Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"La danza del padre" Ninth movement: La mère est malade.

They say that my mother is about to die.
You come back from your exile, pretending to be crooked, limping.
As a model son you're repeating the steps of your father:
embolism, exaggeration, hypochondria.
Mom told us that our grandfather was lying, she had caught the old man walking well, 
with normal face muscles, with his hand well, 
she said that the old man was deceiving them.
You arrive as the prodigal son,
with your face twisted, your hand cramped, limping.
Like a copy, like an inherited model.
I catch you while others aren't looking:
with a normal walk, quiet, straight.
You come back to the room and, before coming in, you pause, you enact a cripple.
You visit your dying wife, our loving mother, you present a loving face, a crippled body, a trembling voice.
You are such a case,
I must either describe you or paint you or kill you.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Behind The Bullseye, A Performance by The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre Incubator in New York (2010)

I have no idea why, one year ago, I forgot to publish a post about "Behind the Bullseye", a performance by one of the young companies which have worked with The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, the mythic Richard Foreman's lab and studio in New York. Whatever has been the cause I am here now writing about it.

I wasn't really impressed (theatrically) by this work but more by its energy and idea of theatre. This kind of groups keep American experimental theatre alive, they has been (and they are) an important source of experimentation and new ways to do things and, the most important, they are absolutely open to expose on stage problems of our society, of our bodies and our minds, without those economic worries of any other theatre, two blocks from there, about ticket sales, stars cast, and thinks alike.

Program of "Behind The Bullseye" by The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre Incubator.

This is what The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre's page says about its Incubator:

"Beginning in 1993, the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, in addition to its primary support of the work of Richard Foreman, opened its doors to emerging, independent artists. Since 1993 the emerging artists program at the Ontological took many forms, including the Obie-winning Blueprint Series for emerging directors. In 2005, the OHT reorganized the programs under the name INCUBATOR, creating a series of linked programs to provide young theater artists with resources and support to develop process-oriented, original theatrical productions. By 2010, the program had quadrupled in size, involving a range of artists and increased support. The programs included the centerpiece Residency program for premieres, two annual music festivals, a regular concert series, a serial work-in-progress program called Short Form, and roundtables and salons aimed at keeping Incubator artists involved year-round. In May, 2010, the Incubator received an OBIE grant."

Poster at The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre Incubator. (By Gustavo Thomas. New York, 2010)

And this is what the same page says about "Behind the Bullseye":

"BEHIND THE BULLSEYE is an original interdisciplinary theatre work; fusing elements of theatre, film, journalism and installation art to examine the shopping habits of Brooklyn residents. The Target store at Atlantic Terminal Mall (Brooklyn) is used as a focal point around which to explore what lies beneath the collective shopping experiences of consumers across diverse ethnic and class backgrounds. This Target store has emerged as a defining location where residents from various neighborhoods converge to obtain their basic necessities. With the advent of gentrification across various neighborhoods bordering this location, the Target store itself has evolved into an engine of displacement for neighborhood stores. This latest work from Sponsored By Nobody is a chamber play for the American consumer – or – how we are able to buy what we want when we want.
SPONSORED BY NOBODY is a Brooklyn-based theatre company committed to developing original work that is relevant to contemporary America. Founded in 2005, SBN has established a reputation in New York for presenting abrasive, engaging theatre while refusing to relinquish the idea of art as a catalyst for social change. While rooted in theatre, SBN incorporates multiple disciplines in its work -- borrowing from dance, film, music and installation art -- while employing both found-texts and original writing."

"Behind The Bullseye" by The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre Incubator.
(By Gustavo Thomas. New York, 2010)

"Behind The Bullseye" by The Ontological-Hysteric Theatre Incubator.
(By Gustavo Thomas. New York, 2010)

After watching the play I took some isolated notes:

- Me, spectator: I am a consumer, I know it, and they know it.

- They talk about all of us as consumers. 

- The Sellers: Our life is in their hands, as employees, as consumers. 

