Monday, November 19, 2007

Music and Dance while I was walking on the streets of London

London is a cultural city; there are on the streets or inside the subway stations performance spaces for those artists who can't pay for a rent of an usual commercial space. Listening and watching those musicians and dancers was a real moment of resting in my journey to anywhere.

I recorded several of them (here 5). The best way to enjoy them (if you don't care where they are performing) I think is watching every video in different moment, a little bit as I caught them.

It is a "playlist" on Youtbe, so you must chose which of them you want to see inside the window player.

- Hightown Crows at Portobello Market, one of the most colorful places in London.

- A street drummer playing with plastic drums (paint cubes), near the Thames riverside.

- A street Tap dancer, near the Thames riverside as well, but at night.

- An african origin musician, Mein-Gad-Sidjo, performing inside the "tube" (Subway) .

- Army Band performing outside the "Britain at War Museum".

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Henrik Ibsen on the cover of "L'Illustration" (March 19th 1889)

Henrik Ibsen was a famous author, less than Victor Hugo (who moved masses), but more famous, at his time (19th Century), than many playwrights we revere today. There’s no question about his presence in many social and editorial European circles, and about his position as a living national poet of Norway. Ibsen was a pretext for writing articles, reviews, critics, books (Bernard Shaw dedicated one to him, for example), and his own intellectual figure was fashionably appearing on the cover of many magazines as today we would see on “Times” or “Newsweek”.

One of those covers was the number for Saturday, March 19th 1898 of ‘L’Illustration’, which was dedicated to Ibsen, who was going to celebrate his 70th birthday. The magazine also published two articles about his work (1).

I found this ‘curiosity’ at the Lagunilla Market (a flea market) in Mexico City around 20 years ago, at the exact moment I was at the climax of learning Antonio González Cabllero’s Acting Method (2). I was 17 years old, couldn’t even read in French yet, but I was amazed by it, by the idea of owning a magazine with Ibsen on the cover, more than by knowing that it was from the same time he was alive: the magazine was went on print on March 19th and Ibsen’s birthday was on the 20th!

The articles inside are simple, without much interest, as if they hadn’t found anything really new to say about Ibsen. The author of the article (it is impossible to know his name, he only signed as ‘P.Q.’) listed the whole work of Ibsen till that moment: the last play on the list is John Gabriel Borkman, dated 1898. There is some data I could call interesting information: Ibsen is named as an author of the highest European avant-guard, and Paris, which was the city of the avant-guard par excellence, received Ibsen’s plays from the hands of ‘Théâtre Libre’ and Antoine; the article says the production for Ibsen’s plays was low budget and lots of creativity.

About the celebration of his 70th birthday, Norway and Sweden joined together to honour the playwright with ceremonies, official banquets, popular celebrations and, of course, performances of his plays. Ibsen was an important figure not only for Scandinavian countries but for all of Europe.

The engraving (a photograph of it)you are seeing in this Blog on the cover of the magazine shows an image of Ibsen with great personality: a big old man with an air of wisdom; a strong face, a firm but good-natured body. My master Antonio González Caballero used to draw parallelisms between the personality and work of the four artists who ‘propose’ the way of acting in the Theatre of Modernism (3). So, about Ibsen, he always remembered his enjoyment of the social world, his appearance, and this photograph is an example of those comments by González Caballero(4).

We should do an exercise in comparing any picture of any author with his personality and his work. I’ve already done that with many of my favorite authors and it is a surprising game, even clarifying.

Here is one photograph circulating on the Net. You will notice it was the same photographic session that we saw on the cover of L’Illustration, Ibsen is wearing the same clothes and he’s seating at the same desk, but in a different pose:

