monarcas que huyendo de matrimonios
obligados, se conocen, enamoran y casan en el camino, sin saber que el uno era el
prometido del otro. Esta obra, una de las menos representadas de su autor, Georg
Büchner, precursor del teatro moderno, está catalogada como obra maestra den-
Compañía: Teatro Cluj. tro del género de teatro farsa.

Of the few performances of Leonce and Lena I have seen in my life, all of them treated Leonce and Lena as nothing more than additional material in relation to authors such as Arthur Rimbaud and Jean Genet as if Büchner’s text itself was insufficient to catch and hold the public’s attention for an hour and a half. As a result I had some very unclear images and suspicions about the theatrical value of the text itself. I had never clearly heard the voices of Leonce and Lena on the stage and, to be honest, never understood what it was all about. It was sabotaged by other noises all the time.

Then suddenly, at a time when in Romania everything is analysed through the notion of money, economic crisis, immediate profit and the necessary cut-off from the cultural budget, the Hungarian State Theatre of Cluj and the director Gábor Tompa opposed the ésprit du temps, shook the dust off Leonce and Lena and gave them time, silence and attention. Carmencita Brojboiu (costumes and set design) gave them an abandoned, closed and quiet space. It looks like a found space, though it is a set built in a theatre studio.

Silent groups of individuals in classical, aristocratic suits first look timidly through broken windows, gently and silently stepping into this ruined, perhaps once splendid palace. These silent ghosts stay inside the shadow and look at us.

Suddenly white light and gentle music offer them shelter. With a lot of sensitiveness Gábor Tompa asks the characters to open their lips and try to speak again. After a moment of concentration and recalling the words, these fairy-tale puppets enter the light and start to talk. First with hesitation, then with ever-increasing self-confidence, they recalled their old play – an exaggerated eloquence from times gone by, a senseless rhetoric of dolce far niente.

And we had the pleasure of discovering the beauty of the text, the humour and poetical imagination of Büchner, the forgotten taste for fairy tales from our childhood where the princess always finds the right prince (as it is supposed to happen), and we admired the majesty of theatre, executed as a divine ritual by an excellent team of actors. They reminded us that a good performance has the power to change human lives, minds, directions and destinies; it reminded me of how I fell in love with theatre in my adolescence and why I have chosen the difficult position of a theatre critic. I have to confess that after almost 20 years of practising theatre criticism, I most often hate theatre and only sometimes I love it (an adaptation of one of my favourite Artaud quotations: ‘Theatre is more often terrible and only sometimes magnificent’).

They simply reminded me of why I love theatre, by showing me the pure power of theatre. This performance was a ritual revealing of the substantial motivation of existence in art and for art – a declaration of love made to theatre. The last line of the performance is added by Gábor Tompa and it says, literally: ‘Let’s build a theatre, let’s build a theatre’. The actors sing it in an oratory way, with airy voices that are joyful and light-hearted. Incidentally, this oratory element fits the spirit of Büchner’s masterpiece excellently.

The music composed by Vasile Şirli gives a happy artistic perspective to the whole concept: each character presents himself in an oratorio style, through melodic song and some key words describing his situation: ‘I’m lazy, I’m not doing anything’ is the refrain of the servant Valerio. These short melodies label the characters as a set of figures from a luxury musical box. The characters are sweet, joyful, predictable and controllable. They also dance in an elegant, old-fashioned way, carefully moving their feet as if they might break (choreography by Florin Fieroiu).

The satirical line of the play is still there, but it is not aggressive and it is not connected to any actual fact or real figure (although we have had a lot of them in Romania lately).

Valerio (Gábor Viola) and the Governess (Csilla Varga) represent some burlesque elements such as big noses in their appearance. Still, their expressiveness is not exaggerated to mimics. Their faces remain almost like masks under the heavy make-up – serious and self-confident. It is interesting to note that all the characters play and execute their destiny model without looking into the eyes of the others. This confirms they are mechanical dolls, each of them on their predetermined trajectory. In the excellent scene of recognition when several masks fall down one after another (masks with sleepy or even deadly calm faces), all the characters are facing the public. They speak directly to us and do not look at each other. They recognise it is a play for “cartoon mannequins and clockwork mechanism.” Still, the performance is not an apology of alienation and loneliness. Gabor Tompa’s performance is full of emotion, tenderness and forgiveness.

A happy coincidence of artistic inspiration and skills, original thinking and attentive reading of the literary material, admiration of the classics, and also the necessity to impart some important contemporary messages to the public gave life to this strong, compelling performance. Gábor Tompa’s Leonce and Lena is a poetical piece, a romantic story in which the satirical element is tired and lightweight, non-offensive, even disappearing at the end of performance, offering room for the mysterious notions of love and destiny, and letting the old King Peter (Loránd Váta) have 24 hours of party time, as he had previously ordered.

Leonce and Lena from Cluj (excellent, detailed work of Balázs Bodolai and Enikő Györgyjakab) are two images that have escaped from a child’s imagination or from a tiny book with colourful pictures. They are silly and funny, useless and sweet; precious mechanical dolls with empty porcelain heads in which, suddenly, the mechanism of love has just been started.