- Our life is in sale, but it's worth nothing. 

- A supermarket universe could be a metaphor of our life itself, of our own universe. 

- Our chaos is a play by the big merchandisers, our life is a game by them as well; but we don't know them and nobody wants to know them; all of us live in the same chaos, selling, bargaining, dreaming about sales, about new acquisitions during sales. 

- We are only consumers, we know it and we can not do anything to avoid it.

- Packages are object of entertainment, fulfilling our simple life; packages give to us color and shapes.

- We don't have our life anymore, we don't remember how we lost it inside a supermarket.

- A supermarket employee is a Shakespearian character: he has the power but "the wheel of power" is working there, tomorrow it will come the next and he will be out.

- Working at a supermarket really really sucks!

I saw "Behind the Bullseye" during a short trip to New York in January 2010, at its former venue (till end of 2010) 'The Onthological-Hysteric Theatre Incubator' inside St. Mark's Church in the East Village.

I'd like to add a curious detail of that evening: among the 50 spectators (more or less) it was Peter Brook, the English stage director. Short as he is and with those unmistakable eyes of him, it seemed he was looking once again for the avant-guard in the young generation of theatre outsiders. Good for him.

BEHIND THE BULLSEYE -- 2009/2010 promo trailer from Kevin Doyle on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"La danza del padre" Eighth movement: Le père est dans le miroir.

Time has passed and you no longer live with me.
I feel young and new.
I can change the world because I'm great, because I'm alone,
because I can deny those traces of the past.
Your money is still feeding me and I do not appreciate it, I'm cruel, demanding,
and I think I have forgotten.
The age tricks and surprises.
You're there in the mirror,
as young as I look myself, I see you in there.
I look at me and I see your face, that's not my reflection!
My face is your face that reflects at my reflection.
I detest myself, I hate myself:
so many times you've died, powerless I see it:
your ghosts now inhabit my body!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Barong and Keris Theatre Performance (2009), and some original documents of the 1930's by Rose and Miguel Covarrubias.

Barong performance (By Gustavo Thomas. Bali, 2009)

In the summer of 2009 I recorded several performances of a large variety of Balinese Performing Arts.  Since then I've been publishing many of those videos linked with some documents, recorded in the 1930's, by Mexican Researcher Miguel Covarrubias. Today I want to retake 'the Balinese subject' with a very attractive and in some way very impressive performance of Balinese theatre: Barong, and Keris.  

I called it 'Barong and Keris theatre performance' instead of 'dance performance' because they are actually a mix (as we Westerners see Performing arts) between dance and a theatre play, which are usually not differentiated in Balinese performing arts.

The Barong is a character of Hindu-Balinese mythology, the name of a mythic Balinese lion, a divine monster. It is a very recognizable figure everywhere in Bali because of its costume, so impressive and spectacular, with its long body (similar to that of the traditional Chinese festivity lion) made with different types of palm threads, its vivid and horrid mask, and its decoration with gold and mirrors (see Covarrubias's description bellow). Every visitor to any temple or palace in Bali feels the inevitable need to stop and observe that impressive Barong costume hanging in its pedestal over the Gamelan instruments, waiting for the evening performance.

Barong costume at Ubud Royal Palace (By Gustavo Thomas. Bali, 2009)

Keris (kris or kriss), meaning 'knife' or 'dagger'  is the name of a trance dance, famous for its dancers hurting themselves with a 'keris" while they are in trance. One of the most striking photographs of a Balinese performer is that of a Keris dancer performing, published in "A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology" by Nicola Savarese.

Keris performer (A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology. Nicola Savarese Archive.)


