Kunstenfestivaldesarts was over last week. I managed to see a play, a dance performance and a film. I wish I could have seen more.
- Timeloss, Amir Reza Koohestani, Mehr Theatre Group, Iran
Twelve years ago Koohestani put on stage Dance on Glasses which turned into big success. It was an autobiographical piece prompted by his separation with the woman he loved. In Timeloss the two characters, played by Mahin Sadri and Hassan Madjooni, meet again after all these years of separation to record their voices for a DVD version of the play. We see them sitting on chairs, in the two ends of the stage at Théâtre National de la Communauté française, with little tables in front, facing the audience but not looking at each other. Behind them on a screen we see their younger selves sitting at the two ends of a table facing each other. We will listen to the same dialogues repeatedly and the fictional will merge with the real as they are arguing about their separation. Their interaction is intense, emotional, leaving no hope for reconciliation. It is obvious that they still love each other but they won’t be able to look into each other eyes nor get up from their chairs till the end. This is how the author has written about it:
“A play that offers no answer because the person who wrote it feels that he has been taught a lesson as much as its audience has. I’ll leave the answers and the solutions to politicians and TV broadcasts. My theatre continues to be that of the inability of men and women to get up. Perhaps it has become slightly more pessimistic. At the end of Dance on Glasses, at least, when the man saw that he was going to lose everything and the woman was going to leave him, he got up and moved towards her in the hope of holding on to her. In Timeloss, when the man loses everything, he remains where he is, happy to watch. Timeloss is a play about self-denial. It deals with the past – it’s not about regretting it, but about rejecting it. More specifically, it doesn’t deal with the past but with how the past is seen.”
I really liked it. The only thing which was a bit challenging was reading the subtitles, which were changing fast, while trying to observe the reactions and expressions of the actors.
- Pindorama, Lia Rodrigues, Brazil
We were invited to enter the hall of Kaaitheater. There were no more than two-three chairs. People sat on the floor. So did I. A few persons unfolded large nylon cover, set in a couple of layers. They put nylon balls filled with water at many places. Then they held the endings of the cover. A completely nude woman appeared, lied down and started making movements as if she was swimming. The people who were holding the cover started making wavy movements. As the woman was swimming, she was reaching the balls with her body and breaking them. The water was spilling around, the movement was becoming faster and more intense and water drops were reaching those sitting in the first line. It was not late after when a wild river was raving in front of us, flinging the woman’s body as if she was a toy. She was fighting with the water, trying to keep herself on its “surface”, exhausted but determined to survive. It was very powerful and real. In the second piece it was already five nude people, two men and three women, interacting with the river and with one another, mingling their bodies in a physical discourse of hatred and passion. When this was over too, the nylon was folded back and the same people started bringing more balls with water and putting them among us, making us move with the words: “Sorry…, excuse me”. People started getting up. Now we were all standing and the water balls were all over the place. The actors appeared again, crawling literally in our legs. It was dark in the room and we would only hear the sound of a broken plastic and water spilling from different directions. We were walking in water now and the actors were continuing to interact on the ground, like huge snakes moving with the flow of their game. At that point I sat on one of the chairs and started observing from distance. Being a human rights activist, I always opt for equality and having nude people in my legs was not exactly an equal situation. Soon after the performance was over. It was very impressive and involving.
This is how the performance was announced on the festival webpage: “The artistic creations of Lia Rodrigues are emblematic of her political and social engagement. As the driving force of an arts centre in one of Rio’s largest favelas, the Brazilian chorographer makes no distinction between her dance and the heterogeneous society in which she implants herself. Pindorama was Brazil’s name before Portuguese colonisation. Pindorama is also the name of the final part of a trilogy that began with Pororoca. It describes a physical, sensorial, and spiritual landscape in constant transformation. With scant resources – a bare room, a plastic tarp, naked bodies, water – the choreographer evokes a torrent of images. A group of dancers moves between vulnerability and violence, between virginity and destruction. From solitary individuals, they evolve into a teeming crowd; they dream of a collective body as a shield against the fury of the elements. With this compelling ‘living installation’, Lia Rodrigues plunges us into a utopia.”
- Bergman in Uganda, Markus Öhrn
We were asked to wait in the elegant art deco lobby of the Cinema Marivaux. A man guided us to another street where we entered a dark corridor with brick walls whose colour was falling apart leading to a huge space with high ceiling. There were two screens facing each other and a few rows of simple benches between them. There were blankets left on the benches of which we made good use later as we were feeling more the lack of heating. A man told us to feel free to move and walk around during the projection. Then it started. On one of the screens we were seeing the audience placed in a space very similar to the one we were in but only a lot smaller. On the one screen the film they were “watching” was being shown – Ingrid Bergman’s Persona. There was a man, sitting on the first row, among the audience in the film, explaining the context of the European realities and what was happening between the characters. We were put in a position to turn our heads all the time in order to follow both Bergman’s film and the VJ’s interpretation on and the reactions of the Ugandan audience to it
Markus Öhrn got the idea for his film by the VJ tradition in the local video halls in Uganda. Since the cinemas in the malls were too expensive for the people in the slams, some English-speaking locals started this practice by organising very cheaply film projections in the slams. The role of the VJ is to interpret the movie for the audience live in an understandable and entertaining way so that they can stay till the end of the showing. The VJ in the film makes hilarious comments such as: “You see them now sunbathing. They have interesting mindset these white people, they want their skin to become dark. We want to be white and we try to avoid the sun while they are sunbathing! This woman refuses to speak since, now we understand, she had an abortion once. These people, they have no real problems and get worked up for such things. Women here have hundred abortions during their lives and we see this woman suffering for one abortion. Is there a woman in this room who never had an abortion? Of course there isn’t”. But as much as the way he compares the two realities is funny, it also creates a picture to us of the life people live there which is not funny at all.
“Those people ask themselves similar questions, but not in the way we do, because we have everything we need. The kind of mental illness presented in Persona, becoming mute or being burnt out, doesn’t exist in daily life in Uganda, because there it’s about getting food to your family, paying for the kids to go to school, trying to make a better life, especially if you are in a slum. The existential problems displayed in this movie are totally alien to them. A big part of the film is spent in a summer house, and the VJ is so confused about why the characters need to relax in a special house in the summer”, shares Öhrn in an interview.
The three pieces I saw in Kunstenfestivaldesarts were all distinctive, original and powerful. Then it was also the settings, where they were shown, which corresponded to their content and messages and engaged the spectators in an unexpected and exciting way. Left alone the venues were impressive themselves with nice cafes where the audience could afterwards have a glass of wine and chill out.
The festival offered a lot more, including meetings with many of the artists, book presentations and debates. Tickets were being sold out very rapidly. I was away big deal of the time anyway but the experience echoed inside me long after.