Monday, May 28, 2007

La Fura dels Baus in Dashanzi 798: IMPERIUM

On May 1st, 2007, La Fura dels Baus performed IMPERIUM at the Dashanzi 798 Art Compound in Beijing, China. These are some impressions about the event and, of course, some images I took of it.

Since the 80s, as a spectator I’ve kept in touch with the work of La Fura dels Baus. I knew about them for the first time when I was a theatre student at university in Mexico; people were saying that a group of crazy spanish actors was going to come, trash cars and spray the public inside the parking of the National Auditorium with paint (and it was like that, of course). Some time later I saw them in some theatre festivals and tours around Mexico; as everyone did, I also watched their spectacle for the Opening Ceremony of the Barcelona Olympic Games, and watched the TV news about their performances in the World Expo in Germany; and the last time, live, in Beirut, Lebanon, when a part of the company was travelling on a boat through the Mediterranean and stopped at the Beirut port and moved, with their technological and spectacular games, the static Lebanese culture.

I was very surprised when I heard La Fura was coming to Beijing: the Chinese (the Chinese government, of course) usually avoid “dangerous” Performing Groups, but I also remembered that La Fura dels Baus, even if they like to play with violence, protest and rebellion, have got an advantage: their spectacles are mainly movement, music, sound,yet very little text (1). And I wasn’t wrong, they choose IMPERIUM, a spectacle where text is minimal, in Spanish, and with no translation.

An old depot or factory room was chosen as the performing espace, one of dozens with huge theatrical possibilities that exist in this former industrial complex in the east part of Beijing.

Dashanzi is currently the avantgarde in China, more than any other artistic place in the country, including Shanghai; they say it’s the next Soho China offers to the world. In one enormous area of obsolete factories where the Comunist era had its climax many years ago, with some interesting Bauhaus style buildings, a small group of chinese artists (first) and some foreigner investors (later), took root there and established their studios and small galleries. Time passed by and Dashanzi 798 (the name by which people knew the factory place) became the new Mecca for the new Chinese artists, for foreigners hungry for contemporary art, for more entrepeneurs and, of course, for the Chinese government(2). Now Dashanzi is included in the plans for the modernization of the artistic chinese world; yes, it’sa fact and there’s no turning back. But thanks to that, it was in the eyes of the international Cultural World, and La Fura dels Baus performed there.

Any spectacle by La Fura del Baus is always fantastic; once you taste their products inevitably you offer yourself to them, and that’s because they offer everyhting to the spectators.

I’ve always had my doubts about their way of managing dramatic structure, about the developing of the story within any spectacle, even about Acting (when acting refers to the needs of a classical character), but at the same time I recognize every spectacle is an evolution in their amazing way of exploring the stage. IMPERIUM got the same “mechanical” structure of other spectacles of theirs: machines in continuous movement, video, physical violence, but the story and the way to put it on stage got a real link with the spectator, the mix between technology and the human body (including the spectator’s body) is really punching; this time there are no unresolved points because, as a spectator, I couldn’t define any intelectual point beyond body language, beyond sound. It is not an apology of Violence, it is a showcase of it. IMPERIUM is very “actual”, we can see terrorism, politics, the media, and our bodies, our horrified minds; it literally moves the spectator, running together, shouting together, yelling together.

I saw dozens of spectators yelling and running and taking video and photographs at the same time; and this is for me one of the most interesting points, the creators of IMPERIUM are in concordance with our modern world: you can’t forbid people to bring in technology if the spectator actually wears it, uses as a part of his memory… They wanted us to take photos and videos as part of the spectacle, IMPERIUM is still performing in my computer, every time I see the images extracted from it.

(1) There are exceptions, as their “Fausto” (Faust), but they definitely didn’t want to perform those kind of spectacles, first because of the language barrier and second because of the obstacles Chinese could put to any theatrical text. Of ocurse all these are suppositions of mine.
(2) That means censorship working nearby (let me remind you of The Gay and Lesbian Dashanzi 798 Cinema Festival, banned since 2005); it also means big enterprises look at it as a good way to spend their “cultural taxes”, investing in special galleries and museums like Nike and Guess have done, showing their products like pieces of art. This bizarre mix between unknown artists looking for spaces to show their art and the “new Chinese free market money” make of Dashanzi 798 a place partly fascinating, partly hideous.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Theatres of Gerasa (IV): A video of the Northern Theatre.

This is new addition to my Post on Wednesday, January 17th, 2007:

The Theatres of Gerasa (II): The Northern Theatre.

As I wrote in the other Jordan Theatre new posts, during my travel through Jordan in February 2004, I used to videotape with a nice but old camera. I recorded several tapes, but there was a problem, those tapes couldn't be easily put on internet, there were made in a not compatible format, so I spent more time than usual trying to change the format but I got it.

The Post of Wedenesday, January 17th has all the information about it.

Note: Gerasa is now called Jerash.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Roman Theatre of Gadara, a rare jewel made from black stone. (II)

This is an addition of my Post on Sunday, January 7th, 2007:

The Roman Theatre of Gadara, a rare jewel made from black stone.