In the 1930's Covarrubias filmed one of many versions of Barong performed during a temple festivity. Here are the only 50 seconds that are known to remain from of those recordings (the voice is not part of the original):

Covarrubias also wrote in his book "Island of Bali" a comprehensive description of Barong, the character, and of its dance, including the final "Keris", a description I'd like to share with you as an introduction of the performance you are going to see:

"The witch has a contender for supremacy in a fantastic animal, a mythical "lion" called Barong. Because of an ancient feud with Rangda, he sides with human beings to thwart her evil plans, and the Balinese say that without his help humanity would be destroyed. While Rangda is a female, the magic of the "left", the Barong is the "right", the male. Rangda is the night, the darkness from which emanate illness and death. The Barong is the sun, the light, medicine, the antidote of evil.
Every community owns a set of the costumes and masks of both characters. These masks have great power in themselves and are keep out of sight in a special shed in the death temple of the village. They are put away in a basket, wrapped in a magic cloth that insulates their evil vibrations, and are uncovered only when actually in use, when the performer-medium is in trance and under control of a priest, and not before offering have been made to prevent harm to the participants. At the feasts of the death temples their masks are uncovered and exhibited in one of the shrines. It is good precaution to sprinkle these masks with holy water when someone is sick in the village.
Like the Rangda, the Barong is treated with great respect and the Balinese address him by titles such as Banaspati Radja, "Lord of the jungle", or as Djeró Gedé, "The Big One", rather than as Barong, which is only a generic name for his sort of monster.
Despite his demoniac character, the Barong materializes in a trance play in which he is made to act foolishly and to dance for the amusement of the crowd. His costume consists of a great frame covered with long hair, with a sagging back of golden scales set with little mirrors. A beautifully arched gold tail sticks out of his rump and from it hang a square mirror, a bunch of peacock feathers, and a cluster of little bells that jingle at every move. Under a high gilt crown is his red mask, too small for his body, with bulging eyes and snapping jaws. The power of the Barong is concentrated in his beard, a tuft of human hair decorated with flowers. The Barong is animated by two specially trained men who form the front and hind quarters of the animal, the man in front operating the mask with his hands.
In Penetjutan the Barong play began with a performance of djauk, a group of boys wearing grinning white masks, who danced to the delicate tunes of a legong orchestra called in this case bebarongan. After the dance the two Barong performers went under the costume that lay inanimate on two poles, the mask covered  by a white cloth. Like a circus prop-horse, the Barong danced, wiggling his hind quarters, lying down, contracting and expanding like an accordion, snapping his jaws, and in general behaving in a comic, rather than undignified manner for his awesome character. After his gay outburst of animal spirits, he began a long dance, staring around as if astounded by magic visions that filled the air. He was constantly on the alert of invisible enemies, growing more and more alarmed, clicking his teeth like castanets as the tempo of the music increased. Firecrackers began to explode at the far end of the arena, startling the Barong, and when the smoke cleared, the figure of Rangda appeared, yelling curses at the Barong, who appeared humiliated by her insults. But eventually he reacted and they usually rushed at each other, fighting and rolling on the ground until the Barong was made to bit the dust.
In the meantime a group of half-naked men sitting on a mat went into a trance. They were assistants of the Barong against Rangda. A priest consecrated some water by dipping the Barong's beard in it, and sprinkled the men, who shook al over as if an epileptic fit. With their eyes glued on the Rangda, they got up, drawing their krisses, advancing like fidgety automatons towards the witch, who awaited them ready with her white cloth, her weapon, ready in her raised hand. Suddenly she ran after them, but just then one of the priests on watch noticed something unusual in her behaviour and passed the word the she was out of control. She was caught by a group os strong men and led away, but not before she had put a spell on the entranced men by joining the thumbs of her outstretched hands and yelling a curse.
By the spell, the krisses on the hands of the men turned against them, but the magic of the Barong hardened their flesh so that, although they pushed the sharp points of the daggers with all their might against their naked chest, they were not even hurt. (...) Some leaped wildly or rolled in the dust, pressing the krisses against their breasts and crying like children, tears streaming from their eyes. Most showed dark marks where the point of the dagger bruised the skin without cutting it, but blood began to flow from the breast of one, the signal for the watchmen to disarm him by force.
(...) To take the men out of the trance, they were led, one by one, to where the Barong stood; someone sucked the bleeding chest of the wounded man and stuck a red flower in the cut. The pemangku wiped the face of each man with the beard of the Barong dipped in holy water, and gradually the hysterical men came out of the trance, dazed, simply walking away as if they did know what had happened to them."


