Outscale Theater: Warlikowski, Castorf, Gosselin, Gaïotti
At a time when the boundaries between different artistic disciplines are becoming increasingly pororous, the performing arts are taking on bold new forms, both in time and in space. Bastien Gallet analyzes this phenomenon by looking at some highly ambitious theater productions put on in France last fall, all based on epic works of literature (Bolaño, Proust, Dostoevsky).
JUMBO PRODUCTIONS This fall season has been marked by several outsize productions, whether extremely long (twelve hours for 2666 by Julien Gosselin, over six for The Brothers Karamazov by Frank Castorf, which are nothing compared to the twenty-two hours for Peter Stein’s production of Goethe’s two Fausts in 2000) or very big (a disused factory for the Brothers Karamazov with the actors also using the roof). However, this sense of giant scale has less to do with spatio-temporal dimensions than it does with the very concept behind these shows, namely, that of showing whole worlds. The twelve hours of 2666 reflect the dimen- sions of the original Roberto Bolaño novel and the meandering quest that it describes. The labyrinthine staging constructed by Castorf in that factory in the northern Parisian working suburb of La Courneuve reflects the polyvocal nature of Dostoevsky’s book. As for Krzysztof Warlikowski’s virtuosic reassembly in Les Français, it is that of the multiple times woven by the narrator of Marcel Proust’s la recherche du temps perdu. Quite apart from the obvious interest of staging such texts—the challenge and the payoff in terms of public recognition—what is it that makes these directors work with such colossal masses of words? What can
Atheater make of books that it can present only in fragmentary form? There are two ways of answering this question. If we take the spectator’s viewpoint, then the experience provided by these productions is almost enough in itself to justify their extreme form. Long durations help create what we could call a community of endurance among actors and their audience. The longer it all goes on, the more this counts. The spectators become a kind of chorus, watching those who must keep playing their role right up to the bitter end and willing them on. From the viewpoint of the directors, staging such works allows them to explore a world that is at
once complete (a book is a finished, coherent object) and open (its complexity invites multiple, sometimes contradictory interpretations, and means that they can resonate with periods quite remote from the ones in which they were written). ADAPTING We must distinguish between adaptation and rewriting. Adaptation aims at fidelity. It implies a significant cognitive and epistemological operation that is often hidden: a decision as to the meaning. It presupposes that the meaning of what is adapted will survive its adaptation. It therefore presupposes that there is a meaning that must of course be chiseled out, in fact constructed, and that this is the whole point of the staging. In Gosselin and his troupe’s adaptation of the Bolaño novel, the plotting and characters are embodied with the greatest possible fidelity. They follow the structure and contents of the book, including the fourth part, that of the “crimes,” which is the hardest to stage. As in the novel, there is a constant alternation between descriptions of the killings (projected on a black screen) and the story of the imprisonment of the presumed murderer. The logic of performing arts is all about representation, and everything in that vertiginous novel can be represented: except its meaning. The complex, interweaving quests and inquests that form its structure neither conclude nor come together (in spite of the many clues pointing to an expected convergence). Their parallel paths an illusion, the storylines never completely overlap or join, leaving numerous gaps in the false linearity of the chronology. 2666 is a chaos with no key. Its apparently simple narrative form, faithfully reconstituted by Gosselin, is deceptive. The essential lies outside narrative figuration, yet it affects the novel only on the edges of a form that remains imperturbably narrative-driven. The theatrical production, and especially the fourth part, turns this absent meaning into something very different: something unrepresentable, the excess of representation that undermines or cracks it. In Gosselin this excess seems to be concentrated in the figure of “evil,” which has the disadvantage of stopping up nearly all the holes built into the novel’s shaky structure. REWRITING Unlike Gosselin, Castorf and Warlikowski do not adapt, they rewrite. The person rewriting does not presuppose a meaning to be discovered, extrapolated and made palpable. On the contrary, they aim to multiply meanings, to invent new ones and discover others not yet observed, to bring out paradoxes, underscore problems, reveal dead ends, raise questions: in a word, to be unfaithful. They amputate, reorganize, reassemble, add, interweave and subject the work to all kinds of textual and theatrical experiences that open it up and displace it. In Les Français, Warlikowski puts words in the mouth of Captain Dreyfus, projects a remake of Andy Warhol’s Kiss, attributes a piece for cello and electronics to Charles Morel, inserts a monologue from Fernando Pessoa’s Anarchist Banker, the voice of Paul Celan reading Todesfuge and Phèdre’s confession to her lady in waiting. Above all, he reorders the chronology of A la recherche, putting together situations and passages taken from the different volumes. Les Français plays with time: periods interweave (Proust’s, our own, the time of gay liberation struggles, the postwar years and the aftermath of genocide) as do different types of time—the durations of love (the fleeting kiss, the arc of desire, the long term of relationships), animal and social cycles (the dance of bees, the gestation of seahorses and social seasons in their vivarium), historical time (that of ghosts and wars), the ritornellos of art (songs and dances). In Warlikowski, the maze is temporal in two senses: we not only go from