The senile King Peter and his entourage also seem funny and distractive, because they look too ancient to be harmful to anybody. This out-of-time satire with no anger and revenge, with no aggressive meanings, is the main quality of the performance

“In my opinion, Leonce and Lena is an ideological play about the stagnation of a revolution; a situation that I see not only in the events of the past 20 years, but also in many other aspects. And I feel the same desperation that Büchner may have felt. What is attractive in the whole story is that I could not express myself about those 20 years after the 1989 through political theatre. I can talk about this period only if the show somehow contains moments of hope, something we call love”, says Gábor Tompa.
Very delicately, Tompa introduces two burlesque policemen in the play, who pass through the stage only once, looking for a dangerous criminal. Their appearance is so funny and absurd and fits into Büchner’s world so well that it is immediately integrated as something logical. The scenography of Carmencita Brojboiu, an open/closed no-man’s-land, was able to support even these intruders who were once probably in the Securitate and are now merely clowns.

Leonce and Lena from Cluj offer us therapeutic laughter, and are light, happy and optimistic. And when, at the end, Leonce announces with a mechanical voice: “Tomorrow we start all over again. Goodbye”, we wish to come back..

Shows to look out for after the festival

País de bicicletas
Nilo Cruz, el primer latinoamericano ganador del premio Pulitzer, escribió esta
obra que cuenta en su reparto con dos actores y un director colombianos. El eje
de la historia es un triángulo amoroso entre tres cubanos que huyen en una balsa.
Con toques de realismo mágico, este viaje esconde mucho más que las dificultades
propias de una aventura transoceánica a la intemperie. Amistad, erotismo, conflictos,
diferencias sociales y sabor caribeño en una puesta en escena que destaca el uso de multimedia, para darnos a conocer a través de flashbacks, el pasado y el futuro de sus protagonistas.

Cruce sobre el Niágara
Esta historia, escrita por el peruano Alonso Alegría, se desarrolla en 1859. El Gran
Blondin, un acróbata que ha caminado en la cuerda floja sobre las cataratas del Niágara
en catorce oportunidades, se destaca por haber ejecutado un acto peligroso a mitad de camino en cada una de esas ocasiones. La obra explora el desarrollo de una inusual amistad entre el artista y un aficionado, Carlo, que desemboca en la participación de éste en una más de esas peligrosas caminatas. Esta vez, el Gran Blondin cruzará las cataratas mientras carga a Carlo en sus hombros.

El Club del Tropel
El Club del Tropel es una joven e irónica mirada al espectáculo del coliseo romano
y lo traslada a un ring de boxeo. Animado por una banda de rock, el público podrá
presenciar diferentes combates que parten de la improvisación y las espontáneas
propuestas del réferi, quien ejercerá como director de orquesta a lo largo del espectáculo, marcando la pauta de los personajes y retando su imaginación a través de sus juegos y reglas. Esta puesta en escena cuenta con la participación de más de 30 actores, que encontrarán en este Festival el espacio ideal para participar en un show donde “todo vale”.
Compañía: Casa Ensamble
Dirección: Beto Urrea
Género: Improvisación
Duración: 1 hora 10 minutos
Teatro Arlequín-Multiplex Casa Ensamble
Del 2 al 8 de abril

Él solo
Compañía: La Compañía Teatro Danza
Dirección: Carlos Ramírez
Género: Danza Teatro
Duración 1 hora
Teatro R101
4 de abril
Como su nombre lo indica, esta pieza está enfocada en una sola persona. Se dejan
de lado las pretensiones estéticas de escenografía o vestuario: lo importante es
el proceso de creación como un trabajo espiritual y dinámico. El público podrá
seguir al actor y bailarín Carlos Ramírez en dicho trabajo, donde las palabras no
son tan importantes como la actuación y la gestualidad. La particular propuesta,
que ya ha sido presentada con éxito en grandes escenarios como el Teater Exit
de Croacia, es un ejemplo del desarrollo de nueva dramaturgia colombiana en la
innovación de lenguaje teatral.

Las listas
Compañía: Los Históricos (Colombia / España)
Dramaturgia: Julio Wallovicz
Director: Marc Caellas
Género: Comedia negra
Duración: 1 hora 20 minutos
Teatro Estudio Julio Mario Santo Domingo
26 y 27 de marzo

Este montaje de la obra escrita por Julio Wallovicz y dirigida por Marc Caellas, define con una gran carga sarcástica una nueva perspectiva para el papel del artista en la sociedad, en la que éste deja de cumplir un rol marginal para convertirse en una especie de moda. El arte como tal se democratiza, el mundo se llena de creadores y pierde el sustento de la clase trabajadora; ahora todos se ocupan de participar en la vida bohemia, se dedican a soñar con la fama, y dejan de lado las labores básicas, lo que genera un caos y, eventualmente, el fin del mundo.

Compañía: La Gata Cirko que está detrás de ellas.
Dirección: Felipe Ortiz
Género: Nuevo Circo
Duración: 1 hora 15 minutos
Teatro Estudio Julio Mario Santo Domingo
2 y 3 de abril

Una mirada que hace zoom a cuatro historias distintas (la de un vendedor ambulante, la de una artista callejera, la de un hombre solitario y la de dos policías) en el marco de una propuesta que combina el nuevo circo con teatro, danza y poesía en un ambiente cotidiano: el de la calle, el barrio, la ciudad. Las magníficas coreografías, interpretadas por famosos artistas colombianos procedentes de las distintas ramas del arte escénico y dirigidas por Felipe Ortiz, hablan de lo habitual, son visualmente sorprendentes, y dan fe del profundo bagaje en improvisación teatral.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hay Festival 2012: "Revolutions in the Arab World" and nun turned ELN guerrilla Leonor Esguerra

"This is still the Arab winter."
Revolutions in the Arab World

On Thursday 26 January at 3:30 in the Salón Rey of the Santo Domingo convent in Cartagena, panellists Lebanese poet and journalist Joumana Haddad; Venezuelan Alejandro Padrón, ambassador to Libya from 2000 to 2002, and author of the book Yo fui ambajador de Chávez (I Was Chávez's Amabssador); and Egyptian Khalid al-Berry, BBC journalist and medical doctor, participated in a discussion moderated by Sergio Dahber on the subject of "Revolutions in the Arab World."