(1) About this number of L’Illustration, an antiquities site in French says:
“ L'ILLUSTRATION. N°2873 Henrik Ibsen, gravure par Thiriat. Journal Universel. 19 mars 1898. (…) Intérieur frais. 16 pages environ illustrées de nombreuses gravures noir et blanc, premier plat de couverture illustré d'une gravure. La corporation des bouchers de Limoges par De Noussanne avec gravures dans le texte (rue de la Boucherie, syndic tenant la bannière, intérieur de triperie, église des Bouchers, croix de Saint AUrélien). Un devancier de Gutenberg par M. Normand avec gravure dans le texte (fac-similé de la dernière page du Doctrinal de Gerson imprimé par Jean Brito. L'hôtel des ventes, suite par Montheuil avec gravures dans le texte et gravure pleine page d'une vente de lingerie fine. Gravure pleine page en couleurs d'Une jeune fille d'orient par P. barthot. De Courbevoie à Banghi avec la mission Marchand,suite avec gravures dans le texte dont l'adjudant Laurent dans la pirogue, photo de l'exécution de Mounounaméka...). Publicité pour l'Art Nouveau avec 4 photos de mobilier et une lampe (buffet de salle à manger, glace avec encadrement, table toilette avec carreaux artistiques..). ”
(2) Ibsen, Pirandello, Chekhov and Strindberg, are what González Caballero named "los cuatro autores propositores de las corrientes actuacionales en el teatro moderno" (the four authors who propose the acting way for Modern Theatre); so, the study of their work, their personality and their propositions (“proposiciones”) enveloped our life as acting students.
(3) I’m currently writing a Blog about Antonio González Caballero’s Acting Method:
(4) Chekhov was different, living outside the social life and only wanting to spend his time at his house in Crimea, while Ibsen’s life had continuos movement; it is known that the Norwegian author spent a big part of his daily life reading newspapers behind the windows of famous cafés where everybody could see him.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Beijing Opera (Peking Opera): Baidicheng 白帝城

Baidicheng (白帝城) is one of several Beijing operas inspired by the original text atributed to Luo Guanzhong (罗贯中) (1), the epic novel Sanguo Yanyi ( 三国演义 ) ‘Romance of three Kingdoms’. Written more than 600 years ago, the novel describes a Chinese epic (in verse) of the 2nd and 3rd Centuries when the country was divided in three kingdoms.

Baidicheng 白帝城, which literally translates as City of the white Emperor (2), sets just a short part of this novel on stage, where Liu Bei 刘备, one of the three emperors of the divided country, is defeated in a terrible battle, resulting terminally ill; the Opera finishes with Liu Bei asking (singing of course) his main assistant to go and find his son and take care of him before Liu Bei’s imminent death.

This was the first time I could ‘consciously’ see an Opera based on Sanguo Yanyi ( 三国演义 ) ‘Romance of three Kingdoms’, and differentiate it from the other sources which nourish Beijing opera.

Beijing Opera has 4 fundamental literary sources:

1- 三国演义
Sanguo Yanyi “Romance of three Kingdoms”

2- 水浒传
Shui Hu Zhuan “Water Margin” or “Outlaws of the Marsh”(3)

3- 西遊記
Xiyouji “Journey to the West” (4)

4- 封神演义
Fengshen Yanyi “Creation of the Gods” (5)

Every one of these novels is part of the popular Chinese mythology; Chinese people, even without reading the original texts, know very well their characters and heroes, and
all their adventures; there are films, cartoons, children’s tales, novels, short stories, songs, and operas which talk about those characters. So, all a Beijing opera spectator needs is just a few points of reference to place the character in one moment of the story, after some sung verses they know where the hero is and what is happening there; anything else is theatricality and aesthetic pleasure.

As in many Chinese operas, the story of Baidicheng 白帝城 is only a pretext for expressing poetry, singing and beauty within the traditional Chinese theatrical code: the opera is full of singing and one special moment (about 15 minutes long) of military battle with acrobatics and martial arts. Costumes and makeup have a very high quality level of beauty, and they are really impressive because of their colourfulness and brightness.

The opera was performed at the Chang’an Theatre in Beijing (I’ve already talked about this venue). There seemed to be a special interest in this production because of the figures performing that night; in my ignorance of Chinese opera stars I could only recognize the name and figure who played Liu Bei 刘备, Zhang Jianguo 张建国.

This time I was accompanied by a Mexican group interested in Chinese culture, among them the sinologist Flora Botton (a scholar from El Colegio de México), and Tadeo Berjón, the Mexican Consul, who could understand a little bit more of the text and the story itself. Even then their approach was still limited, first of all because they are not specialists in Chinese Opera and, even with their knowledge of Chinese language, they were not familiar with the language written there.

Most Beijing Operas were written at least a hundred years ago (some even 300 hundred years ago) and many of their texts are absolutely incomprehensible for Chinese people living today; to know the story thanks to popular mythology doesn't mean understanding the text itself. But in comparison with my last visits to Chang’an and thanks to my companions, I could understand more than usual and enjoy this performance differently. (6)

Learning how to enjoy Beijing Opera in China is only for connoisseurs, it is a world outside the modern Chinese way of life, it is indebted to the past and we have to think about history each time we are going to listen it. Even then, not always the opera and its connoisseurs allow entry to their world. Rogers Darrobers says:

“Cette société, autant que toutes les autres fermées aux étrangers, est sans doute ce que la Chine possède de plus semblable à ce que nous appelons le: “monde”; on n’y entre que par goût personnel, pour le plaisir de se divertir avec des gens d’esprit; enconre faut-il y être admis par les initiés.” (7)

I recorded two exceptional moments :

Battle Scene.

