Tuesday, January 31, 2017
what is dance?
by Douglas Messerli
Meg Stuart Hunter / Redcat (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) / the performance I attended, with Pablo Capra, was on Saturday, January 29, 2017.
Although she was born in New Orleans and danced with several companies in New York, choreographer and performer Meg Stuart now lives in Belgium where she has worked on over 30 productions, including Visitors Only, Built to Last, UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP, and, with Phillipp Gehmacher, Maybe Forever, performed at Redcat in 2009.
The performance I saw the other evening at Redcat, Hunter, is like several of her other works, an exploration of her own body—both her outer physical body and the internal body of her heart and mind.
The evening began with the dancer cutting up a wide range of images and pinning them to a paper to form a loosely-composed collage, projected from the cutting table. After the audience settled into their seats, she stood briefly before taking her body to the dance floor where she explored numerous positions from shaking, rolling, and possibly, imagining herself as a child in the snow making snow angels.
From a standing position she began exploring other parts of her body, arms, legs, breasts, and, in one long comic interlude played out with a large colorful penis shaped doll, even her vagina shaking and writhing in the spasms of sex. At one point she shouted out a kind of shamanist chant, and at another, carried a large Plexiglas frame which transformed the color of her body and the surrounding space of the stage.
As Stuart seems to be constantly asking, “What, after all, is dance?” Most dances also have partners, and, as literary theorist Marjorie Perloff has reminded us, there is also a “dance of the intellect.”
Finishing her free form talk, Stuart set up a series of audio experiments and small and larger videos that projected various abstract shapes across her breast and face. Finally, she quietly begin to put her things away, while a voice called out that the most important decision one can make is to change one’s mind, hinting that the hunter might, at any moment, return to the hunt and explore other bodily surfaces.
A quiet walk off stage ended the evening, except for the long applause of the sell-out crowd and several graceful bows from the dancer.
Los Angeles, January 31, 2017
Monday, January 30, 2017
Douglas Messerli | "Send in the Clowns" (on five short plays by Samuel Beckett: Act Without Words II, Come and Go, Catastrophe, Footfalls, and Krapp's Last Tape)
by Douglas Messerli
Samuel Beckett Act Without Words II, Come and Go, Catastrophe, Footfalls, and Krapp’s Last Tape (Beckett5) / Los Angeles, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Sunday, January 29, 2017 / I attended the production with Pablo Capra and Paul Sand
The other day, upon the news of British actor John Hurt’s death, I told my occasional theater-going friend, Pablo Capra, that I had already seen two of Hurt’s performances of the great Beckett play, Krapp’s Last Tape, one in a film version of the Beckett on Film series by Atom Egoyan and a second time, live at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California—both of which I had reviewed.
The very next day, we were planning to attend another local production of five short Beckett plays, including Krapp’s Last Tape, at Los Angeles’ Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, and he questioned me why might I want to see it again. I told him that, well, one simply could not get enough of Beckett, and that, even though I’d thought Hurt’s performance the highest pinnacle of that work, I’d probably be going back to Beckett plays, of every sort, for the rest of my life.
I still feel this, despite the fact that the Odyssey production of some of Beckett’s short plays, including Act Without Words II, Come and Go, Catastrophe, Footfalls, and, yes again, Krapp’s Last Tape was rather a mixed bag.
The other difficulty about Beckett’s plays is that, although they are often about impossibly lost and frustrated souls, his figures are also clowns, fools, and even idiots who demand that his characters not be played with deep dramatic gestures. The very abstractness, for example, of Act Without Words II, in which two are buried in bags, each, one by one, poked into life, is a challenge to any actor who desires to create a character. In this production, Alan Abelew and Beth Hogan, each podded by Norbert Weisser into temporary being, met with varying success.
Abelew presented his figure as a kind of tragic sad-sack, a bit like Nagg in Beckett’s Endgame, dramatizing the character in a way that, alas, made him more a existentially troubled figure rather than a merely morose one. Hogan, as the kind of happy-to-be-alive-again reincarnation, was much more successful—but that just may have to do with the fact that she is a more outsized and joyful figure.
I think director Enda Hughes got this short work more precisely in his narrow framed film with Marcello Magni and Pat Kinenave, which I saw after on the internet, where the characters, moving with a kind of silent-film jitteriness, came to life in more a Butser Keatonesque manner than Abelew’s and director Ron Sossi’s exaggerated counter-hero.
Castrostophe, also starring Abelew, Hogan, and Weisser was also pretty loyal to Beckett’s instructions. This play, often described as one of the playwright’s most political works—and originally dedicated to the imprisoned Czech playwright and later President, Václav Havel—is even, in part, about how the playwright’s intentions are too often distorted by the directors. Here, a living emblem of sorts, a kind of figure that appears might be right out of the Holocaust, is used as the subject of a soon-to-be-performed work in which the Director’s Assistant is equally subjected to absurd instructions of how to dress and undress, to whiten and light a living human being, as if he were simply a prop. Here Abelew, with graceful agility, lifts his head in a kind of final triumph against the directorial dogmatism, demonstrating a subtle revolutionary expression that denigrates the “catastrophe” (in this meaning, “an act of defiance”) in which he finds himself. And again, this short playlet seemed far preferable to David Mament’s transformed rendition in his Beckett of Film version—even though it’s hard to imagine his better cast than Harold Pinter as the Director and John Gielgud (in his final performance) as the living statue.
During the intermission I discussed these plays with my other theater-going companion of the evening, improvisatory comedian Paul Sand, and we both agreed that, despite the noble intentions of these productions and, my recognition of the remarkable directorial work of Sossi (I’ve now seen dozens of his productions) that Beckett was simply better with a lighter hand. And, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I had seen John Hurt do Krapp twice.
I truly admire the acting of Norbert Weisser, having seen him in my friend John O’Keefe’s Nazi-period play, Times Like These. And, given the difficulties of the work, I admire him for attempting the nearly impossible Beckett monologue, indeed a brave undertaking.
But Krapp, unlike Weisser’s interpretation, is not a failed lover angry with his past, but is, like so many of Beckett’s figures, an absolute fool, a man who could only bother to gather up his love for a single night’s pleasure. And as beautiful as that may have been, he is not a conventional hero, but an absolute idiot, another clown whom Beckett even forces, temporarily, to fall upon a banana peel—the banana being, apparently, his favorite and perhaps only—other than his endless draughts of whiskey—sustenance.
Los Angeles, January 30, 2017