Former Venezuela Ambassador Alejandro Padrón considers that the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi was a gradual process, the result of repression, corruption, terror. He said that the revolution in Libya was the consequence of the emerging middle class demanding employment and political participation, more than being an uprising of the lower classes. Padrón considers that the West is hypocritical to maintain trade relations with dictators, but when questioned by a member of the audience he did not see any contradiction in the fact that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez maintained relations with Gaddafi's regime, explaining that these were for military and financial cooperation. Other than that, Padrón wanted to talk about himself, how he became ambassador, how other international diplomatic corps representatives were jealous of him because he was actually granted audiences with Gaddafi.

Khalid Al-Berry said that the uprisings in the Arab world took him by surprise. Previously he had felt that Islamism was the only viable option for Egypt and in his youth he had been involved in an Islamic movement, from which he has since distanced himself. He expressed concern that although a revolution has happened, no preparations are in place for what will come next.

Joumana Haddad was the most insightful of the three speakers. She commented on the uprisings in terms of their significance for women, and her view was pessimistic. In Haddad's words, "This is still the Arab winter." She does not consider that the Arab Spring has arrived because dictatorships are being traded for religious extremism. She noted that women do not appear to have a role or representation in this new order, and suggested that another 20 to 25 years might be needed before change evolves in the Arab world so that women are viewed as equal citizens. "When will the bomb of Arab women explode?" she asked. "Women need to be selfish," she added, they need to say, "I have rights too. My dignity needs to be respected. I have a role in the new order, because otherwise, no one is going to give them this respect and uphold their rights." Both she and al-Berry consider that the roots of revolution must come from within, as opposed to being modeled on the West.

Overall this conference did not go far toward shedding much light on the forces that drove the Arab uprisings that began a year ago, nor did it make any suggestions about what sort of political systems, social order, and living conditions that might result from these revolutions, nor their durability. Religion, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, is playing a significant role in this new world order. What sort of relations will be brokered with the Western world remains to be seen.

The Seduction of Danger
On Thursday 26 January at 7:30 at the Hotel Santa Clara in Cartagena, former nun turned ELN guerrilla Leonor Esguerra spoke to journalist Marta Ruiz.

I was excited at the prospect of hearing Leonor Esguerra speak. A former nun, Esguerra was the director of the trio of Marymount schools in Colombia (in Bogotá, Medellín, and Barranquilla) until she caught revolutionary fever, espoused the cause of the armed struggle in Colombia, and joined the ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla movement. That was a while ago. To look at her, you wouldn't think that this grandmotherly woman was once a revolutionary firebrand.

Even after hearing Esguerra speak, it is hard to conceive of her story. Partly this is because she apparently presumes that the audience is already familiar with the story of the political and social circumstances that gave rise to the armed struggle in Colombia, and partly because as she speaks she meanders and gets off-topic because, frankly, she's old. The result is somewhat unsatisfying.

As with many of Colombia's guerrilla leaders, Esguerra came from a family in gentile poverty: growing up with the trappings of wealth and culture, even though money was tight. She and her sisters were sent to Catholic schools, because that is how old money Bogota families educated their children. Her induction into the world of social consciousness was gradual. As a child she hated being sent to take alms to the poor at the church dispensary. The poor were an omnipresent part of the landscape, but she found this forced contact with the "dirty gamines" of the social underclasses terrifying.

As a high school principal she was expected to replicate the existing class differences. As head of the Marymount schools, she was in charge of educating the daughters of Colombia's ruling class. The nuns also ran a school in a low-income neighbourhood of Bogotá. There the nuns supervised while older students who barely had any education themselves were put in charge of educating the younger students. The unfairness of this system, and the hypocrisy of providing good quality education to the well-to-do and next to no education to the underclass, all the while upholding the value of charity, became apparent to Esguerra. She began to take issue with the double standard, and she realized that her well-heeled students were out of touch with Colombia's social, economic, and political reality.

She visited the Marymount Mother House in the United States in the sixties. While she was there she was impressed by the student activism and political involvement. At the same time in Colombia rebel priest Camilo Torres was gaining notoriety as a proponent of liberation theology. Upon returning to Colombia Esguerra was approached by a Marxist-Communist who was interested in the work that she was doing, in trying to bring good quality education to the poor. This brought her into contact with others who were exploring new channels to right Colombia's deeply entrenched economic and social inequality.

Her explanation for why she chose to join an armed guerrilla movement was because she felt that all the legal channels for social change had been exhausted. She joined the ranks of the ELN. She was impressed by the fact that everyone in the guerrilla movement in Colombia had been personally affected by violence. This was no longer theoretical discourse; revolution and struggle were the result of lived experience. She also fell in love with ELN leader Fabio Vásquez.

