Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Obituary from the Empire... The Death of Riszard Cieslak according to The New York Times.

left to right: Stanisław Ścierski, Jerzy Grotowski, Ryszard Cieślak; Holstebro, Denmark, 1970
photo: Andrzej Paluchiewicz

While trying to write a poem to Ryszard Cieslak, and doing some research about him, I found the The New York Time's obituary dedicated to Cieslak's death in June 16th,1990. You have to read the paragraph about the theater critics' opinion of him...

"Ryszard Cieslak, Actor, 53

Published: June 16, 1990

Ryszard Cieslak, an actor and a central figure in the Polish Laboratory Theater, died Thursday at the Burzynski Research Institute in Houston. He was 53 years old and lived in Manhattan.Dr. Stan Burzynski said that Mr. Cieslak had been admitted to the institute June 5, and that he died of lung cancer.Mr. Cieslak joined the Laboratory Theater, which Jerzy Grotowski founded in 1959 in Poland as a vehicle for experimental drama, in 1962. After its dissolution in 1977, Mr. Cieslak and Mr. Grotowski worked together in numerous dramatic projects.Theater critics cited Mr. Cieslak in 1969 as Off Broadway's most outstanding creator and the actor with the greatest promise.For the last four years, Mr. Cieslak taught acting to advanced students at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University."

"in 1969 as off Broadway's most oustanding creator and the actor with the greatest promise" ... Those God-like critics were very grateful with Cieslak in 1969, but there is nothing concrete about a final valorization of his work in 1990.

Even when The New York Times is one of my favorite newspapers it doesn't mean I see this journal as outside the American empire's media world, and it is a big part of it, of course. This newspaper has been one of the main promoters of American realism and a Broadway style of doing theatre since its beginning, almost erasing (in its own version of performing arts history) any other kind of style or exploration coming from other parts of the world.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Video with Grotowski explaining his Poor Theatre

If you've ever wondered about Grotowsky explaining his Poor Theatre, here you have a video of Polish television with an interview where the Polish director talks precisely about that  (use de cc button to see English subtitles):

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Eonnagata, directed by Robert Lepage at Sony Center, Toronto.

I've just seen Eonnagata, a truly good performance with the best of theatre and dance worlds, where the star is a team of fantastic artists.

Robert Lepage, surrounded by a team of great collaborators, -Dancers Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant; Lighting designer Michael Hulls; Costume designer Alexander McQueen (yes, the recently dead fashion artist); and Sound designer Jean-Sébastien Côté-, has created a big work of art. 

Even when the Toronto producer's publicity uses Lepage's name as if he were an isolated creator, this work couldn't be done without his amazing team; actually, it was conceived by Lepage, Guillem and Maliphant together. 

Two worlds, Dance and Theatre, are there with the best of their traditions and artists' skills (well, Lepage, though not a good dancer at all, is a very skilled actor), and with technology helping all the time to make things appear better than they are; yes, this is an effective machinery for the performing arts and everything works wonderfully well.

There isn't, in this performance of Eonnagata, a marvelous acting work for my spectator memory, but there are indeed visual-and-sound images, and lots of them. It is the first time I could see on stage a successful  game, explored by Bauhaus artists in the 1920's, of lines mixed with the human body in shadows; but I could also see those bodies recreated by sensational costumes designed by Alexander McQueen, malleable costumes, some spectacular, some fine and exact. I know I will remember that marvelous way of dancing (by Guillem specially), and that amazing way to use props and simple objects.

This is a story about a French transvestite spy (a hermaphrodite thought many) living in 18th-Century Europe (1) and this is also the story of how a terrible and strange life can be shown in a very beautiful way. We never see anything discordant or bizarre, even when half of the performance uses Japanese motifs and decorations (that's why the name of the play, of course, E-Onnagata, the female personification role in Kabuki) with a charcater living in the middle of the Baroque epoch. We are there only contemplating beauty, finesse, aesthetics, and curiosity. Yes, we love the character and his/her life, yes, the life of a transvestite, and with such a spectacular performance, who wouldn't?

I wonder about Lepage's obsession for spectacularity and for transforming tragedies or potentially bizarre stories into a kind of fairy tale and beautifully done stage performances, as if he didn't want to face anything from its horrible counterpart. Maybe here is where his success comes from: you can tell terrible things in a very beautiful way, with the best of forms, and with the best artists.

Trailer of Eonnagata

(1) Sadler's site says about: "Eonnagata tells the story of the Chevalier d'Éon, Charles de Beaumont - diplomat, writer, swordsman and a member of the King's Secret, a network of spies under the control of Louis XV. De Beaumont was perhaps the first spy to use transvestism in the furtherance of his duties and until the day he died his true gender was a source of constant speculation, even provoking public bets in the late 18th century."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Mindflux": Richard Foreman and the American Experimental Theatre of our Times.