As I wrote in the other Jordan Theatre new posts, during my travel through Jordan in February 2004, I used to videotape with a nice but old camera. I recorded several tapes, but there was a problem, those tapes couldn't be easily put on internet, there were made in a not compatible format, so I spent more time than usual trying to change the format but I got it.

The Post of January 7th has all the information about it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gustavo Thomas: Recalling LETANÍA (October, 1998)

Letanía, synthetic spectacle by voice and movement in two parts for commemorate the 1968 Tlalteloco Massacre, it was part of the Esferica Ludens' project called "Arte Representacional", a mix between Multimedia, Theatre, Body Movement, Music and Video around a special subject, in this case, a postmodern point of view of the blody October the 2nd, 1968.

LETANIA, synthetic spectacle by voice and movement in two parts for commemorate the 1968 Tlalteloco Massacre.

Author and director: Gustavo Thomas

Acting: Guadalupe Durón, Antonio Ordaz, integrantes de Esférica Ludens(1).

Space: Ateneo Español de México

Opening: Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd, October 1998.

Season: October 1999.

Performances: Saturdays 20:00 hrs, Sundays 19:00 hrs.

Ticket price: $50.00 (Mexican peso)

Duration: 50 minutes.

Video (Slideshow):

Comment in Spanish(2) by Mexican playwright Felipe Galván:

LETANIA, horizonte postsesentaiochero

Después de presentar la "Antología teatro del 68", esférica Ludens me reinvitó a ver su ultima producción, era febrero del 99 y ellos me habían invitado a su estreno el 2 de octubre del año próximo pasado. Obviamente, por obra y gracia de mi particpicaión en la marcha de los treinta años, me fue imposible asistir en aquella pcasión a presenciar la obra escrita y dirigida por Gustavo Thomas.
En el mes de febrero a la segunda invitación se sumó el interés por ver a este interesante y joven equipo de trabajo, lo segundo por la edad, que no por el nivel de trabajo, puesto que en anteriores propuestas de ellos había observado una profunda y trascendente madurez. Es claro que quien los conduce, el mismo Thomas, tiene una perfecta claridad del quehacer estético y del camino hacia su concresión.
Letanía es el nombre al que responde la propuesta que nos ocupa, en ella el nivel verbal se recarga en las reflexiones de un exsoldado (Guadalupe Durón) que participó en la masacre; el nivel corporal, una constante de alto grado de riqueza en el trabajo grupal, se recarga en la interpretación del sufriente (Antonio Ordaz) de la masacre misma. Alrededor de ellos como elementos cohesionantes de esos dos mundos que se muestran, la conciencia del soldado y el dolor del sufriente, los grafiteros. El espectáculo pareciera desarrollarse en dos partes, una centrada en el exsoldado y la otra en el doliente, pero la intertextualidad es lo suficientemente fuerte como para mostralo en unidad.
¿Qué es más fuerte? La conciencia de un peón que confiesa en el distanciamiento ideológico-moral-insensible o el dolor de lo que pese a estar bajo tierra se impregnó en el recuerdo y la historia de un país? Pregunta clave para desmenuzar la estructura dramatúrgica. Tal vez haya que responder que Letanía, estructuralmente, es una interpretación melódica en dos movimientos.
Lo interesante es qué pasa con el espectador por estas dos partes encabalgadas en el escenario. Sin lugar a dudas el trabajo conmueve, impacta y lleva a la conmiseración, el efecto acumulado por esto propicia la catársis; la propuesta produce un efecto aristotélicamente tipificado.
Es un teatro hecho en la posmodernidad con la sabiduría del clasismo; una visión distinta de jóvenes no implicados en el movimiento, un ejemplo que, como en lña novela de la revolución mexicana, nos dice que el arte responde a hechos con propuestas posteriores y a veces alejadas de los participantes humanos, geográficos y temporales.
En resumen, esta propuesta me confirma lo escrito en la introducción a la "Antología del 68", la temática es universalmente mexicana y da para más, y sobre todo confirma lo de que "toda antología es injusta". En el caso de la recién realizada por mi, confieso que creo que tiene una gran carencia, la inclusión de Letanía.

Felipe Galván (S.N.C.A.), abril de 1999.

(1) In those times Esférica Ludens was called "Roma, Teatro ...".
(2) Sorry, I'm not a professional translator, and those kind of texts are quite difficult for me.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Theatres of Gerasa (III): Video of the Southern Theatre

This is an addition of my Post on Saturday, January 13th, 2007:

The Theatres of Gerasa (I): The Southern Theatre.

During my travel through Jordan in February 2004, I used to videotape with a nice but old camera. I recorded several tapes, especially in this place, Gerasa; but there was a problem, those tapes couldn't be easily put on internet, there were made in a not compatible format, so I spent more time than usual trying to change the format but I got it.

The Post of January 13th has all the information about it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Wuzhen (II): A Chinese Shadow Puppet experience

Wuzhen Dongzha has a special spectacle, a Shadow Puppet Theatre. The small company works with traditional chinese stories, music and technique to handle puppets, and of course traditional Shadow puppets made from leather. Even though the performances are mostly shorter than usual, it’s enough to ensure their enjoyment.