Now, some photographs of Barong and Keris by Rose Covarrubias (Miguel's wife) taken during their travel to Bali in the 1930's. You can notice part of the 'process' of the trance in the Keris performers:

Barong and Keris Performance (By Rose Covarrubias)

Barong and Keris Performance (By Rose Covarrubias)
Barong and Keris Performance (By Rose Covarrubias)
Barong and Keris Performance (By Rose Covarrubias)
Barong and Keris Performance (By Rose Covarrubias)


What I saw in July 2009 at Kloncing Temple (Pura Kloncing) in Ubud was undoubtedly Barong and Keris, but with a change in their original motor as a religious work, now performed like any other theatre play addressed to tourists, even though its original structure remains almost intact (as you will see it if you compare my recordings with Covarrubias's description), resulting in a spectacular and surprising performance. 

This is what the performance's program says about the story to see (some parts of it were illegible):

"The drama performed by the Truna Suka Duka troupe is drawn from an early story in the Mahabarata epic, though the opening scene of the Barong and the monkey serves only as an introduction.
The story begins once the Sisian dancers appear. The Kurowa brothers, who are the antagonist in the Mahabarata, have petitioned the goddess Durga to spread disease and destruction in Indra Pasta, the kingdom of the five heroic Pandawa brothers. The Sisian, as Durga's servants, fulfill the Kurowa's request.
Meanwhile, in the palace of the kingdom of Indra Prasta, the Pandawas are meeting to decide how to respond to the disruption of the family temple ceremony by the Sisian. (...) Kunti, the mother of the Pandawa brothers becomes possessed by one of Durga's demons and in a fit of rage demands that the Primer Minister sacrifices Sahadewa to Durga. Initially, the Prime Minister resists, but he becomes possessed and attacks Sahadewa.
Sahadewa faints while being beaten and tied up by the Prime Minister, but is visited by a High Priest while unconscious. The priest is an emanation of the god Siwa and has been sent to empower Sahadewa so Durga cannot kill him.
Durga arrives in the middle of the night, accompanied by her Buta Kala demons, intent on killing and eating Sahadewa. When Durga discovers that she cannot kill Sahadewa, she recognizes that he was blessed by her husband, the god Siwa. She then asks Sahadewa to free her from her earthly physical form so that she can be reunited with Siwa.
After killing Durga, and while on his way back to the palace, Sahadewa meets Durga's servant Kalika on the road. Kalika also requests a purifying death as a way of entering heaven, but Sahadeva refuses, knowing that Kalika's responsibility is as the guardian of the graveyard and the king of the Buta Kala demons.
Enraged Kalika challenges Sahadewa to battle, but it is not strong enough to win and turn to flee. He turns himself into a pig and the a Garuda bird to escape, but Sahadewa still pursues him. Finally, he transforms himslef into Rangda, who is an emanation of Durga. When Sahadewa becomes the Barong, an emanation of Siwa, the forces of chaos and order are rebalanced and the story concludes.
The closing event of the drama is the emotionally charged Kris trance, during which the Barong and Ragda, as representatives of Siwa and his consort Durga, reestablish equilibrium. (...)"


The following slideshow offers a comprehending view of the performance (you can see each of the 113 photographs on my flickr page, just click the link). Thanks to the possibility of taking still photographs from the video, and adding those images I couldn't take with my camera, I was able to reconstruct almost the entire line of the events of the performance.


