Greek Myth as Potpourri of Multicultural Flavors Jul 13, 2008 13:25:32 GMT -5
Post by Bozur on Jul 13, 2008 13:25:32 GMT -5
Greek Myth as Potpourri of Multicultural Flavors
By SALLY McGRANE
Published: July 10, 2008
HOLSTEBRO, Denmark — A hush fell in the red room, the largest performing space in the former barn here that the experimental Odin Teatret has called home since 1966. The theater’s founder and director, Eugenio Barba, welcomed the 32 members of the Gambuh Desa Batuan Ensemble, who had just arrived from Bali and were sitting on the floor in sarongs. They were to play the roles of Medea and her kinsmen in “The Marriage of Medea,” a new production presented last month by the Odin in a town festival.
Julia Varley of Odin Teatret in Denmark as a Fate with puppets of Medea’s children.
In Holstebro, Denmark, a Balinese performer, right as Medea, interacts with the Golden Fleece as the Jasonites, a group of actors from around the world, look on.
“The Jasonite family and friends,” the 71-year-old Mr. Barba said, pausing to indicate fresh-faced performers in flashy hip-hop-inspired outfits sitting behind him, who were to play the Greek hero Jason’s followers and family members, “are very, very curious to know who you are, Medea’s people. We have the occasion now to greet each other in our own theatrical way. Then we will embrace each other and go back to work. The Jasonites will work very hard, otherwise my reputation will be spoiled."
Everyone laughed, though Mr. Barba may not have been entirely kidding. The performances that followed — a hip-hop-flavored song-and-dance sequence, a visiting Polish group’s a cappella rendering of a Georgian funeral song, a Balinese dance solo, and a love-song duet in Chinese and Portuguese between a Nanguan opera singer and a Brazilian percussionist — were the kinds of intercultural exchange that Mr. Barba and his group have been practicing for almost half a century. The Jasonites, however, were something new.
This summer Mr. Barba, who usually directs only his own actors and master practitioners of disciplines from Japanese Noh to classical Indian dance, invited an additional group of 33 performers from 23 countries to spend four weeks at his theater in this small town in western Jutland. Starting at 7 a.m. each day the performers took part in strenuous physical workouts drawn from Japanese and Latin American traditions.
They joined Odin actors in painstakingly exact vocal and physical exercises. They worked with props like sticks and flags. They met with Mr. Barba to develop scenes, songs and dances. They cooked, cleaned and, after dinner, watched live performances and acting demonstrations. Then, around 11 p.m., they began rehearsing whatever they had come up with that day.
The young actors also prepared to portray the members of Jason’s wedding party in “The Marriage of Medea,” which Mr. Barba and some of his regular Odin actors had already rehearsed in Bali. Once the Balinese arrived in Denmark, there were just a few days to incorporate the Jasonites’ performance before the play’s debut at a town festival that the theater sponsors every few years to thank Holstebro for its decades-long financial support.
The son of an Italian military officer who died shortly after World War II, Mr. Barba emigrated to Norway as a young man. In the early 1960s he moved to Poland to study theater, before returning to Oslo in 1964 to form his own company, Odin Teatret, which moved to Holstebro two years later. He has directed more than 50 productions for Odin, earning a reputation for an experimental and international approach to theater. Certainly Mr. Barba had aesthetic reasons for creating the Jasonite group. He was looking for a culturally and professionally heterogenous Western counterpart to the highly stylized Balinese dancers — the better to represent the clash of civilizations that occurs when Jason, the Greek hero celebrated for retrieving the Golden Fleece, marries Medea, the sorceress of Colchis, a kingdom in Asia Minor, who helped him in his quest.
“I wanted very young, vital power,” Mr. Barba said. “Something that could stand facing the expressive artistic power of the Balinese. Of course they can’t compete with the Balinese in terms of skill. But I try to make a performative fresco — this is a contrasting element.”
The Jasonites also constitute a new chapter for Mr. Barba. The theater has a long pedagogical tradition, and he holds workshops for directors. But aside from a production two years ago, in which he used a large group of more experienced performers to play plague victims, he had stopped teaching actors altogether.
“Eugenio wasn’t interested in them anymore,” said Julia Varley, a British-born actress who has been with the Odin Teatret since 1976. “But through giving workshop participants the possibility of performing, he’s found a new way into it.”
This is not unimportant in the life of the theater. “It’s our way to give away our heritage,” said Roberta Carreri, an Italian actress with Odin since 1974. “If the meaning of life is to keep alive what we are doing, this is spreading our genes. On a cultural, theatrical level, these will be our children.”
The Jasonites also developed a number of smaller performances to present at places like the local psychiatric hospital and a bakery as part of the town festival. “You are always thinking,” said Andrea de San Juan Hazen, a 23-year-old Spanish actress and circus performer who can ride a six-foot unicycle. “Your mind is an explosion of creativity.”
Adam Horowitz, 21, the only American Jasonite, who will be a senior at Yale this fall, said, “I stayed up with the Poles singing Sardinian songs until 2:30.” He had attended a performance by the Polish Teatr Zar group the night before. “Then I got up for the Balinese dance class at 7 o’clock. Where else do you have a chance to do that?”
The Jasonite group also included Álvaro Rodríguez, 36, whose theater group in Colombia works with massacre victims, and Sabera Shaik, 56, a director from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who served as the pinch-hitting translator when the Balinese leader became ill.
Participants described the experience as enlightening. Francesca Guillén, a 30-year-old performer from Mexico, was inspired by the Balinese to investigate her own cultural traditions. “Now, I feel a little bit naked,” she said. “I come here, and I would like to show something about my people, but all I can do is sing a song. It’s very Mexican, but it’s the only thing I can do.”
In Mr. Barba’s productions it is not unusual for actors to speak onstage in their native languages, and during rehearsal the language spoken could change five times in as many minutes.
For Marcelo Miguel, 31, who grew up in a Brazilian favela and is now a theater teacher in Germany, watching this led him to rethink his idea that as a nonnative German speaker, he could not perform in German.
“My horizons have been extended,” he said. “Acting is much larger than just language. What kind of a boundary is it, language?”
As the first performance approached, though, Mr. Barba was getting nervous. He called the Jasonites into the red room. “Everything you have learned in these days is in your hands,” he said. “But nobody can help you at the moment of truth: when you are standing before the spectators.”
Mr. Barba paused, looking around the circle of actors. “It is like a battle,” he said. “In the battle you will see your limitations and your capacities. Tonight is your fire baptism. Good luck. I hope I will be proud of you.”