That day of March I went to Dongzha, the village was pretty packed with hundreds of children from nearby schools (and of course tourists), so you can imagine how I felt when I tried to get in the small theatre. It was so crowded that I prefered to wait for the next performance, then an employee told me I could see the performance from behind the stage if I wanted, and of course I did and I recorded the whole 5-minute play back stage.

The experience was very interesting: old musicians playing traditional instruments, only one puppeteer (a young woman) with her assistance, and those beautiful puppets of course. It seemed that day they expected hundreds of children so they prepared a simple fight-scene between the Monkey King and other mythological warriors, showing how the Monkey King was able to change himself into anyhting he wanted.

After watching from behind the stage, I could watch the performance as any other spectator, and of course I recorded the whole play as well.

The wonderful experience aside, I think it was a unique opportunity to see how one Shadow Puppet performance is done facing the stage and behind it, to study it or simply to enjoy this traditional theatrical culture from two different points of view.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Wuzhen (I): Two Chinese Opera Theatres in one beautiful water town.

Wuzhen is a fantastic small town, just a two-hour trip by bus from Shanghai. It's part of the so called "Water Towns",built between canals and small rivers, and very similar to Venice but without the urban structure that has made a success of the Italian City. All these water towns keep a traditional Qing architecture, but their charm is marred by the masses of tourists (mostly Chinese) going there and the consequences of these visits reflected on the dirty water and the bad conditions of the buildings. Zhouzhuang is the most famous of all of them, but we didn't visit it as we were trying to avoid the masses and pollution, and so we decided to go to this one, a little bit farther away and smaller, called Wuzhen(1). It was a fortunate decision, Wuzhen was full of surprises for us.

Wuzhen is divided in two parts of touristic interest: Xizha (West Wuzhen) and Dongzha (East Wuzhen). Xizha has a special charm, it has just been rebuilt and converted in a huge resort; the whole place is closed during the night and only hotel guests are able to enjoy its charm from 5 pm till next day.

Wuzhen Xizha Theatre

Halfway through the long and narrow main street of Wuzhen, a big gate with a sign marks the entrance to the theatre, then, further inside, a nice stone square opens to us, and at the end a simple building, inside of which is the hall of the theatre; a few steps more and we discover, facing us, one fantastic wooden structure, magnifiscent but simple, decorated but not excessively like other theatres (beautiful, of course) we find in Beijing.

There is no information about this Chinese province’s jewel, nor signs, nor brochures, nor guides who know something about the place, no books either or any Internet site talking about it; even so, the theatre speaks for itself. Because of the conditions of Xizha, just rebuilt and no masses of people walking everywhere any day, there are no regular performances, so there was no hope of seeing anything on stage those three days I stayed there.

At the time I visited (March 26th, 2007), the theatre had been open for just one month; many details could be seen without problem, while in other theatres they have been almost erased by time. There is a big open area in the middle, just for the public, with no roof, though three sections around it are spectator zones similar to "box seats" in western theatres; the wood had been recently varnished, and there were many carvings about Chinese Opera scenes, Buddhist and Taoist passages or simple fortune animals; I have to accept that even the golden carved figures were in good balance with the whole.

The Theatre, following a good practice usual in China's performing spaces, has a small museum where many costumes are in exhibition. As I mentioned before, there is no information about what is exhibited.

I visited the place twice, on different days, and because of that you see some part of the video with a raining ambiance and the other part with a sunny day.

The Small Theatre in Wuzhen Dongzha

Xizha is pretty much more comfortable and nice for any touristicinterest, however it doesn't have the life Donzha has. With a very nice (but also in a bad condition) traditional area ,Dongzha is situated in the middle of the current city, populated, polluted and noisy like any other Chinese town. This is the most visited area with dozens of restaurants, souvenir shops and public buildings which are packed full of people. Such movement brings on much entertainment offers: museums, a colourful temple and two theatres with performances all day long. One of these theatres is for Shadow Puppet performances (I will have a special post for it), and the other one is what we’ll talk about here, the small Chinese Opera Theatre.

This is not a theatre itself, we could say it is an open air stage. In one part of the central square, surrounded by the temple, commercial and public buildings and next to the main canal, there is a small stage decorated as many Qing Dynasty Opera theatres(2). Small, but big enough to have two floors with make up rooms and one stage of about 4 x 6 meters. What’s remarkable is its roof, with some Chinese mythological wood sculptures and drama characters.

I didn't have the chance to see anything there, the performance schedules were the same in both theatres, and I preferred to see the Shadow Puppets (3). I didn't regret it and you'll see why when I post about my experience later.

(1) Not to visit Zhouzhuang had risks of course. First of all, I missed the best of traditional Water Town architecture in the region.
(2) I'm not a scholar and I can make mistakes. In my point of view this small theatre is similar (in different scale, of course) to those in the Summer Palace and The Forbidden City in Beijing, Qing Dinasty’s best examples.
(3) I had the intention to record that shadow puppet performance; there was the chance to record the same performance facing the stage and from behind the stage.

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