The ELN sent her as liaison to develop revolutionary education programs abroad. She spent seven years working with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, an experience that taught her that revolution does not come about quickly or easily.

In Mexico she was present at the talks between the Colombian Government and the ELN, FARC, and EPL guerrilla groups. This was the dawning of a new period of disillusionment. The men representing these armed groups were not clear that they wanted peace, and she, having now lived outside the country for many years, felt like a fraud in claiming to represent the interests of the Colombian people. This was the point when she began the process of distancing herself from the armed struggle.

Esguerra has disavowed armed struggle as a means of taking power but many of the issues and the social inequality that gave rise to this attempt at revolution are still in place. Nowadays war had been "degraded." Once idealist armed groups have lost sight of their ideals and have slipped into criminal activity. The military is also degraded, as seen by the cases of the "false positives," in which young men from low income neighborhoods in Bogota were promised jobs working on farms, and then were executed, dressed in makeshift guerrilla togs and presented a "guerrillas killed in combat." Recent scandals such as the contracting carrousel in Bogota, in which former Mayor Samuel Moreno and his brother Ivan were demanding kickbacks for city contracts, is another example of how corruption remains the order of the day. The guerrilla movements may be discredited, but poverty, corruption, and the debasement of the value of human life have not been rectified.

In response to questions from the public, Esguerra said that she does not see the church in Colombia as being committed to peace and social change, mainly because of the stance adopted by recent popes. Answering another question, Esguerra said that talks, per se, are not enough to solve Colombia's problems because people have been talking for years; the key, according to her, lies not in talking, but in listening.

I found this conference largely unsatisfying because I wanted to understand the process of how an educated woman could be seduced by the concept that armed struggle could somehow lead to a better life for Colombians. I guess I'll have to read her book to find out: La búsqueda, testimonio de Leonor Esguerra. I'm ready to listen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Practical Reader and The Sentimental Reader

My Books I: The Practical Reader

I have quite a few books in my apartment, seven shelves full. I like books. I like the way they look, standing in order (by subject for the non-fiction and by author for fiction) on the shelves. I like having them and seeing them, but I am not especially possessive about my books. I don't mind lending them, I don't even really mind it when I don't get them back. Maybe it is the librarian in me, but I think that books should be enjoyed and circulated.

This might be the last place I ever live where I have large bookshelves. I have always had books. As a child I had lots of books. At university I studied English literature, and that meant acquiring lots of books. The nightstand in my bedroom always has a pile of books on it, waiting to be read.

That changed about a year ago. I got a Kindle, an electronic book reader. Now all the latest books I have acquired have been in e-reader format. It makes more sense: because I read mostly in English, and English-language books tend to be expensive and hard to come by here, I was buying a lot of books when I travelled. Half of the room in my suitcase was always taken up with books. Now I just load the book files onto the Kindle and I am good to go. It is a more rational way of reading and transporting books. It has a feature that lets you underline text and take notes, and it saves these annotations to a text file that can be transferred to the computer so that you can work on them later. This is very practical, as is the ability to search the pages for strings of text to find a certain quote or reference.

Still, I'll miss the texture of "dead-tree" books, the smell of paper and ink, the slight crackle as you break open a new book, knowing exactly how much you have left in the book because you can see how the pages have run through your hands like sand through an hourglass. I like to underline and write notes in the margins of book and, if the publisher has been so accommodating, I will write ample observations on the blank pages at the back. My books tend to be thoroughly defaced. You really need to have a hardcopy book if you want to have it signed by the author at the Hay Festival (asking an author sign your Kindle is practically tantamount to asking a rock star to sign your boob because you don't have the album jacket, except perhaps it's nerdier).

Some people augured that the advent of electronic media would mean the end of reading. I would argue that the opposite has taken place: I think that more people are reading and writing now than ever before because the media make it both easier and more necessary. Nowadays, when you want to find out what is happening with a breaking news story, you check an online news site (or Twitter), before newspapers, radio, or television. Email has changed the way we communicate. It is more important than ever to have good written communication skills for business correspondence. More people write personal letters too, knowing that friends and family will receive them quickly and for free, along with the attached photos and videos. As to the Kindle, I now have access to more books, easily available and at reasonable cost (plus there is a plethora of titles that are available for free), than I have had for years.

The days of the dead-tree book are numbered and although I feel a certain nostalgia for the format, I think that the new media are a boon to anyone who reads for pleasure or information.

My Books II: The Sentimental Reader

When I moved to Colombia I brought three books with me: a Spanish grammar from the basic class I took prior to departure; the South American Handbook, a comprehensive travel guide that served me well over the years; and the Harrowsmith Cookbook, Volume 1. Over years I accumulated a lot more books. Most have been readings for my book club, but I also picked up a number of Colombian cookbooks and other books for general reading. Plus every time someone left the country, there was a big sell-off/giveaway of books. Each year when I traveled, I slowly picked up books that I had left behind and brought them to add to my bookshelf here. Now I am looking at the possibility of moving back, I have to decide which books I will take back with me.

I have seven shelves of books in this apartment. It is clear that I cannot take all of them with me when I move. Still, the thought of having to part with these books that I have appreciated over the years brings on a pang on nostalgia.

So what books will I pack to go? First of all some children's books: The Night Before Christmas, and the collection of Winnie the Pooh and the poetry of A.A. Milne. These are books that I have had since I was three-years-old. I dug these books out of the boxes where they were stored in my mother's basement and brought them here to share with my sons when they were little.

