Friday, July 07, 2006

Romeo Castellucci and subjective criticism

It is not rare for me to come out of a show/performance/stage production and not know whether I liked it or not.
This was certainly the case with Romeo Castellucci's 4th episode of the Tragedia Endogonidia series - BR.#04 Bruxelles/Brussel, during the Alkantara Festival. And if I waited so long before writing anything, it was precisely because of that.
The state of I don't know is something to cherish. Whereas in everyday life it may be quite problematic, there is no reason for it not to persist in aesthetic judgement.
There is more. Contrary to many aesthetic theories, I firmly believe aesthetic judgement can change - and usually does! - after the aesthetic experience. We reevaluate what we saw, heard, felt, after thinking about it, but also, after receiving new information. That is why the conversations people have after shows are not, in my mind, just the need to share one's impressions. They are rather attempts at establishing some sort of relation between me, my view of things, and the way others see and feel them. And, since we are no monads, communication makes a difference. I've had shows which I didn't really appreciate but started to have liked after having discussions about them. This is probably quite natural in non-temporal arts, where we can come back to a piece and renegociate our relationship with it. But in time-based art it seems awkward, to say the least: how am I to have liked something I already didn't like when it took place? The "taking place" is what's misleading here. Things take place, but our judgement of them needn't stop when they do. Does this mean we are easily influenced? We can't make up our mind by ourselves? Yes. Isn't that great?
The problem is when we see something controversial, like Castellucci's production.

The theater, reportedly says Castellucci, is a space to show amazing events.
But what is "amazing"? Castelucci's amazing might actually come from a maze rather than from amazement. It is a dry, calculated construction, a sort of a post-Wilsonian theater of imagery. But where Robert Wilson opts for a sort of a postmodern surrealism, the Castellucci I've seen prefers semantic games with the "timeless themes": birth, death, violence, etc., directly going for the heavy-duty stuff. At the same time, his aesthetics is quite close to what we've seen in the Cremaster Cycle. The strong white light that's gloomy, the fantasy/mythological characters, the extreme slowness (they aren't only taking their time, but ours as well...), and what's most striking, the extreme ritualization of everyday activities. Actually, this passing onto the stage seems to be quite natural, as Cremaster had the performative and theatrical qualities that only maybe needed to be nourished with some sort of theater dynamics to make it a stage piece. Here, tragedy is what provides this dynamics. It raises the energy level, while keeping the aesthetics of unbearable purity unbearably pure. Castellucci's discovery here seems of some importance: you don't need the story to have the tragedy. Or do you? Although fighting away any clear narratives, BR#04 somehow goes back into them all the time: when a guard takes off his uniform, and lies nearly naked on the floor, to be beaten up by other guards, we get a very succint, but also very straight-forward story. More - it is actually a story with a moral! This is a crucial point that distinguishes Castelucci from Wilson or Barney. The latter two stay as far from moral, social or political issues as they can, while the Italian director goes directly into them. How does he survive? How does one survive combining a visual arts/ abstract world with dwelving into social matter? Cláudia Dias had one solution I particularly liked: being delicate and extremely personal while maintaining a rigid formal structure. Castelucci's structure is even more rigid and dry (almost lifeless!), but he chooses the exact opposite strategy to Dias: he becomes completely impersonal. The characters have absolutely nothing personal about them. The stories aren't stories, but flashes, hints of stories, sketches of narratives with a few grasping details. Thus, the "narratives" we see are at once complete - a guard undresses to become an anonymous person, who is thenupon abused by other guards - and inexistant - there is no reason for the abuse, no outcome, no difference between the people who beat and the one who is beaten, there is no beginning and no end, as the act of violence remains fairly similar throughout the scene. It is suspended, and we are allowed to link it to our entire imagination, memory... or not.
And this is where the roads diverge. Do we accept this game of suspended scenes and create the stories ourselves, or do we demand something more than just live paintings? Do we see the crawling old man dressed in a bikini as a beautiful, engimatic and sad image, or do we see it as a naive metaphor? Is gratuitous violence meaningful because it shows the lack of sense, or is it simply gratuitous and therefore senseless? Are the strange characters that appear somewhere in the middle fascinating, or just cheap decoration? Is the baby that is left crying alone on the stage a great act of provocation, using the tradition of live art, or is it an irritating act of going back to something that has already been done but with stupid cruelty and a pathetic atmosphere?
I really cannot answer these questions. When leaving the theater, I asked a few friends about their opinions. An young actress said it was disturbing and moving. A performer said it was the worst thing he had ever seen. A choreographer said it was absolutely beautiful. An older actor who used to work with Grotowski said it was simply a stupid show pour épater les bourgeois.

I continue to cherish my I don't know. Castellucci's is a great theater to have watched. Then again, I believe it was Mark Twain who defined a classic as a book people praise and don't read. At times, I wonder how important is the very experience of being there, live, when a work is so disciplined it sometimes seems to move from the ritual to the image of the ritual. Isn't the image enough, then? Is this why Castellucci's web page has no images?
more on Castelucci

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails