PARIS – I’m already bubbling over with excitement about the premiere of my short, 30-minute, documentary/interview film with one of the giants of world theater of the last 60 years. I am talking about the work I did with Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro – of which I am a company member since 2017 – and our interview with Eugenio Barba, founding director of the Odin Teatret of Denmark. The film will be screened next month, on 7 November, in the Espace Renaudie, a municipal theater in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris. It is part of a double-bill of activities with members of the Odin Teatret and TAC, beginning in the morning at the iconic Théâtre du Soleil of Paris.
That’s a lot of stuff to pack into your brain in the first paragraph, so let me backtrack now a little: Eugenio Barba is an Italian-born director and writer who after working with the Polish theater master Jerzy Grotowski in the early 1960s, went on to create Odin Teatret – based in Holstebro, Denmark – and to become one of the great theater theorists of our times, as well as the founder of the International School of Theatre Anthropology. Odin has always been at the forefront of avant garde theater in the world, innovating in the area of what is often called “physical theater,” as it speaks as much, or more, through the movements of the body as it does through text. And even the spoken word itself – or the music – is considered a kind of physical action in the performance.
The company was founded in 1964, and some of the actors that still make up the company have been with it since the 1970s, others for several decades. They are coming to Paris next month to put on their latest show, “Thèbes au Temps de la Fièvre Jaune,” at the Théâtre du Soleil. (The latter is another of the world’s great avant-garde theatrical institutions, also founded in 1964 and still directed by Ariane Mnouchkine.)
The morning event with Julia Varley.
The Odin show will run there from 8 to 19 November, and TAC Teatro, in collaboration with ARTA, Association de Recherche de Tradition de l’Acteur, and the Aubervilliers mayor’s office organized two events that will take place the day before the show opens, ie, on the Monday 7th November at 10AM in the Théâtre du Soleil, and the film premiere at the Espace Renaudie starting at 18PM, with, following the film, a roundtable discussion. The event starts by featuring especially the intervention of Julia Varley, one of the Odin Teatret actors, who will give a conference about the process of training and creation for the actor in the morning part of the program at the Théâtre du Soleil. Ornella will take part in that too, along with Raluca Mocan, a theater expert and member of the Husserl Archives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
I am very pleased to be able to show this documentary interview film that I did with Eugenio Barba the last time Odin Teatret visited Paris, with their previous show, called, “L’Arbre.” The interview was conducted outside at the Cartoucherie, and Ornella filmed it – and organized it – and also intervened with some of the most interesting questions – when I think I took over the camera briefly! It was a wide-ranging interview with Barba covering his life story, his theories of theater, the history of theater and of Odin, and even comments about the state of Paris’s theater landscape in general. It also contains a lot of footage and photos of Odin’s work through the decades.
Brad Spurgeon interviewing Eugenio Barba.
Taking place at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers starting at 18PM, the screening is free of charge, and there are about 200 seats in the theater. So if you want to come, best to reserve in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at: 06 14 06 92 23
By the way, this is the same location where the full production of AJAMOLA will be performed several times this year and next – so if you like what you see in the performance extracts at the event at the Théâtre du Soleil…don’t hesitate to book for the show too!
PARIS – Could there be a better time to be staging plays about the building of walls to separate peoples? Could there be a better play to show to Donald Trump about the significance of building walls than “Frontière Nord,” a play written in 2007 by the Canadian playwright, Suzanne Lebeau? After all, it was written for children (of all ages). My guess, though, is that Trump would never understand the messages of this play, even in the brilliantly produced and performed version that we saw at the Théâtre du Soleil last night – to say nothing of Trump’s certain lack of understanding of the French language. But what was so fabulous about this production by the visiting Montpellier “Théâtre de l’Evidence,” is that it speaks to the spectator on so many different levels of language – music, dance, vocal expression, mime, and above all of intensity of emotion – that it is unlikely any spectator can see it without some sense of the stifling nature of building walls between societies.
I’ve been thinking a lot in recent weeks about exactly what constitutes great theater, as I work on a personal theater project with TAC Teatro and its director Ornella Bonventre; and as I just had my story published in The Stage all about Paris’s 30 minuscule theatres of fewer than 50 seats; and after also seeing yet another piece in one of those theaters last week. The latter was the one-man-show enacting the “Diary of a Madman” by Nikolai Gogol at the Tremplin Théâtre in Montmartre. Some of these thoughts came to me during and after that production, directed by Stéphanie Slimani, with the actor Sylvain Zarli, attempting to adapt the classic Russian story to the stage using many of the elements of physical theater, including the introduction of another character beyond the human presence in the form of a dog puppet.
