Saturday, 3 May 2014

Even the Stones are Sad

A Final Word

from the William Kentridge exhibit in Bogota

Finally, for all the inspiring talk and all the brilliance, there seemed to me to be one enormous elephant in the room. It was pointed out – unanimously – by a panel made up of indigenous elders from around Colombia.

“Coal is the brain of Mother Earth,” said an elder from the peoples of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. He addressed the audience as Little Brothers – and his people have had a long track record of being the Elder Brothers, predicting coming natural events through living in harmony with their mountains, and reading the minute changes.

But the changes are no longer minute. Climate change – probably the most enormous calamity our species has ever faced – is on its way. And, as in Canada, it is the Native population who seems to be paying it the attention it deserves.

What was remarkable for me was that here were three South American native leaders – from nations I knew nothing about – who were asked to speak of their culture and art. What they all chose to say, speaking with generosity, and authority, is that our culture and our art are tied to nature, and nature is not well. THAT’S what is now important.

What struck me as odd, listening to these men, is that the world’s artists (with some notable exceptions), are not yet up to speed on this file. And yet our role will be important, as it always has been in processing upheaval (as evidenced here vis a vis the violence in Colombia and as evidenced throughout history in times of war, disaster or disturbance). But we need to heed the warnings of elders such as these.

“Where there is no respect for others, there is death”. Says an elder from the Wayuu people. “How can we reach well being if we are spending resources from our Mother Earth for war?”

He speaks of the current state of his homeland: “We are hungry. We are thirsty. And our animals are dying. The plants are sad. The plants are desolated. Birds are sad. Even stones are sad.”

Another elder, from a different nation, says, “Wherever you are, give back to mother earth what you have received. Prepare a world for those who will be here after.”

In the end, this was what I learned in Bogota. That massive change is coming. That it may very well render even the stones sad. And that artists, undisciplined, caring, dedicated, asking for your time and your presence –such artists can help.

Sylvie, from Cirque Eloise in Montreal - final party. 

Mariana - a theatre student from Bogota, and the Most Helpful Person

Ryan Cunningham, from Native Earth in Toronto, Allegra Galvin from the Quarterhouse in England, and me. Although I seem to have lost my teeth, i also seem unperturbed by this.

The Band on the last day. 

from the William Kentridge exhibit in Bogota

William Kentridge

One of the stations of the cross on the walk to the Monseratte Monastery

National Gallery. Not yet out of the frying pan...

Botero exhibit at the National Gallery

A view of Bogota

Street view
me, Daan Bauwens (from de Bijloke in Ghent), Chris Lorway (Soundstreams, Toronto), and Frank Pauwels (also from de Bijloke), stride to the next session

Street view

The startlingly intelligent Olga from the board of Circolombia

The Out of Control Don't Spend Too Much Time with This Man or you will Die Laughing Jonathan Holloway, from the Perth Festival

Allegra and Friend

William Kentridge

City Bus (they are all brightly and variously painted)

When in doubt...

Street view

Behind the Monestary

The amazing Shoshana Polanco from the Buenos Aires fesitval

Colombian Soprano, Betty Garcia

a face from a doc on Colombian violence - all these people sang songs they composed about what had happened to them.

Monastery graffiti

Street view

a peek at Bogota

William Kentridge

Thursday, 1 May 2014

On the Boards in Bogota

Three Buildings/Three Shows.... 

1) Teatro Colon / The National Theatre of Colombia

Teatro Colon

Constructing a new stage under Teatro Colon

Teatro Colon: an enormous renovation project of an old and beautiful stacked balcony building. It is being run by a man I coincidentally met while traveling in Iran a few years ago: Manuel José Alvarez. The theatre is gorgeous – a pristine example of the colonial past. The plans for the building include accessibility for the poor. The ticket prices for the top balcony will be low and all shows will be live-streamed to a new complex in a poor neighbourhood, with tickets there being about one dollar.

2) Teatro la Candelaria

Buying Tickets at La Candelaria

La Candelaria Courtyard

A pre-show snack

Walking in La Candelaria district at night

La Candelaria: the historic home of resistance and experiment. This is a famous theatre within the Colombian context for original and political work. It has survived for years by being, as one of the founders said, like bamboo: able to bend, but never losing its footing. The building is wonderful – an open-air courtyard with a garden and seating in the centre, a small canteen with coffee, food and beer, and a theatre that sits about 200. Perfect.

3) Mapa Teatro 

This is the home of one of the most thrilling experimental companies in Colombia. It was founded in France, in 1984 by Heidi and Rolf Abderhalden. The company was moved to Bogota in 1986. Since 2000, they have been based in an old house in the centre of Bogota. It's a terrific space - old colonial architecture with with a two level central courtyard. The upper level is occupied by artist studios. The lower level is a cafe, and a small theatre that serves as a laboratory for the company. It's gorgeous.