I really want to share these short videos around a new film about Richard Foreman's life work, Mindflux (, but also some videos that talk about the experimental theatre in USA, where, saying the truth, there is almost no place for it.

Richard Foreman has been a myth without head in my educational life, kind of confusing information coming from his work in theatre, and little by little I've found clues about his legacy. I've never seen a Foreman's work live, but I've seen some productions at his Ontological-Hysteric Theatre venue in New York. 

These videos and what those people in there tell about Foreman's work and theatre making, help me to understand the sourness of American experimental theatre since 1970.

Video Trailer: Mindflux. A Film about Richard Foreman
mindFLUX Teaser from mindFLUX on Vimeo.

Exclusive bonus video from mindFLUX: "On Experimental Theater" from mindFLUX on Vimeo.
Eric Bogosian reflects upon the challenges of being in theater and the importance of knowing your audience.

Exclusive bonus video from mindFLUX: "Authentic Genius" from mindFLUX on Vimeo.
Academy Award winning actor F. Murray Abraham relays the significance of working with experimental playwright, director and designer Richard Foreman.

Exclusive bonus video from mindFLUX: Dafoe on Foreman from mindFLUX on Vimeo.
Actor Willem Dafoe, interviewed here in November 2009, describes working with Foreman in the 1980's.

Exclusive bonus video from mindFLUX: "What Did He See?" from mindFLUX on Vimeo.
Lili Taylor describes moving to NYC in the 1970's and tells of her first experience acting in a Richard Foreman play.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Det Kongelige Teater (The Royal Danish Theatre)

Det Kongelige Teater in Copenhagen, Denmark (October, 2010)

Sharing some photographs of Det Kongelige Teater, The Royal Danish Theatre, the most important theatre building on Denmark, a venue for all officially recognized Performing Arts in this country.

I came to Denmark for a workshop with the Odin Teatret in Holstebro (I'm translating to English my journal of that workshop), and Copenhagen was a nice stop in my way to the Danish far northwest.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The Andersen Project" directed by Robert Lepage at Canadian Stage, Toronto.

Program of "The Andersen Project" at Canadian Stage (Oct 2010), Toronto.

Ticket of  "The Andersen Project" at Canadian Stage (Oct 2010), Toronto.

I've just seen it at Canadian Stage in Toronto, and it has given to me a real perspective of Lepage's work: it didn't show to me a genius, but a very good professional master and an intelligent and sensitive artist. 

Robert Lepage is not scared about freedom on stage but neither about finding limits on it: it is not revolutionary, it is not transgressive, it is not shocking nor dramatic; he constructed an almost spectacular performance of a tale (or tales) about a famous story teller and writer, Hans Christian Andersen, and about Lepage himself with his own obsession, a life as an artist and as a man. He manages atmospheres, space and time in a masterful way; I have never enjoyed so much the image of a simple tree on stage, and a simple story-teller telling a story. 

Technology and theatrical simplicity.

I also enjoyed a lot Yves Jacques' work (and specially those monologues where he exposes each of his characters' past ) but his all realist acting didn't change anything to me, just showed (like the director) a very good master in acting.

A simple text (three stories interconnected), the use of technology, a masterful theatrical direction and a very good actor playing a solo, that's why I liked "The Andersen Project". 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nuit Blanche 2010. Photographs and Videos of 12 hours of Performance Art and Installations all over Toronto downtown.

Toronto Nuit Blanche 2010

Toronto Nuit Blanche is a Contemporary Art Event but it is also a big party, a popular festival, a crazy night where tax money is spent for the sake of watching, listening to and experiencing live contemporary art, and that is simply amazing. At Nuit Blanche there is no place for art exhibitions in the old sense, no place for theatre stages (even street theatre) or anything "old fashioned," here is the place for Art with new technologies in extreme contact with their spectators.

I have always thought about Nuit Blanche as an enormous one-night-only contemporary art amusement park, and in that sense it works very well: more than one million people come to downtown Toronto and walked for hours experiencing and enjoying all kinds of installations and performing art, all free and only spending their money on food and beverages. This can only happen in a developed country, of course, and it is happening in Canada, not without criticism from its ferocious conservative politicians, of course, but that always happens in the richest families.

My only question is, what about the "concept" of the works presented at Nuit Blanche? Contemporary art and, specially, Installations and Performance Art, are "Conceptual Art", there is no sense if the pieces don't have any concept behind them, and even if the participants were very aware of the conceptual origin of their work, what about the public understanding of them?