The Harrowsmith Cookbook: This was a book that I brought with me in my suitcase when I first arrived. Recipes and cooking are deeply ingrained cultural traditions. This cookbook helped me through the rough times when I felt homesick. Even if I couldn't be back home, I could recreate the smell and flavors. It is a heavy, bulky book to pack and I wouldn't mind just buying a new copy when I get back, but it is out of print, so I'll have to take my copy back with me. La Cocina colombiana (Vol. 1): This was one of the first Colombian cookbooks I bought. This book provides a comprehensive overview of Colombian cuisine. It will come back with me as a reminder of the flavors and dishes of my second homeland.

The final book that will make it into my bag for the return trip is The Shock of the New. This book on modern art was the textbook for a class I took in university that looked at art, literature, and social-political context during the period of 1914 to the 1970's. The class was an epiphany experience for me, in terms of understanding the social significance of art. Both of the boys have always been interested in art, and we have referred to this book many times over the years.

I hold onto my books as a testimony to the past. I enjoy and use them on a daily basis (at least the cookbooks). Books will continue to be part of my life as I head into the future, but the physical book format is in decline. Really, the number of books that I need to own as physical objects is very small.

The basic Spanish grammar and the 1989 South American Handbook will stay behind. The former I have mastered and no longer need. The latter has been superceded. Now when I travel, I look up information on the Internet. The book still sits on my bookshelf for sentimental reasons. It is a testimony to my marathon trip around South American in 1992 (the Discovering America Tour). But the world has changed over the course of the past 23 years and the book is outdated. It is time to move on.


I'll be at the Hay literary festival in Cartagena from January 26th to 31st. Unfortunately I won't have Internet access at the place where I am staying this year, so I will not be posting updates as I go. You may look forward to the first reviews of the conferences next week.

Photo by Joan Carmichael

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Resistance by Owen Sheers: Book Club Facilitating Notes

1. Book summary and comments by Owen Sheers on Resistance.
2. Poem: Not Yet My Mother
3. Owen Sheers Biography and Bibliography
4. Discussion Questions, with concordance to relevant quotes
5. More Discussion Questions
6. List of Characters and Concordance to the book (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday edition; 2008)

1. Book summary and comments by Owen Sheers on Resistance

I was privileged to hear Owen Sheers speak at the Hay Festival in Cartagena in 2011. His book, Resistance, published in 2007, has just been made into a film, apparently scheduled to open in the UK on November 25, 2011.

Staying true to the advice offered to every author, Sheers has written a story about what he knows: a landscape and the people of a secluded valley in the Welsh countryside. What he creates is the story is an alternative reality: an account of how a successful German invasion of England might have unfolded.

The inspiration for the story came from a real life valley neighbour who confirmed that he had been recruited for the "Auxiliary Units" that would have constituted an underground civilian resistance force in case of a German invasion and occupation.

The story is told in the voice of Sarah, a 26-year-old sheep farmer's wife, who wakes up one morning and finds that her husband is gone. The husbands of all the women in the valley are missing. The understanding that their men have been involved in some sort of secret war effort comes as a shock, as well as the realization that they must now fend for themselves and manage their farms and families on their own.

A German patrol arrives in the valley, on a special mission that is not revealed for most of the book. When a severe winter forces the two groups into co-operation, a fragile mutual dependency develops. The group commander, Albrecht Wolfram, provides a counterpoint voice and alternative perception of the situation. Gradually Albrecht takes over as the main narrator and the reader is gently lulled into the illusion that his perceptions accurately reflect the dynamics of the German soldiers' relationship to the valley women. As the war beyond presses in on them, the valley’s delicate state of harmony is increasingly threatened.

Historically, the winter of 1947 was especially harsh. Sheers laughingly admits that he transposed the records about survival during that winter into the year 1944, to fit the purposes of his story. The women and the German soldiers are trapped in the isolated valley, and this inability to escape is what forces the story to its logical, emotional, and thematic climax. Personal resistance is about what we are willing to sacrifice, and how through this sacrifice we are ultimately true to ourselves.

The resistance is that of the civil forces, ideological resistance, and resistance of the heart. Sarah has steeled herself to "do the right thing," but she wins the sympathy of the readers, who want her to do "the wrong thing." The ending of the book is left deliberately ambiguous, although Sheers himself says that he has no doubts about how it ends.

Sheers worked closely with screenwriter Alan Gupta to develop the script for the film, a process he likens to a marriage, which he describes as a "prolonged period of mutual gentle criticism." Whereas many authors express deep dissatisfaction with the film adaptations of their books, Sheers is pragmatic. His book is safe from change, he notes; the film is an opportunity to change and experiment. He has not yet seen the final product, but he expresses the hope that it will retain the voice of the novel. The process of working on the screenplay may him rethink the elements that make up the heart of the novel. He stresses that these are the things that must be retained; other things can change.
Sheers acknowledges that novel writing and screenwriting are disciplines that require dedicating blocks of time. Poetry, his primary vocation, can be written in smaller snatches, he says.

In response to a question about dealing with writer's block, he defends these false starts as a necessary part of the process, likening them to a rocket launch in which you have to jettison the burnt out earlier stages in order to get to the place where you need to be.