one period to another, we also go from one rhythm to another and one temporality to another. Theater does what the novel cannot do on its own: play simultaneously on these times and durations. Here, rewriting means embodying this play of times on stage:(1) not representing La recherche but making palpable the multiplicity of rhythms in which are figured and tied together all the different times linked by the work, with its stilts carrying it so much higher than the life of a man. THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV Frank Castorf’s rewriting of The Brothers Karamazov is primarily spatial. In the long, disused factory building in La Courneuve where the production was put on last Sep- tember, a small town was built by Castorf’s prodigious stage designer Bert Neumann (recently deceased, alas), or rather, several fragments of possible cities: two housing blocks linked by a walkway evoke 1960s New York, with one floor converted into an artist’s studio, with a mattress on the floor and posters on the wall; a dacha and its still pond around a garden kiosk evoking pre-Revolutionary Russia; a sauna where everyone ends up, with wooden stakes and a chimney for the steam; the starets’ cell, invisible from the tiers, small and narrow, is reached by a warren of corridors. Hans Holbein’s Christ in the Tomb is on the wall; the factory, finally, a leftover from Soviet times but also Berlin after the fall of the wall and Moscow today, Putin after Stalin, with a neon Coke ad in Cyrillic script in the distance, illuminating the void. At the center, in front of the tiers, a screen. On it are projected images filmed by the two cameras following the actors wherever they go. In this architectural, stripped incarnation Dostoevsky’s novel becomes a secret map of the times that followed and the Karamazovs are our guides through the labyrinths of the twentieth century. Each voice becomes a place and every place immerses us in a part of History: a History at whose doors bodies beat and voices cry. For Castorf, rewriting means dispersing these voices and these bodies through History and seeing what happens, how these disparate times react to the torments, hopes and imprecations of the three brothers; it means expelling the characters from their cocoon of fiction and measuring their resistance to the real. Making them into monsters. MONSTERS A monster is that which inexplicably shows itself. Inexplicably because, whatever the reasons one might discover for its presence, this is always preceding them. It bursts forth and interrupts. That is its way of being. But it does not appear any old how. Its appearance has a certain quality that has to do with what it shows and takes the form of the hidden underside of the world in which it appears. The monster overturns. By the simple fact of its presence it indicates the arbitrary presence of norms and rules that give form to the world. The monkey-headed character that bursts out of the half-light in the middle of Les Français as we hear the first bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss is one of these monsters. That it breaks the thread of the narrative is ultimately just a detail here. Its power comes from the fact that it introduces into the sterile world of Parisian salons and polite conversation an unjustifiable yet incontrovertible presence. Indecipherable, it seems to contain the scene’s suspended meaning. Then the actor doffs her mask and we recognize Mme Verdurin and the conversations resume, leaving the memory of something deeply disorienting. Sometimes, if rarely, we got to witness the birth of a monster. On a sparingly lit stage, we see and hear it happen. The certitude, of course, is retrospective. Nothing foretold the emergence of a monster from that halfnaked body, from its tights jingling with bells, from its slow, blind-person’s ges-
tures, from its faun-like postures. Yet all it takes for it to be there are a few bits of gold leaf gathered from the floor and placed on its face. The rest of the show will present the continuation of these metamorphoses. Stripped bare, it will present its body to the public, leaning against the concrete of the wall at the back of the stage, dismantled/remounted, invisible bust at a right angle, arms pressed to the wall over the buttocks and outspread legs, anus offered up. It will wear drag-queen shoes, dance to the sound of the electric guitar, show its genitals, and then will truly be a faun. The title of the show is PLUS DE MUSE Mais un Troupeau de Muets (No More Muses but a Herd of Mutes). Written and performed by Anna Gaïotti, it was presented at the Ménagerie de Verre last December as part of the Les Inaccoutumés festival . The only meaning of Anna Gaïotti’s monster lies in its becoming, but it strips and then remedies the expected forms of performative theater one by one: bells, ass, drag, guitar and genitals becomes the successive attributes of a body that none of them defines, a body that changes and mutates, elusive and unassignable. A body of this strange variety, although utterly other, also haunts Les Français. Shod in ballet shoes, masculine, a mask covers its head and it does not speak. Its face is neutral, devoid of distinctive traits, bald and smooth. The mask is black at first but at the end it becomes white. This mysterious figure dances, alone or with Oriane de Guermantes, whom it sometimes aggresses. It would be nice to say that it was the reverse or the repressed of what we see on stage, but that would be overstating things. It is the nameless and faceless figure who watches Les Français from within the play itself. A pure gaze. No-man’s gaze, a gaze that is constantly displacing the stage, making it re-signify, even if we cannot say what the new meaning might be. Before this gaze, the stage becomes the place where meanings are constantly unraveled and raveled up. A place where nothing is represented but everything is played.
Translation, C. Penwarden
2666 will be at the Théâtre National de Strasbourg from March 11 to 26 and at La Filature, Mulhouse, on April 6.
(1) On these questions and Warlikowski’s use of video,
see L’art vidéo à l’opéra dans l’oeuvre de Krzysztof
Warlikowski by Leyli Daryoush and Denis Guéguin, Alternatives théatrales, special issue no. 19, 2016. Philosopher and writer Bastien Gallet teaches at the Haute École des Arts du Rhin (HEAR). Krzysztof Warlikowski. « Les Français » (© Francuzi Tal Bitton)
Julien Gosselin. « 2666 » (© Simon Gosselin)
De haut en bas / from top: Sylvain Creuzevault. « ANGELUS NOVUS - AntiFaust ». (© Jean-Baptiste Bellon) Frank Castorf. « Les Frères Karamazov » (© Thomas Aurin). “The Brothers Karamazov”