Liubei’s first Aria.

The same videos in Youtbe:



(1) Luo Guanzhong 罗贯中 (1330 - 1400) novelist and playwright, very important in the development of Chinese fiction.
(2) It could be: The Imperial white City. A simple search in Google could be the answer.
(3)Written by Shi Nai’an 施耐庵 (1296 ~ 1371).
(4)Written by Wu Cheng’en (1500–1582 ).
(5)Written by Xu Zhonglin 许仲琳 (1567-1620 ).
(6) I’m more interested in the structure of movement and in the way of learning, but of course there is no way to understand those points without the comprehension of the stories.
(8)Roger Darrobers. “Opéra de Pékin”. Éditions Bleu de Chine, Paris, 1998.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Men of Steel in Beijing: "The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest."

Men of Steel is an Australian Theatre Company known in some parts of the world only for its first production, “The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest” (2004). They have performed with big success in Australia (of course), the UK, Ireland and Hong Kong. Now, in Beijing, the company is part of the program at the Festival of Australian Theatre in China.

This last Saturday, October 29th,f was the company’s first performance at the "Beijing Oriental Pioneer Theatre" and, as they expected, it was a great success. Spectators laughed like children and we all ( I was there) enjoyed a little bit more than one hour of the work of three jugglers, puppeteers, magicians, players (whatever you want named them), watching how they played and created with food and kitchen utensils. An absolutely creative performance which recalled our childhood, when we played animating anything with a touch of our hands; it was a play, yes, but also a theatre play, in the strictest meaning of the phrase.

“The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest” was simplicity at the first glimpse; however, it was also an impressive work of body creativity, pantomime, puppet theatre, object theatre and dramatic structure, and all spectators realized it from "The Beginning" (literally).

After enjoying the play and feeling happy (laughing is a therapy), I had time to meditate about comedy, about laughing and about that difficulty theoreticians have to catalogue and criticize this kind of performing works.

In this production the usual lack of permanency within the theatrical event is total; Men of Steel didn't work with any known language, their words were sounds full of meaning but not at all idea transmitters; their movements were part of one structured unity, even though not transmissible through any codification; all that was left was the 'spectator's memory', yes, once again, all that was left was what the play left in my memory.

I videotaped only a few minutes, but minutes of great fun and great visual beauty (the black foreground created a contrast with the actors' skin and, at the same time, any movement of those kitchen utensils seemed part of a 'surreal aesthetics'). Here you have around 10 minutes of the spectacle and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Was this work a kind of 'dadaist game'? It could be, but I am very careful about calling it that. We were before a production which was working with infantile creative language, and there was for sure a play, but at the end they were trying to narrate three stories, and three very well structured stories: dadaism is dead the moment structure appears.

The Festival of Australian Theatre in China lasts till November the 6th 2007, and we will see more performances with objects, dance and street theatre.

The performance’s brochure reads:

Men of Steel

Hamish Fletcher
Tamara Rewse
Sam Routledge

Operator: Jared lewis

Men of Steel fuses cooking, physical theatre and intricate object puppetry in a humorous examination of the consumptive society in which we live. They had their first adventure with coockie cutters. kitchen objects and a broccoli forest in 2004. Men of Steel has since become one of Australia’s most exciting new puppet theatre companies touring internationally to Scotland, Ireland, the UK and Hong Kong.

Men of Steel in Beijing, China: The Beginning, The Cinema, The Forest. from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

The following text was written after seeing the whole festival :

I would like to say that this, as the other spectacles coming to Beijing these last years, are high quality performances, but that's not true at all. Men of Steel was the most finished work from my point of view, and it is the first work of this company. What should I think about it? This Australian festival could have been named "Young Australian Theatre Festival" or "Funny Performances of Australian Theatre". I am sure that these productions are not really representative of the Australian Performing Arts; they were chosen with a specific ad hoc cultural policy matching the Cultural Policy of the new China: a theatre devoid of deep ideas and devoid of political compromise.

I have seen some great masters of dance (Pina Bausch, White Cloud of Taiwan, Alvin Ailey, etc) or Music (Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra, Lan Lang, etc.) come to Beijing , but absolutely none from the high world of Drama: you never see great companies or playwrights from the second half of the 20th century on stage.

I really miss that theatre which speaks loudly, showing the difficulties and problems we have living together in this chaotic world; I miss laughing because I saw myself or my governors in a ridiculous situation, I miss thinking about how to solve our crises, resolve our differences, our fears while I am watching actions. I miss that theatre my teachers tried to teach me and I which I have tried to do all my life.

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