2. Sheers ended his presentation by reading one of his poems:

Not Yet My Mother

Yesterday I found a photo
of you at seventeen,
holding a horse and smiling,
not yet my mother.

The tight riding hat hid your hair,
and your legs were still the long shins of a boy's.
You held the horse by the halter,
your hand a fist under its huge jaw.

The blown trees were still in the background
and the sky was grained by the old film stock,
but what caught me was your face,
which was mine.

And I thought, just for a second, that you were me.
But then I saw the woman's jacket,
nipped at the waist, the ballooned jodhpurs,
and of course the date, scratched in the corner.

All of which told me again,
that this was you at seventeen, holding a horse
and smiling, not yet my mother,
although I was clearly already your child.

3. Owen Sheers Biography and Bibliography (Taken from Wikipedia)

Owen Sheers was born in Suva, Fiji in 1974 and brought up in Abergavenny, South Wales. He was educated at King Henry VIII comprehensive school, Abergavenny, New College, Oxford, and at the University of East Anglia where he did an MA in Creative Writing.

The winner of an Eric Gregory Award and the 1999 Vogue Young Writer’s Award, his first collection of poetry, The Blue Book (Seren, 2000) was short-listed for the Wales Book of the Year and the Forward Poetry Prize Best 1st Collection, 2001. His debut prose work The Dust Diaries (Faber 2004), a non-fiction narrative set in Zimbabwe, was short-listed for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize and won the Wales Book of the Year 2005.

In 2004 Owen was Writer in Residence at The Wordsworth Trust and was selected as one of the Poetry Book Society’s 20 Next Generation Poets. Owen’s 2nd collection of poetry, Skirrid Hill (Seren, 2005) won a 2006 Somerset Maugham Award. 'Unicorns, almost' his one man play based on the life and poetry of the WWII poet Keith Douglas was developed by Old Vic, New Voices.

Owen’s first novel, Resistance' (UK Faber, 2007/ US Nan Talese/Doubleday 2008) has been translated into ten languages and was short listed for the Writer's Guild of Great Britain Best Book Award 2008 and won a 2008 Hospital Club Creative Award. The film of this novel, which Owen co-wrote, is due to go into production in Autumn 2010. In 2007 Owen collaborated with composer Rachel Portman onThe Water Diviner’s Tale, an oratorio for children which was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms. In 2007/8 Owen was a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library.

In 2009 Owen published the novella 'White Ravens', a contemporary response to the myth of Branwen Daughter of Llyr, written as part of Seren's series of 'New Stories from the Mabinogion. He also published an anthology of British landscape poetry to accompany his TV series of the same title, 'A Poet's Guide to Britain.

Owen has also written journalism and reportage for Granta, The Guardian, Esquire, GQ, The Times, The Financial Times, and a play for BBC Radio 4 about the WWII poet Alun Lewis, 'If I Should Go Away'.

In 2011, Owen wrote the script and novelisation of The Passion for National Theatre Wales and WildWorks.

He will also be partaking in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty Six where he has written a piece based upon a chapter of the King James Bible.

Actor & TV Presenter
He has played Wilfred Owen on stage and has presented arts programmes for BBC Wales.

In 2009 he wrote and presented the BBC 4 series about poetry and the British landscape, A Poet's Guide to Britain.

He has also presented 'The Art of the Sea' for BBC 4 and several programmes for BBC Radio 3 and 4.

In 2008 he presented two episodes of BBC Radio 4's 'Open Book' programme.

Awards and honours
1999 Vogue Young Writer’s Award
1999 Eric Gregory Award
2000 short-listed for the Wales Book of the Year (for The Blue Book)
2001 short-listed for Forward Poetry Prize Best 1st Collection
2005 Wales Book of the Year (for The Dust Diaries)
2006 Somerset Maugham Award (for Skirrid Hill)
2008 Hospital Club Creative Award (for Resistance)
2008 short-listed for Writers' Guild Best Book Award for Resistance

The Blue Book (2000) poetry
The Dust Diaries (2004), a travel memoir through Zimbabwe, following the life of his great great uncle Arthur Shearly Cripps (Welsh Book of the Year)
Skirrid Hill (2005) (Somerset Maugham Award) poetry
Resistance (2007), His first novel, published by Faber & Faber (Hospital Club Creative Award)
White Ravens (2009), The second novella in Seren Books' 'New Stories From The Mabinogion' series
A Poet's Guide to Britain (2009) poetry anthology

4. Discussion Questions, with concordance to relevant quotes

The ending
1. How do you think the story ends? Does Sarah meet up with Albrecht? p.251

2. Sarah writes the date of her death in the family bible. What does this mean? p. 255

3. What happens to the women in the valley? p.79, 140

Narrators and perspective
4. Whose voice narrates most of the story?

5. Who do you identify with most in the book? Sara, Maggie, Albrecht?

6. Why does Albrecht's voice seduce us into believing his version?

7. What does Albrecht believe? (About his role in relation to his men, about the women, about Sarah). Albrecht makes a number of assumptions about things he believes he knows, not all of which turn out to be correct.
Albrecht quotes Landor: "More people are good because they are happy than happy because they are good." p. 206. Is Albrecht good?

8. What does Sarah believe? (About Tom, about Albrecht, about her likely fate)

9. What does Maggie believe?

10. How do the local people feel about the resistance movement? Are they like sheep? P.157 What about George?
The local people's rejection of both the resistance fighter and collaborators.P.223, 229 History of the Welsh king and his underground army.