And it is this question of text vs. physical action that really preoccupies me. Most of the plays we see in Paris have to do with the text, and the talk the actors do around that text. The use of the physical to express another world is far too often an afterthought. This is where “Frontière Nord” director, and founder of the Théâtre de l’Evidence, Cécile Atlan, not just excels but in my view works like a virtuoso.
Puppet in Hand in Frontière Nord
The play took place at the Cartoucherie in Paris’s 12th arrondissement, in an annex space of the famous Théâtre du Soleil, founded and run by Ariane Mnouchkine since 1970. (Actually, her company was founded in 1964, but they have been at the former munitions factory since 1970, in a wonderland of theater that if you have not yet been there, you have to go.) The atmosphere of the place is more than convivial: Food and drink is served before and after the show, the room probably seats a maximum of 100 or so people, and you can usually meet the artists afterwards for a drink. The show was also presented in conjunction with the ARTA (Association de Recherche des Traditions de l’Acteur) research center at the Cartoucherie.
The live music is provided by the “Trio Zéphyr,” also based in Montpellier. Trio Zéphyr consists of three women string players – violin, viola and cello – who have been performing together for 19 years, and whose vocals are as sweet as their stringed instruments. The music comes from a rich assemblage of classical, modern and world music influences, and while it was composed by the trio for the trio – Marion Diaques, Claire Menguy and Delphine Chomel – and not for the play, Atlan worked specifically with pieces she chose or the trio suggested, adapting the performance and the pieces together.
Frontiere Nord at Théâtre du Soleil
The synthesis of the whole is just stunning, as the music adds brilliant drama to the already dramatic situation: The sudden appearance of a wall being built to separate people from the north and the south – and everywhere in between. It is a multiracial cast, too, by the way, with a total of eight actors – three men and five women – plus the trio of musicians, always present and visible off to the side, and sometimes involved practically physically in the action.
I cannot emphasize enough the quality of every element of this show: The actors are 100 percent in character the moment they arrive onstage, and the intensity of their performance is practically physically palpable throughout. The show was about 90 minutes long, and I was not bored for a moment. It was the third show I have now seen in the last year in this room – ranging from a fabulous amateur group’s production to the most recent show of Odin Teatret, called “The Tree” – and it kept me dreaming and asking questions and confronting ideas throughout (as had Odin’s show).
In many ways, I felt like I was watching a piece of ancient Greek theater, with the fabulous use of a chorus technique that continued throughout the play, and consisted of three or four characters speaking in unison much of the text. It was a highly stylized production, disconnected from everyday reality, that lifts the spectator into a world about as far from popular text-based theater as you can get.
The use of the puppet character was also beautifully done and added another dimension, and of course it is not surprising since early in her career, Lebeau had studied puppetry. Having started as an actress the 1960s, the Québecoise began devoting herself to writing plays in the mid-1970s and is now one of Canada’s most successful playwrights, especially as an export. I found it very interesting that at the same time as the main Théâtre du Soleil is putting on the production that became a huge controversy in Canada of the play “Kanata” – its Québecois director, Robert Lepage, was criticized for doing a play about the country’s indigenous people without using an indigenous actor (he is using Mnouchkine’s troupe, which personally makes sense to me, but that’s another story) – this other theater at the Cartoucherie is staging a play by another Quebecois that SHOULD be noticed by as many people as Kanata because of its very important subject matter in our day of Trumpian walls…but also, fittingly, in this day of the “Gilets Jaunes.”
“In this story,” said Atlan (in my translation from the French), “the building of a wall destined to create a border has dramatic consequences: Loss of jobs, uprooting of populations, isolation of families, suffering of children…the work exposes the question of freedom, and what humanity does with it. This wall leads to all of the barriers, both visible or invisible, that deprives humankind of its liberty.”
Theatre du Soleil Nefs
The play, appealing to almost all the senses – it also has fabulous costumes, by the way – and through a physical theater of an exceptional level, manages to communicate this message to the spectator in a powerful way that the written word or current events alone cannot come close to. That, I suppose, is precisely what makes great theater.
at the Théâtre du Soleil, from 08 to 24 February 2019