Torontonians (and tourists alike) watched more than 100 hundreds pieces in one night, and experienced contemporary art in intimate relation with new technologies. They had lots of fun (never experiencing emotions like fear or even love), but they also took those pieces, precisely, as a source of amusement, missing the possible concept, missing the expected repercussion of most of them. A piece was a thing you can forget and put in the trash bin after use, as a Junk-Art. But what could be worse is that many of those pieces of art were conceived only (from the beginning, by the artists) as a way of interacting between technology and people, giving at the end amusement for amusement itself,  giving the people an aural or visual experience alone as an art experience. 

That experience is so powerful and "cool" (as I listened to many people saying that night) that one big part of the "other" contemporary art (that what wasn't represented here) would be lost in the perspective of this more or less one million spectators.

How far away I am from the 'poor' performances at the Trigger Festival some months ago!

Well, after have seen Nuit Blanche 2010 success, I must say that all big artistic projects have their own risks.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Soul is Sick (Vaslav Nijinsky)

Yes, I feel sorry for you, dear Nijinsky:

"I want to weep, but I cannot, because I feel so much pain in my soul that I am afraid for myself. I feel pain. My soul is sick. My sickness is of the soul and not of the mind. I know what I need in order to become well again. My sickness is too great for me to be cured of it soon. I am incurable. My soul is sick. I am poor. I am a destitute. I an unhappy. I am horrible. I know that everyone will suffer when they read these lines, because I know that people will feel me."

The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. On Life. Page  145.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ashkenaz Festival 2010 in Toronto (2): Ashkenaz Parade and 4 Other Performances of Music and Dance

Ashkenaz Parade and Performance during Toronto Ashkenaz Festival 2010

This is the second part of 2 of the Ashkenaz Festival 2010 in Toronto, but I repeat the introduction of the first part:

¿In which part of the World you can experiment Jewish culture without feeling you are not part of it? Aside of New York and (maybe) Israel itself, almost everywhere in the world Jewish communities are closed to other eyes, and that's it, yes, well not in Toronto. 

Jews are a very strong community here and also a very active one. Just months ago there was an impressive Jewish film festival with a huge quantity of Jewish-subject and Jewish-made films, and every September the whole city celebrates Jewish Culture with a festival called Ashkenaz Festival or Festival of New Yiddish Culture (as it was called in Yiddish). During more or less an entire week there are theatre performances, music concerts, dance performances and lessons, parades, a market fair, painting exhibitions, lectures, and religious ceremonies with a relevant openness to non-Jews that most of us have never experimented before.

Jewish artists and celebrities from all over the world come here for the festival and party and talk with everyone who wants to listen to or dance with or learn from, and that is simply amazing. 

So I tried a little bit of everything and I had many surprises. I'm sharing some photographs of every spectacle and there is a video or audio when I could record something.

Now, the other five events I listened to and watched, including the parade with giant puppets, musicians and actors.

Ashkenaz Parade and Performance during Toronto Ashkenaz Festival 2010

Sephardic and Mizrachi Cabaret

A concert with 10 of the best of the best in Sephardi and Mizrachi Music (from Israel and Morocco to Washington, from Sarajevo and Seattle to New York). It was the first time I experienced as spectator Ladino Songs.

Divahn concert

A concert with an amazing music band of young Newyorker women, Divahn, with songs with far middle Eastern influence.
Balkan Beat Box concert

A concert of one of the most crazy Jewish band I have ever listened to, Balkan Beat Box, from Israel.

You can look for Balkan beat Box music on internet, it is a very famous band.

Ashkenaz Parade and Performance
Finally a very live performance and parade with hundreds of people lead by Shadowland Theatre Group with their big puppets and music bands.

Seeing a street theatre performance in Toronto is almost a miracle, there are some acrobatic groups performing here and there (Orange Circus and others), but street theatre groups I only know Shadowland Theatre Group. It seems they are working in Toronto since many years ago, and some of their first performances had political connotation for the city during the eighties, so it has been a long way on an almost deserted land. Good for them.

Ashkenaz Parade and Performance at Toronto Ashkenaz Festival 2010 from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ashkenaz Festival 2010 in Toronto (1): 3 Dance and Music Performances

Posters and Signes at Ashkenaz Festival 2010 in Toronto

¿In which part of the World you can experiment Jewish culture without feeling you are not part of it? Aside of New York and (maybe) Israel itself, almost everywhere in the world Jewish communities are closed to other eyes, and that's it. Well, not in Toronto. 

