An ex­per­i­ment in the words of Lorca

NYUAD stu­dents un­der Chilean di­rec­tor Car­los Díaz León are bring­ing Span­ish play­wright Lorca’s pas­sion to the cap­i­tal, al­most a cen­tury on, writes Clare Dight

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Clare Dight is the editor of The Re­view.

“Ev­ery­one, take 10 min­utes,” Car­los Díaz León says, as the group of New York Univer­sity Abu Dhabi drama stu­dents break from re­hearsals in­side the Black Box at the univer­sity’s Arts Cen­ter. The huge per­for­mance space has been trans­formed to evoke the world of the early 20th-cen­tury Span­ish play­wright Fed­erico Gar­cía Lorca.

Stucco walls pro­vide both a back­drop and a screen for an ever-chang­ing video pro­jec­tion, mu­sic will pro­vide a cin­e­matic sound­track to the en­fold­ing ac­tion and there are nu­mer­ous trap doors and out­sized stage props to en­able the cast to slip be­tween jux­ta­pos­ing scenes of three of Lorca’s best-known and most pow­er­ful plays. In the pause from Mu­jeres Ca­bal­gando en la Arena/Women Rid­ing in the Sand, an orig­i­nal work in­spired by Lorca’s Blood Wed­ding, Yerma, and The House of Bernarda Alba, the cast sit cross-legged, lap­tops open, chat­ting about their task as Aysan Ce­lik, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of theatre at NYUAD and per­former, nois­ily prac­tises voice ex­er­cises with a stu­dent.

Ad­e­quate voice pro­jec­tion in the cav­ernous Black Box is just one of the skills to be mas­tered as the stu­dents start to in­habit the stage and make it their own.

There’s a tremen­dous buzz and en­ergy, even late into the evening, as the stu­dents pre­pare to do a full run-through of the hour-long play in front of the stage, where the chairs will even­tu­ally line up in rows, wait­ing for the au­di­ence in just over a week’s time.

As well as the cast of 22 stu­dents ap­pear­ing on stage, there are nine stu­dent ap­pren­tices work­ing with pro­fes­sional theatre-mak­ers on pro­duc­tion, set de­sign, dra­maturgy, di­rect­ing, cos­tume de­sign and stage man­age­ment.

Be­yond the theatre pro­gramme it­self, the pro­duc­tion has tested the skills of NYUAD stu­dents in the mu­sic pro­gramme to de­sign a sound­scape, film stu­dents to pro­duce a doc­u­men­tary on the pro­duc­tion, and stu­dents in the vis­ual arts pro­gramme to de­sign the bill posters.

Speak­ing to me ear­lier, León, a pro­fes­sor at Duoc UC in San­ti­ago, Chile, an ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tor and theatre di­rec­tor, who is cur­rently in a seven-week res­i­dence at NYUAD, ex­plained the gen­e­sis of the pro­duc­tion. He de­scribes the per­for­mance as an “ex­per­i­men­tal lab­o­ra­tory” based on Lorca’s orig­i­nal texts and the re­sult of work­shops with the NYUAD drama stu­dents.

“We started to work on th­ese scenes from Yerma, Blood Wed­ding and The House of Bernarda Alba that all have things in com­mon,” he tells me. “We get into this mix­ing ma­chine and we talk about the con­cepts and we cre­ate with the scenes, and the con­nec­tions and tran­si­tions be­tween them, some­thing new.

“For ex­am­ple, we have four Yer­mas say­ing the same lines [but] in dif­fer­ent ways, we also have four Juans, so those scenes are al­most the same, but each one of them has a new point of view and a new emo­tional range.”

The themes within the text as Lorca’s men and women strug­gle to rec­on­cile their per­sonal de­sires with tra­di­tional so­cial roles are uni­ver­sal, and that is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate, León says, given the ex­traor­di­nar­ily di­verse back­grounds of the NYUAD stu­dents, who orig­i­nate from Costa Rica to Oman, Ja­pan to Chile, Fin­land to In­dia, Hun­gary to Jor­dan, and al­most ev­ery­where in be­tween. To have de­liv­ered a con­ven­tional stage in­ter­preta- tion of a Span­ish play from the 1920s would have seemed out of step, cer­tainly.

The plays’ sub­ject mat­ter is test­ing for any ac­tor: jeal­ousy, frus­tra­tion and long­ing are but a few of the emo­tions on dis­play. So how did the stu­dents pre­pare for their roles? Dis­cus­sion played no small part, León tells me.

At the re­hearsal, León is tire­less in his di­rect­ing and in help­ing the stu­dents to use their bod­ies as well as voices, and tak­ing the words off the page to con­vey mean­ing. “My goal is to get the stu­dents into this world of ten­sions on stage, and to be aware of your body and how your body is telling us a lot of things.”

León hopes that the au­di­ence will be touched by what they see and be moved to dis­cuss it. “I am not promis­ing any­thing,” he says, “but I think that the au­di­ence will get into this world.”

Mu­jeres Ca­bal­gando en la Arena/Women Rid­ing in the Sand is per­formed at the Black Box, NYUAD Arts Cen­ter, from March 10-12, at 7pm, plus a mati­nee on March 12. Visit www.nyuad-art­scen­ Free en­trance but book­ing is es­sen­tial.

Christo­pher Pike / The Na­tional; Cour­tesy NYUAD

Women Rid­ing in the Sand, di­rected by Car­los Diaz Leon, above, is per­formed at NYUAD.

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