11. How is the advice in Sarah's school certificate followed or not followed in the story? p. 115-116

Some Themes

Resistance and fidelity
Love of land and country, love and hate of nations, love and suspicion among people, fear and war and common decency.


The Sheep
Giving up
The rejection of the newborn lamb
Introducing the dogs, so that the instinct to protect their own kind will kick in.

Maps, representing an understanding of the world. The geography of the valley.

Putting on clothing to assume a new role.

5. More Discussion Questions

BookBrowse Reading Guide

1. Discuss the ways in which the very specific landscape and setting of the novel not only allows the isolationist plot to develop but also lends the narrative both an important historical and thematic context.

2. To whom or to what does the novel's title, Resistance, apply?

3. To what extent does Albrecht fulfill the literary figure of the “Good German?” Is he, in fact, a “good” man? p. 206

4. What does the development of Sarah's diary entries to Tom tell us about her personal development across the arc of the novel? p. 68, 188, 214, 251

5. Towards the end of the novel Bethan thinks to herself “better by far to live in the truth and know it, however bad it might be, than hide yourself away behind ignorance and habit.” Don't some of the characters prove otherwise?

6. Two particularly striking “hinge” scenes in the book are the playing of a Bach cello suite and the shooting of a horse. What are the overall significance of these scenes within the book as a whole?

7. Who or what is George aiming at in his final scene in the book?

8. Is Maggie a collaborator or a defender of her way of life and the other women?

9. Discuss the significance of the quotations used to lead into each of the three parts of the novel.

10. The German invasion of Britain was a very real threat during the early part of World War II in 1940/41. Does Sheers’ re-imagining of the invasion in 1944 seem believable? Why do you think Sheers chooses to set his invasion in 1944, as opposed to the more likely 1941?

11. What do you know about the real Resistance movement in Britain?

12. To what extent is Resistance an anti-war novel?

6. List of Characters and Concordance to the book (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday edition; 2008)


Sarah Lewis, 26. M to Tom for four years. No family. Mother died two years ago.
"The scared, feral young wife, wearing her husband's clothes."

Maggie Jones. M to William for 30 years. Eldest son killed in war.
"The old, stubborn one."

Mary Griffiths. M to Hywell. Middle aged. Fragile. Two sons at war. Daughter Bethan.
"The worn, worried-looking one."

Menna Probert. M. to Jack. Tudor-3, Emma-1. Simple, illiterate.
"The ignorant, confused young mother."

Edith at The Gaer. Lost husband to accident, son to training accident.

George Bowen – recruited for intel
Tommy Atkins – hates recruiting, "Too much like fattening lambs for slaughter." P. 18

Cap. Albrecht Wolfram, 33. Four years at war. He's tired. Studied medieval history and literature in Oxford, London before war. Thesis 13th century Ebstorf World Map. P.148

Steiner – young radio operator

Sebald – experienced older medic

Alex Klepper – young but experienced soldier

Pvt Otto Mann – small, slight, broken by the experience of killing so many men with the machine gun.

Pvt Gernot Ehrhardt – young, easy laugh

Part I Sep-Nov 1944

Sarah confused at her husband's absence.
p. 11 Maggie immediately understands what is going on.
p. 22 Albrecht notices human details about his men. He is tired and wants to go back but he is being sent forward.
p.23 he is a respected troop leader
p.38 the valley experienced a Passover that took their men.
p.45 Since their husbands had kept their involvement in the underground secret, the wives resolve not to tell too
p.68 Sarah doesn't want to let herself stop missing Tom.
p.70 November. Albecht and the patrol arrive. Expect that they will be staying a week or two.
p.77 The great "of course" of National Socialism… on course.
Sarah goes back to reading at night
Albrecht delighted in the books at Oxford.
p.79 Resistance groups rarely operated near their own homes.
Eventually the women will be sacrificed. "It was always bound to happen as soon as their husbands left them." Albrecht blames the husbands for the wives' eventual fate.
p.81 Shrapnel hit Alrecht's nose, can't taste or smell
p.82 He's looking for a map. He wants the war to end, to stop being a soldier.