Jews are a very strong community here and also a very active one. Just months ago there was an impressive Jewish film festival with a large quantity of Jewish-subject and Jewish-made films, and every September the whole city celebrates Jewish Culture with a festival called Ashkenaz Festival or Festival of New Yiddish Culture (as it was called in Yiddish). During more or less an entire week there are theatre performances, music concerts, dance performances and lessons, parades, a market fair, painting exhibitions, lectures, and religious ceremonies with a relevant openness to non-Jews that most of us have never experimented before.

Jewish artists and celebrities from all over the world come here for the festival and party and talk with everyone who wants to listen to or dance with or learn from, and that is simply amazing. 

So I tried a little bit of everything and I had many surprises. I'm sharing some photographs of every spectacle and there is a video or audio when I could record something. Of course the final event, the parade, is what I wanted to show in this theatre Blog but it will be at the next post, for now the three first performances.

Yiddish dance lessons

Very surprised how Avia Moore managed to teach a 20-minute Yiddish Dance to almost 60 people; the music by Mike Winograd Band was very enjoyable, funny and cheerful.

Yiddish Dance Lesson at Toronto Ashkenaz Festival 2010 from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

A celebration of the Havdallah, the final ceremony of every Shabbath when religiosity and seriousness mix with a klezmer night party. Here the whole ceremony recorded in 4 tracks, it is very enjoyable but long, if you are patient you'll find how surprising and amazing it is the change of music style through the religious chants of the first ceremony to the joyful music at the end when the Shabbath has finished. If you are in a hurry, then listen to the 3rd track where is recorded the moment of the change of music I am talking about.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Film Socialisme" (Directed by Jean Luc Godard), at TIFF 2010

Godard reminds us that cinema is images and sound
that the history of cinema can be other
as well as the history of mankind can be seen from other perspectives

Godard reminds us of the words of the critical idealist
Godard is a revolutionary cynic
Godard makes a film that follows the defeat in struggle
only to continue its existence

Godard is a master
years of creation through images and sound
years of thinking in images and sound
Godard shows us images and sounds

Sounds that are murky for some
unintelligible to others, 
difficult for all

Words and phrases
simple images, 
textures of simple images, 
simple people in simple images 
weaving a structure based on sadness, 
disappointment at the ideals of socialism, 
the ideals of the words people and freedom,

the struggles of those who do not speak of patriotism or nationality

or democracy

the horrors of what happened on the chosen path
and what will not be forgotten

A set of fantasy, a set of stupidity and cheap jewelry;
a ship
containing a few disillusioned and outdated passengers
and bringing them to a journey through history.

His film is the eternal sadness of what has been lost
and the illusion lost in the waters of the Mediterranean,
in its wars and its diasporas that have crossed it

Godard reminds us that cinema has changed
and now is part of something that not all of us fought for it.

His film, this film, is a film that doesn't recognize,
denigrating to some and not praising anyone. 
His film bothers anyone who speaks the language of those who have won 
The heirs of the victorious don't want to stay longer watching it and tend to go away 
not because of being against it but because they are unable to understand it 
Because they do not understand!
because it is not possible to understand a world that does not have the codes to understand others

In the beginning this world we now call Cinema was one of the Cinemas
and today it is all ... it seems everything.
It is already in our mind, we edit our thoughts with the way it is edited.

This is a closure only read for who lives outside.

Godard makes this evident to a few ones
most are lost when watching
they don't enjoy neither the words
nor poetry
nor the images, beautiful images of our time
They can not see the thought of the other,
nor their life reflecting in a mirror that have never before seen.

No one enjoys the last will of an old man
continuing to work in his Art
satirizing with ironies that no one can understand.

Godard is a language about to die!

As that Socialism he intends to speak of in his film,
as the pure ideals of some living,
beyond the mistakes of social ideologies in the past.

Godard is one of those last speakers of that endangered language
who speaks it only not to forget it
and it is no longer understood;
with a mythology of gods that no one worships anymore;

and is proud, excessively proud.

Because that language,
he won't teach to speak
to anyone.


"Film Socialisme"
Directed by Jean Luc Godard
Screening at Toronto International Film Festival 2010 (TIFF 2010)
Bell Lightbox 2
September 19th, 2010

Ticket of "Fim Socialisme", A Screening at TIFF 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trigger Festival 2010: The Honesty Of Cruelty.

On June 9th, 2010, I was invited to a Performance-Party at Raging Spoon, an alternative venue in Toronto. This party was part of the Trigger Festival, an independent art festival focused on alternative ways of living and doing art.