The courtyard at Mapa Teatro

The courtyard at Mapa Teatro

Three Shows
The three shows that really hit home for me, in retrospect, all seem to have something in common, despite being utterly different from one another. This commonality is something worth thinking about.

The shows are: Medea, from the National Theatre of Zagreb in Croatia (directed by Tomaz Pandur); Solos, written and directed by and starring Wajdi Mouawad, from Montreal (although the show originated in France at Le Theatre National de Chaillot); and Los Incontados, created and directed by Heidi and Rolf Abderhaldan for Mapa Teatro in Bogota. 

All three, in different ways, took leaps from the understandable into a terrain that was at once puzzling, compelling, and impossible to process with simple logic. As such, they remain vivid in memory. 
Medea, from Zagreb

1) Medea

Medea had a white-painted man on stage throughout, occasionally wearing an large powdered white wig, occasionally a horse’s head, and always a corset. He/she/it was sometimes acknowledged, and most often not. This figure was a riveting presence of something “other” or “not of the world” in the midst of the tragedy - God, Fate, the Chorus, the Banal - all in one. Mysterious and perfect for the world of Greek theatre.

Solos, by Wajdi Mouawad

2) Solos

In Solos, Wajdi Mouawad travelled inside the mind of a coma victim, without, at first, the audience (or the victim) realizing that this is what was happening. Once inside a human mind, all the rules of the stage changed – and a kind of pure creativity/imagination became possible – one that had no linguisitic component, and one – like a dream I suppose – that was no longer understandable in any empirical way, but somehow seemed essentially human. 
Los Incontados, from Bogota

3) Los Incontados

In Los Incontados (The Uncounted), the entire show was imagistic, impressionisitic and chaotic – a series of virtuosic tableaux of violence and the impact of drugs on Colombia from the 1960s to the present – with a cast of characters that included children, rappers, calypso musicians, corpses in clown masks, showgirls and magicians. It was a trip like no other I’ve experienced, and it operated on me in a way that was intense and indefinable.

And that’s the commonality I noticed – all of these artists were able to craft a stage language that was intense and indefinable. It reminds me of the American visual artist Robert Rauschenberg’s assertion that as soon as he understands something, he becomes bored with it, and looks to move on. “I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore,” he said. Something that can’t be ignored, can’t be understood and dismissed, something that sticks in the mind, like the thin edge of a wedge – this is something all three of these shows managed. This is a language of the imagination worth pursuing.

The Undisciplined Artist

One panel gathered together three luminaries of international theatre – one from Bogota (Rolf Abderhalden, co-founder of Bogota’s leading experimental group, Mapa Teatro); one from Mexico (Eduardo Bernal, from Teatro Línea de Sombra), and one from Germany (the famous composer, Heiner Goebbels).

Rolf – who directed one of the most hauntingly exquisite shows I saw here (Los Incontados - described above) speaks of the artist’s uneasy relationship with labels. “I believe the artist is undisciplined.” He speaks of the importance of protecting this undisciplined nature – of the dangers of commodification of art through labels such as “cross disciplinary work”. “The artist crosses borders in response to some force,” he asserts. Not because a genre has been named.

Heiner Goebbels extends this idea. Institutions are not the way forward, he says. The artist, the imagination is. “In the gap between what you know and what you don’t know yet – that’s the space for the imagination”.

He also quotes his friend Heiner Müller: “If you’re happy with the world as it is, you don’t need theatre.”

Fundraising for Artists: We Ask for Your Presence, We ask For Your Time

Early one morning, I attend a breakfast meeting with an entrepreneur from Mexico who is developing a new online platform for Arts Fundraising.

He speaks of the dilemma of paying for Art, when Art is not a good like other goods. What is important in Art, he says, is different. “We ask for you presence, not your money – your time, not your money” This is what art needs to be art. Money is not the point.

But money, he acknowledges, is necessary. So he is developing a new paradigm for arts funding. He calls it the “opposite to a credit card”. This platform – about to be beta tested in Mexico – is called “Freak Fund”. It invites you, the audience, to invest a present good (your money) towards a future product (a work of art). The system will have two front ends – one for producers who have a product (a show in development, for example) to interact with the Freak Fund people, and one for these same producers to interact with the public.

It will work like this: you – a member of the public – buy an “investment ticket” for a show that doesn’t exist yet. The project gathers this money early (like a subscription sale), and can use it. The investor will be incentivized to invite others to invest – so s/he is no longer a simple consumer. When the show is eventually made, the investor can go see it using her/his ticket. Of course – there are many more aspects to it than this – hence the beta test and the elaborate platform – but the principle is to combine something like crowd-funding with advanced sales. I’ll be curious to see how this works out.