Saturday, October 27, 2012

40 Days of Birthday: Day Thirty-Four

When performance is really moving, I struggle to find the words to write about it. It can have such a personal resonance with me and touch me in such a way that defining it on paper narrows its impact somehow. Unfortunately, in choosing to get a PhD in Performance Studies, I’ve agreed to do nothing but write about performance. Tonight I saw another work as part of the Foreign Affairs festival sponsored by the Berliner Festspiele. This piece was by Italian Director Romeo Castelucci and is called "The Four Season’s Restaurant." I’m providing below the artist's description as presented by the Berliner Festspiele not as an alternative for me discussing the performance myself, but because I’d rather spend time articulating my experience, however inarticulate it may end up being:

“It all starts with the desire to say no: when American artist Mark Rothko had completed a cycle of paintings for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York, he decided to refuse their exhibition after a personal crisis. He saw this restaurant’s commitment as the epitome of a new bulimia of images. Nowadays, this cycle of monumental canvases forms the nucleus of the cathedralesque Tate Modern Gallery in London.

The Four Seasons Restaurant is a reference to Rothko’s late masterpiece: the audience is confronted by a gigantic black rectangle that hides the entire stage, accompanied by ear-splitting music and fragmentary texts – an overwhelming technical arrangement that overpowers the senses. Mass, adoration, idolatry figure alongside fundamental concepts of religion, philosophy and nihilism in director Castellucci’s work, who started out as a visual artist.

The Four Seasons Restaurant is part of a cycle including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story The Minister’s Black Veilabout Reverend Hooper, whose decision to always appear in a black veil was based on a similar act of refusal. Castellucci’s production On the Concept of Face Regarding the Son of God, which also belongs to The Minister’s Black Veil cycle along withThe Four Seasons Restaurant, raises similar questions about hunger, desire and torture in the face of a superior image.”

The piece was in Italian with German subtitles. I was able to gather only a little of what the German was relaying. We were advised to take the free earplugs handed out before the show. It would be loud, they said. The “overture” was a sonic blast of tones from a black hole, as recorded by NASA. Titles on a screen in front of the stage explained what we were listening to. When the curtain rose, one by one, young women entered the stage, each dressed in North American Amish fashioned “plain dress” skirts and pinafores. Each grabbed a pair of scissors, cut off the tips of their tongues, and mopped the blood from their mouths with a handkerchief. What followed was the telling of an epic tale, the plot of which I only gathered in pieces. The story was told with grand, theatrical, melodramatic gestures and called to mind a medieval Passion Play. Beyond text, much of the story was told in imagistic movement sequences: at the conclusion of the story, the women formed a clump and writhed together until, one by one, each women was “born” from the group. Once a woman fell from the group as a “new born” the others stripped her naked, embraced her, and sent her off the stage to someplace else. Once all of the women were born this way, the epilogue began:

The blank white stage the woman had been on disappeared behind black curtains. With the music from the black hole and the rhythmic veiling of the white, watching the stage being engulfed put me in a trance. The downstage curtain slowly dragged upstage toward the back revealing a dead horse, laying on its side. No sooner had the horse been revealed but the curtain dragged forward to cover it again. The sounds from the black hole continued to play. The curtain lifted to a wall of gushing water in a tank but soon discovered to be a deluge of small black particles being blown wildly about. After several minutes I noticed a woman sitting in the midst of it all, waving a flag. As the particles began to rest and become still, the face of a woman, as large as the stage could be seen. She was Mother Mary drawn on the back wall. Just then, the naked young women came onto the stage and rushed toward the mother, reaching for her mouth as she looked down to them.

Weeping beauty, truly gorgeous. 

Photo source for horse image and last image found here
Photo source for "birthing" image found here.

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