Part II Nov 1944 – Mar 1945

p.91 Maggie goes to visit Albrecht to lay down the "terms of coexistence," like two generals. She really wants to know if he knows anything about the men.
p.94 Albrecht starts walking for his health (parallel to Sarah's discomfort while walking to Maggie's)
p.99 Steiner spying on Sarah. Albrecht intervenes. Stops rape before it happens. Seeking to recover his humanity.
p.100 Although he doubts he can stop the course of war and its consequences.
p.107 Atkins has been caught.
p.110 The snowstorm that buries the sheep. Albrecht and Alex arrive to help dig them out.
p.112 Sarah understands how the sheep could let themselves give up and die gently.
p.117 In the kitchen Albrecht asks her about the family names in the bible and tells her his family name. Sarah doesn't want to know anything about him. Alex thinks it is inappropriate.
p.119 Sheep give up too easily.
p.120 The valley is cut off by winter, no visitors, no radio.
p.124-28 Sarah and the poet.
The story of the Welsh king and his army hiding underground like the insurgents and their bunkers.
p.132 Sarah remembers making love to Tom but conjures Albrecht's face.
p.133 Albrecht has already decided that he and the men would not leave
Sends the men to work on the farms to keep them from getting bored, from asking questions.
Sebald - Maggie
Silent Otto – Edith, both fractured souls
Albrecht and Alex – Sarah
Gernot and Steiner – Mary and Menna
Discover Bethan
"What else could the women be hiding?"
p.135 Edith accepts Otto as replacement for her son.
"If this was going to work at all, it had to look as natural as possible, a consequence of the vagaries of war."
p.137-8 Albrecht's lie. Although their mission was already complete "they were to remain in the area as a temporary observational outpost. They were to await further instructions."
p.139 Sarah doesn't understand why Maggie agrees to Albrecht's plan. Sarah says she doesn't need help. Mary calls it treason. Maggie needs help.
p.140 Under protocol of warfare, the women would be taken hostage because their husbands are insurgents.
p.141 Coping. Germans self-sufficient at The Court, Gernot cooks
Alex helps Maggie with the milking
Edith moved to Maggie's
Mary reading Bible
Bethan helping Menna, aware of wasting youth, fascinated by Gernot
p.142 Maggie's two objectives: "to continue as they always had and to keep the women of the valley alive, both physically and mentally."
She feels that William is not coming back.
Sarah still believes Tom will return, and she resists accepting help.
But she thinks of the Germans and wishes they would appear for Christmas.
p.145 No mail. Radio only communication. Slowly revealing the end of war, although BBC still broadcasting
p.146 life results from "alternative tipping of countless moments of chance."
Allies' elaborate deception plan, cardboard and inflatable army in Dover facing Calais, when real target was Normandy
p.150-51 Sebald tells Albrecht about Hermann, the doctor who killed himself rather than follow the order to kill the patients. Moral: his duty is to his men.
p.152 Albrecht tells them his duty is to them, they will not rejoin war
p.155 Albrecht meets George delivering post. Writes "deceased, return to sender on them." Burns his own men's letters. George relays report of man who looks like William being dead.
p. 157 desire for peace, safety vs. freedom from the Nazis
p. 161 Albrecht: "Well, maybe that's just what we are, Mrs. Jones" he'd said, "all of us here. Refugees." Her look had cut him dead. "Oh no, Captain Wolfram," she'd said, all humour pared from her tone. "This is our home. This is where we live. We're not refugees from anything, an' don't you forget that."
p.163 Spring has come and Albrecht finds himself thinking of Sarah every day.
Brings her music: Bach – The Allemand. She is offended. Asks why he doesn't leave, why they came there in the first place.
He takes her to the cave where the Hereford Mappa Mundi is hidden, that Himmler wanted for his private treasure collection.
p.172 The English hid treasures from the bombings
p.174 Atkins escapes, makes it to the valley, mistakes the German for farmers

April – Jun 1945

*p.184 "The instinct of a ewe to protect one of its kind, the instinct that would force them, against the weight of all the years of war, to recognize their shared humanity."
p.187 Mary sends Bethan to her cousin's in Hay.
p.188 Sins of omission. Sarah writes to Tom but omits details of how the Germans are part of their lives. Leaves her feeling unfaithful, but better some words than none at all.
p.197 Dependence between the patrol and the women has its own rhythm and meter. Men washed up on their doorsteps.
p.195 Sarah's offer to show him the ruins at Landor gives him some hope.
p.201 disappointed that the house is a ruin
Sarah explains the history of the area. She doesn't want to appear ignorant. Albrecht has already read more about it at The Court.
p.204 Sarah still believes Tom will come back.
p.206 Albrecht no longer feels Germany is his home.
Quotes Landor: "More people are good because they are happy than happy because they are good."
p.210 Maggie wants to show the colt at the fair because this is what Will would have wanted.
p.214 Sarah running out of room in her ledger, and she knows she'll stop writing soon.
p.216 Albrecht allows Maggie to go to the fair because he recognizes fair permission as a sign of stability.
p.223 At fair Edna indirectly confirms fate of the insurgents "those lot had it coming anyway."
George figures out that the women are with the German and begins to spread the truth/rumor.
p.225 Sarah realizes that Tom is not coming back.
p.229 Part of George's assignment is to kill collaborators to send a message to the people. He harbours hope that the UK can rise up again, and he wants to play a part because he feels that he has been useless.
George shoots the colt.
p.236 Albrecht decides he's not going back and he's taking Sarah with him.
Gernot ordered to guard Mary and Menna. Mary orders him out. He decides to take Bethan's pony and find out who shot the colt. Gernot falls off pony, dislocates hip.
p.242 In Hay Bethan's cousin Eve was raped by two soldiers.
Bethan is disgusted by the tolerant behavior of the women in the valley.
Bethan leaves Gernot lying there.
p.248 Steiner has radioed out. The Gestapo will come.
Sarah refuses to leave at first, but Albrecht is right, there is nothing to stay for.
He asks her to go with him, West to the coast, to Ireland then America.
She says she'll go.
p.250 She says she'll bring him some of Tom's clothes because William's would not fit him.
He cannot stay; the patrol will be there soon.
To meet at Landor's ruin.
p.251 Sarah packs the accounts book, her pen, her wedding photograph, a book of matches.
Sarah resolved to go "She didn’t want to be left any longer, so she was going."
p.253 She sets fire to the Mappa Mundi
p.255 "The belief and the looking. These were all that were left now…"
Sarah has written her death date in the family Bible.

Sally with Owen Sheers at the Hay Festival, Cartagena 2011.