Outs­cale Thea­ter: War­li­kows­ki, Cas­torf, Gos­se­lin, Gaïot­ti

Art Press - - THEÂTRE -

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”

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