30 October 2006

Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels

MIAF 2006
Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels
Socíetas Raffaello Sanzio
Melbourne International Arts Festival

12 October 2006
CUB Malthouse, Merlyn Theatre


Kristy Edmunds program selection polarised opinions in 2005. The opening weekend of the 2006 festival has already evoked similar extreme responses. Post show discussions are not about details of interpretation, but whether works are brilliant or appalling. Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels is either a must see event or a boring and irrelevant piece of self indulgence.

Socíetas Raffaello Sanzio was founded in 1981 by Romeo Castellucci. The Tragedia Endogonidia series was developed between 2002 and 2004 in ten European cities. This process produced 11 episodes, each working as an individual production. Melbourne is seeing the fouth episode, developed in Brussels.

Visually the production is stunning. Castellucci creates theatre as art. His use of colour, space, and light create powerful images and his stage is continually presented as a well-designed canvas. He juxtaposes human with non-human forms and plays with unexpected and absurd combinations. A beared old man appears in a garish floral bikini and eventually proceeds to put on a complicated set of white (religious?) robes and finally a police uniform. It’s humorous, and quite literally layered with multiple meanings.

Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels has everything I usually love in a production. Dense theatrical language, creation of new form, abandonment of tradition, blood, violence and a small rhinocerous. It presents images and moments without explanation and forces the audience to devise their own interpretation. It could simply be that you are born, you die and get the crap beaten out of you in between - or a complex reconstruction of personal identity - or a contemplation about physical endurance - or an exploration of aging - or an intellectual deconstruction of the traditional dramatic form of tragedy, using traditions from the avant guarde.

By leaving interpretation open, Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels certainly does force you to consider your role as spectator and observer, but I wasn’t engaged with what I was watching.
This production aims to communicate directly to all our senses. I understood it intellectually, but had limited emotional and certainly no visceral reaction. I was neither shocked nor disturbed. Setting up the theatricality of the violence, diluted its impact.

The one consistent reaction to the production is the emotional response to the smallest cast member. A baby, not yet crawling, lies downstage. Its only company a metallic parody of a human head spouting nonsensical language. This cannot fail to provoke the universal reaction to gush at the cuteness of the child combined with the desire to protect it from its lonely existence – or even from the theatre makers who put a baby on the stage. We weren’t so keen to protect the old man in a bikini or even the man being continually beaten and forced into a body bag.

The opening night applause was lacklustre and unsure. It felt like the audience wanted to like it a lot more than they did. By all accounts the following night’s audience reaction was rapturous. Perhaps we just got a dud night.

Did I enjoy Tragedia Endogonidia BR.#04 Brussels? No. Am I glad it is in this program? Yes. The genius of this festival program is that it does create extreme reactions. An arts festival should continue to challenge and surprise its audience. We can chose to see safe, conservative (and mostly enjoyable) arts practice any other time of the year. Kristy Edmunds lets us experience challenging theatre from all over the world. Surely this can only benefit us as audiences and as practitioners.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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