Even though Toronto has a very large alternative community, it is hard for anyone from that community to get a place in this city, a city which dreams of being part of the success of the American way of life (Canadian-style). So, an event like the Trigger Festival was almost unknown to most Torontonians, with almost no publicity anywhere and without any special place in those "what-to-do" magazines. Even then, that night Raging Spoon was almost full of people (around 100, maybe more) looking for some crazy and different performance acts, and they were not disappointed.

Some 10 performance acts were scheduled for that night and two of them deserve my special mention because they were surprising and shocking from my point of view. I wasn't prepared to see anything interesting (I was going to a party), so I didn't bring my cameras and I only could take video and photographs with my iphone, I apologize for the bad quality of the images.

Transvestite, AIDS and a bottle of wine.

First, it was a foreign homosexual man, a transvestite who lives in Toronto, exposing his impotence and his suffering with his AIDS treatment, through a very shocking performance. (See video "first performance")
Here, the act with the actions as I can remember them.


- appears dressed like a woman with a big handbag, with a juice extractor, a bottle of wine , beets and medical pills.
- cuts and prepares some slices of beet for a juice, and puts the pills on the floor.
- extracts the juice while singing,
- opens a bottle of wine.
- takes off his underwear and lies down with his back on the floor.
- introduces the mouth of the bottle into his anus and empties the contents of the bottle while singing.
- shows, in silence, the empty bottle and drinks the last drops.
- puts the glass with beet juice on the floor and, seating close to it, fills the glass with the liquid coming out from his anus.
- shows to the spectators the glasses filled with beet juice and wine from his anus.
- drinks the liquid and swallows the pills.
- cleans perfectly, using his clothes, all the area of the performing space.

A queer girl beaten

Second, a lesbian girl, from Québec, expressing her impotence before the world, the sexism and the incomprehension of society, repeating scenes of her real life when she was humiliated and beaten, inviting the public to shout and to cry if they shared her hate. (See video "second performance")
It is a little more difficult to remember exactly the order of actions but I will try to do it:


- gives spectators a paper (see the photos) with a sentence in English and French inviting to shout or cry if we fell like it.
- listens to (as we do as well) several voice recordings with some men talking about her, about her appearance, her sexuality and in all cases humiliating her, as if everything were fuel for an emotional explosion.
- after several minutes of listening to the recordings she explodes into crying and shouting.
- Another girl enters and holds the first girl's arms while she's shouting loudly, it seems she is  being beaten by some people. Some spectators shout with her.
- falls on the floor, in silence.
- takes two banners with sentences in English and French: "I refuse to be a Victim" and "Thanks to the Queer community"

So, after that evening, I've being thinking a lot about what I saw there.

If we are as honest as those performers were, then those acts would change our perspective of watching spectacles.

Those were no spectacles for themselves, but they were theatrical acts, performing acts, half reality and half staging. Their performers gave a lesson of honesty, yes, but those weren't direct speeches during a real scene of crisis, those acts were also "theatre" and "performance"; we have to remember that they thought what to do on stage and what to show and say to the others; those performing acts walked on the line, on the border, of psychodrama and of personal theatre, they were in part an isolated hysterical impulse of an antisocial human being, and the summon of the creative saint-actor of "le Théâtre de la Cruauté". 

Yes, it was shocking and strange, not professional and not well staged, but unique. You won't see much of this in other parts... It was something terribly "unique".

Then some questions arise: What would happen if they were prepared actors, if they were great acrobats or very well prepared clowns? What would happen if they were educated singers? What kind of spectacle would we see? For sure something unbearable, because art and life together are Zeus' fulminating lightning.

If that combination doesn't happen, there is still the simple performance act they presented, and I think: I would rather see these honest performing acts than dozens of Off Broadways productions or those Toronto American-like plays on King street theatres, but tell me, please, who then will pay for it? who will pay for the honesty of "la cruauté" we saw that evening? Nobody will do it; well, yes, the performer himself, as it was.

It has to be an isolated act, behind the professional life, an alternative act, in a subterranean world, an underground act.

Certainly, it has to be a provocative act but outside the official and codified world of "art".

I love good theatre, good technique, the amazing way technical tradition is shown on Beijing Opera stage or Noh Theatre dramas, the way realist players can manage a character in a Tennessee Williams' play, but I'm also attracted by honesty, by cruelty, by that we can call a "trigger".

There is, undoubtedly, a dichotomy (not a contradiction) in my idea of art appreciation and creativity, but I enjoy that, it is like fuel in my creative life.

There is also a desire... and I won't say what this desire is.

Here, a slideshow of photographs of the whole event; you will recognize the acts I've been talking about.

First Performance

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