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Siena, Photo: Jesus Robisco



European  performance is slipping through boundaries, transforming relationships between film, dance, painting, dramatic texts and the human body  and in all this apparent chaos which redefines   live performance,  the world of the “post-text”  and all forms of creation in space speak equally to each other in unexpected ways.    In Canada, Robert Lepage opened  the performance space many years go to this kind of visual/corporeal /technologically based work that one could no longer call simply “theatre” but that seemed to relegate the text to another conceptual dimension, thanks to his collaboration with European festivals and creative centres across the Western world.    Now, a lot of companies are moving in that direction, apparently  feeding off the imaginative style of  Italian performer Romeo Castellucci’s   work that unites the  troubled  subconscious  of  victims of  violence of our contemporary world.  His bits of spoken word and dialogue often based on the great founding narratives of the Western World,   take audiences far away into  visually disturbing places of  pre-civilization, where we can rediscover  the human body and rethink its role in the human uhrschleim of existence. 

In 2003, Castellucci  created a cycle of  eleven ongoing performances entitled  La Tragedia Endogonidia . Each one based in a different European city  which became a source of inspiration to examine different notions of Tragedy, understood as an Aristotelian –theatrical concept. Thus , at each stage of these different moments of the Endogonidia,  the title of the  segment  referred to the individual city and some particularity that defined it.  Castellucci attempted to  create visual, musical, corporeal and other  performative elements  with  the intervention of technology , producing a portrait of the subconscious,  acquired from each urban space, given its recent history and special attributes.

Currently, the  Barcelona based  Company La Veronal  , under the artistic direction of  choreographer , Marcos Morau , has  just  finished   its run  of Siena at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa,  where this Company   seems to  conceive its work in a similar way.  Morau  refers to  the  great European cities whose undercurrents  were reimagined by Castellucci  in the Tragedia. Of course,  Castellucci is a visual artist, and someone closer to theatre whereas Morau thrives on dance- (theatre) and corporeal performance, but all these artists  use multiple forms  of creation  so that each specific form seems to lose its  original function and acquire new ones.    Painting acquires the categories of dance or film, dance acquires the categories of  acting bodies  or even  gazing bystanders,  moving bodies become frozen tableaux that refer  to frescos  painted on walls and canvasses whereas   portraits come alive and gaze directly at those who behold them so the portrait becomes the voyeur and not the artist.   All this  crisscrossing forces us to readjust our gaze and that is the most exciting aspect of these  events.

Using Siena, the Italian city with its  reputation as the site of the   high renaissance period and depository of  the great works of art of the Cinquecento,  Marcos Morau, choreographer of this piece, confronts  a dramaturgical  text  announced by an off stage voice, a group of dancers almost acrobats, set designers, corporeal  experimentation, varieties of sound, a space in constant transformation, to create a form of counter narrative that perhaps  corresponds to the  artistic existence of this specific urban space or at least, tells us something about the postmodern era of theatrical performance:   nothing is stable, all is in constant movement, all swirls in constant change as Heraclitus told that we can never step twice into the same river because the world, as the act of performance,  is in state pf  constant flux,  all things pass and nothing stays immobile..!  Siena  captures the constant mobility of art that roles forward like a film  even at the end when  death  surges forth.  But even then, does the process stop?  It is not certain. .

At the beginning,  lights come up on a large space that resembles an art gallery. There are benches front of stage. A door opens  to a dark area behind the portrait on the wall. At  the back, sound is rumbling.  A woman  sitting on a bench with her back to us  seems to echo an offstage female voice telling us how she came to this space that has become a museum. At the same time,  a man in a black suit stands off to the side apparently watching her as she  appears to contemplate a huge canvas against the upstage wall. It’s  Titian’s Venus d’ Urbino, the work of the  great Italian master of the high Renaissance .  This site of near silent  “Adoration” of the work of art  suggests something almost  religious is in progress,  as  a female voice-off from behind the portrait,  explains  how she came to this room , how she has seen it before, how she thinks  she recognizes it, how it strikes fear in her.  We are not really sure who is speaking or if there is another presence “off”  watching these events. The mystery thickens.  

  Suddenly a group of dancers/acrobats moves into the room and  they begin  performing  muscular, intertwining movements  with each other’s  legs , arms,  heads;   dancing appears to be a  form of violent mime  creating  an atmosphere that counteracts the immobility  of the woman’s  recorded voice off stage, we assume,  stating that the  face of Titian’s nude woman  seems to ressemble her’s.  The nude’s face  lights  up as though it were watching her  and the woman says she feels  she has met this  reclining women in the portrait before and that she is looking at herself.:   . “I feel I have done this before”  so who is watching whom. Whose gaze is fixed on whom?  And who am I?   is the figure watching me?  Have we discovered a state of double consciousness professed by  W.E.B.Dubois  (the Souls of Black Folks)  who describes the oppressed individual’s sensation of  feeling as though his/her  identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have  a sense of unity.

At that  point our attention is solicited  from so many points of view at once that it is almost impossible to focus our gaze at any  point in particular as each space is fulfilling its own desires so  we tend to  cling to  outstanding moments to see how our own experience contributes to producing meaning.

A voice-off describing the  portrait of  beautiful black man that is the  antithesis of the Titian portrait on stage,  creates the impression that we have been shifted back to another time period as if  the world were inverted by those multiple conflicting gazes. The sign of a  space  quickly turning into a true  theatrical performance constantly in progress,  moving , constantly  watched by the woman on stage who also feels she is being watched by the portrait and by the man in the black suit at the corner of the room. .

Singing voices  flood  our ears as the dancers invade the “museum” space of the theatre  and   morph into a mass of undifferentiated  bodies that suggest dark greying human shapes  spread out below  the huge Titian portrait in a  tableau of a  Last Supper of confused bodies in  striking contrast to the shining warmth of the   human fleshy forms of  Titian’s nude. 

The set changes, and  a new tableau of death appears.  A  woman lies in state on a casket  with a bright red wreath at her feet. The voice -off recognizes the body as herself lying in a deathly state.   What was beautiful and exhilarating has become the end of life and all sounds  now relate to  a post- life of terror and drama as the living and the dead meet.

 Memories of political speeches  from a hysterical dictator and  roaring crowds yelling  as  guns   crackle, bells toll.  The narrator tells us she is terrified so let’s look “beyond the picture”.   “I see        myself in that body lying there before us ” as a requiem swells in the background.  The stretcher  bearers will take her away beyond the gunfire and the flames.  What are those memories of suicide as a black body, arises like a zombie out of the ashes of his casket,  a creature destroyed  by fire starts  lurching out of control  leaping and   gyrating  like the dancers earlier except where he removes his costume before us and becomes the man in the  black suite who  observed the woman in the  museum at the beginning. Now we have come  full circle as the rain which drove the women into the museum at the beginning,  invades the gallery and pours into the room.

                The circle is closed, but the movement continues because a circular cosmology can only  continue with no end in sight.  La Veronal has captured something essential about the continuous flow of contemporary performance and we  must wait for the next  episode to see  how it evolves. .

  Siena coproduced by La Veronal, Mercat de les Flors (Barcelona ) and Hellerau European Centre  for the Arts (Dresden).

   Marcos Morau, Artistic director, Choreography, in collaboration with the dancers.

 Pablo   Gisbert- El Conde de Torrefiel  Text and Dramaturgy

                With a Company of  ten dancers. .

                Space and lighting design.  La Veronal, Enric  Planas

                Costumes           Octvoia Malette

                Voice-off            Victoria  Macarte, Benjamin Nathan Serio