I split the whole recording in three parts, specially to avoid making it a strenuous watching (I know real life is not the same in video), and I also cut a short musical introduction and a 5-minute offering dance, but the whole performance is there, I didn't edit anything as it was possible to record it all from the beginning to the end. The first two videos are only short looks of what happened before the performance. Take your time and enjoy it little by little:

2009-07-22th Bali Ubud Pengtegal Baris Dance Introduction from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

Indonesia and Bali: Barong Performance from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

Keris Dance Performance in Ubud, Bali from Gustavo Thomas on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Bali. Art, Ritual and Performance" at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (2011)

Happy to see that, little by little, my theatre photo-document work is being recognized: one of my photos of a Wayang Kulit performance (Balinese Puppet Shadow Theatre) was chosen to be on all the programs, flyers and posters of the new Asian Art Museum of San Francisco exhibition: "Bali. Art, Ritual, Performance."

The exhibition is running from February 25th till September 11th, 2011.

Monday, March 14, 2011

"La danza del padre" Seventh movement: Le père meurt pour deuxième fois

After the trial your death came, the second death, the one that was not.
Years of lies and nonsense reduced my patience.
That night I had been accused and you on your throne had accepted everything against me.
You, judge and king without power.
Slowly you went to your bed and lied on there looking to the sky; we knew, you were dying.
You said you were sweating cold and your lips were dry,
blah, blah, blah,
you dropped your hands, stopped breathing, and closed your eyes.
I didn’t want to permit that, I asked you not to do it.
That night I hated you and hated your theater.
I climbed unto your bed, I sat on your chest and I shouted again, 
I called you by your title and by your name: Father! Federico!
Then I attacked you, I slapped your face.
I had a plan: 
if you were dead you wouldn’t react, if you were acting again then I was there to make it clear to everybody.
Your red cheeks hurt you, so, you reacted, 
your hand stops my hand, and you tell me that you are fine ... 
Don’t you see it? I was right!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Dervish in Progress", A performance by Ziya Azazi during CanAsian dance Festival in Toronto (2011)

When you are unique you can be amazing, that’s what Ziya Azizi’s performance is: amazing, spectacular, beautiful, and dramatic. 
Yesterday (1) I saw Ziya Azazi performing Dervish in Progress, one of his latest works (2004). The last 11 years he has been whirling not as a mystic dancer but as an artistic one. What does that mean? That Ziya is not a dervish or a sufi practitioner, he is a dancer, a choreographer, an artist who has found his technical way in dance through whirling. That’s why he is unique.
Watching a dervish dancing can be a dizzy experience, yes, but also a mystical one, you can be transported to another state of mind just for watching it and listening to the music; and you can also say that it is beautiful (very beautiful for many), but it stops there: there is no "a work of art", there is no ideas or interpretation to transmit to anybody beyond the practitioner's himself. “Dervish in progress” offers us, spectators, a rare opportunity to be transported to a different state (through watching whirling continuously, during 20 minutes,) mixed with a modern aesthetic experience. At Ziya Azazi’s performance we were, in one moment and in our seat, moving with him, feeling that obligatory dizziness and being amazed by his movements, but also he was telling us something, a kind of story, revealing to us his experience while dancing and exposing the inner conflict a dervish in progress has.
“Dervish in progress” talks about the struggle for cleansing the performer’s body and mind; it show us how, during the movement, the dancer is transported to another state but also how his experience as a dancer become more powerful than the religious motives that set him originally in motion. Whirling gives him a freedom that ideas and mental postures cannot. We are then witnesses to his fight and to his cleansing, watching how, without stoping whirling (which is remarkable), he takes off his hat, his shirt and two skirts to end up wearing only one black skirt; we also see how, in the same way he took off his clothes, he gets rid of his religious beliefs, throwing away the gestures of the three main religious traditions: the Christian sign of the cross with his hand, the muslim salutation with the palm on the heart, onto the forehead and to the sky, and the Buddhist posture with palms together and an inclined head. That fight is not totally successful, the skirt itself finishes by absorbing him, and he practically disappears in front of our eyes: you can say he won the fight and he fused with the universe, but you can also interpret that his fight it is a tragedy, an unbearable weight that finishes by absorbing (or crushing) him.
Ziya Azazi expose his struggle, yes, his doubts and he’s not afraid to express how he is getting rid of his religious ideas (whether christian, muslim or buddhist), he is an honest artist and he has built an honest work.
I believe Ziya Azazi does with dervish whirling what Zeami did with Noh Theatre centuries ago, moving a religious art to an artistic form, “cleaning” it of any religiosity by looking at its sources, the experience of movement itself, but also by adding to it an artistic interpretation and the dramatic possibilities to transmit feelings, ideas and stories. 

Program information at CanAsian's performance (Harbourfront Centre, Feb 23rd, 2011)

This is the whole performance recorded in 2005:

DERVISH IN PROGRESS, 2005, by Ziya Azazi from ZIYA AZAZI on Vimeo.
This solo is a contemporary interpretation of traditional Sufi dances, reflecting Ziya Azazi’s personal, artistic, conceptual and motional analysis. Physical awareness and a high state of meditation are aimed to be represented simultaneously. It searches for the Dervish a high level of speed, tension and emotion while it suggests to create a space for the viewer to experience these moods.

This performance represents the moment of Dervish when s/he starts to enjoy his/her achievement through the joyful and ecstatic repetition of whirling: the looping of spinning which lead to trance. The three skirt costumes intensify this joy with their illuminated and diverse colours and forms.

This dynamic, metamorphic solo transforms the classical Sufi dance into a spectacular form as it suggest possibilities for joy to become ritual, without needing boundaries of existing belief systems.

Dance/Choreography: ZIYA AZAZI
Costume: ISCHIKO
Music mix based on : MERCAN DEDE

(1) That was on February 23rd, 2011 at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"la danza del padre" Sixth movement: Le père est roi et juge.

The father is a king, he has seated on his throne, and he doesn't speak or move.
One of his many children begins his accusations towards me: he says what I do is wrong.
No to how I speak, no to what I speak about, no to how I act, no to what I want in life.
The father is a king and a judge, but he doesn't speak nor move, he doesn't govern nor judge.
He feels supported, plays at being a noble man, wise, understanding, loved.
I am a teenager! I hate that, I cry because of it, I cannot bear that scene, it hurts.
And you are seated, and he is speaking towards me. 
I get irritated while replying and claiming.
You asked for a glass of water, you said you felt agitated.
You prepare (we already know it) your next coup de theatre.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tell me about your two friends, Jerzy... "Avec Grotowsky" Texts by Peter Brook about Jerzy Grotowski.

I've just started reading "Avec Grotowski", a book by Romanian-French theatre researcher George Banu, where collects Peter Brook's words about Jerzy Grotowski.  In the introduction of the book Banu quotes a short conversation with Grotowski, a really charming and clarifying sentences about one part of Grotowski's personal world:

" (...) je l'interrogeais sur son amitié bifrons avec Barba et Brook :
'Tu as deux amis. De quoi parles-tu avec Eugenio? Et avec Brook?
- Avec Eugenio je ne parle que du théâtre, avec Peter je ne parle que de la vie !' "

...and we can translate those words in this way:

" (...) I asked him about his bifrons friendship with Barba and with Brook :
'You have two friends. What do you talk about with Eugenio? and what about with Brook?
- With Eugenio I only speak about theatre, with Peter I only speak about life!' "

That demon of two heads (bifrons) puts every of its heads on each side of Grotowski, but the Polish director was never in the centre of anything, ¡he always was on the extreme!

Fascinating research for unveiling the secrets hiding behind the encounter of great men!

"Avec Grotowski" is without any doubt a book full of wisdom of life, wisdom of human relationships, and wisdom of theatre itself. I'm reading it with passion and curiosity. We'll see...

- Posted by Gustavo Thomas. Registered by Creative Commons.

If you are interested in using any text, image or video from this Blog, please contact the author writing your e-mail and information in comments. (comments are private)
Gustavo Thomas. Get yours at