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Portrait Romeo Castellucci 2014

Romeo Castellucci

Schwanengesang D744


    • Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
      November 28 to November 30

    Knowing what pain is, according to Schubert, knowing what abandonment is, according to Castellucci. Recital. The soprano, strangely far from the pianist, is at the centre of the stage. Dark suited, severe. Immobile, statue-like. Expressionless face. Her delicate singing rises up. Strange feeling of expectation. The lieder follow on, totally impassive. However, a veil of uncertainty has passed over her stilled features. Her glance has turned, distraught, in the direction of the “paradise” of the theatre as she comes to the eighth lied: Schwanengesang D744, Swan song. “How I lament, sensing death, the dissolution running through my limbs”. Contamination, physical, of the poem on the singer. She trips. About-turn. Goes off towards the back of the stage, clings to it, running her palms across it like a second Wailing Wall. Elsewhere now, already. With her back to us, the actress in the beige dress, has slid into the place of the singer, centre-stage. Cross-fade. Disappearance of one, appearance of the other. As if she was beneath the first one. A body, underneath her veneer. Sobriety, degradation. Soft movements, outdated, arms pointed towards “paradise”. Turning to face the glaring eyes, the actress explodes before the audience. Ethereal language gives way to vulgar language. Pain come back as rage. Insults rain down. Further degradation. The droning of Scott Gibbon’s soundtrack break into storms in the night air. In a streak of lighting, the song of the swan has descended into the song of a goat, its melody into the bleating of an animal, a Dionysian monster has defied the audience, pain, solitude and death.

    Conceived and directed by, Romeo Castellucci
    With Valérie Dréville, Kerstin Avemo (soprano) and Alain Franco (pianist)
    Music, Franz Schubert
    Interferences, Scott Gibbons
    Dramaturgy, Christian Longchamp
    Assistance to the director, Silvia Costa
    Costume design, Laura Dondoli, and Sofia Vannini
    Production, Benedetta Briglia, and Cosetta Nicolini
    Promotion and communication, Gilda Biasini, and Valentina Bertolino
    Administration, Michela Medri, Elisa Bruno, and Simona Barducci with Massimiliano Coli

    A production by Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio // A coproduction with Festival d’Avignon ; La Monnaie/De Munt (Bruxelles) // In collaboration with C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord ; Festival d’Automne à Paris
    The piece was first presented on the 25th July 2013 for the « Des Artistes un jour au Festival » program as part of the Festival d’Avignon
    In partnership with France Culture

    Approaching the unrepresentable
    Resistance against obliteration
    Romeo Castellucci is one of the major theatre reformers of the XXth century. Since his first links with the stage, over thirty years ago, he has never stopped investigating the stuff of theatre, right down to its very foundations. Each piece is the result of a painstaking reflection on the origins and ends of what might justify the practice of theatre-making today. He does this by the grace of that all-resisting, against all odds, archaism: the human being in all its representations. His achievement belongs to that category of work which succeeds in relaying our dealings with the character, its psychology, and intrigues in a world of allegories, verdicts, smells, colours and sounds, but which no longer involves the following of the narration of a fable, rather a mental journey across various blocks where unexpected connections arise between different kinds of objects. Each scene, the meaning of which is never “revealed”, has an element of the parable about it, and plays on elements ranging from the highly trivial to the ethereal. By questioning what has filtered and spread into theatre from other artistic, philosophical or religious, scientific or technological fields, each of Romeo Castellucci’s works alerts our senses, and shakes us to the core, both physically and spiritually. In somewhat broad terms, his work has been classified as a “theatre of images”, though the “image” is only one of the constituent parts of a complex investigation into figures and representation, encompassing the body, object, verb, space, light and time.

    Whenever the Festival d’Automne, with the complicity, on a regular basis, of the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, invites Socìetas Rafaello Sanzio, Romeo Castellucci’s company, to Paris, this latter has taken the Italy of the era of its omnipotent directors, namely Strehler and Ronconi, to a form of modernity that Carmelo Bene, in particular, had made inroads into. The work of the Rafaello company unfurls a fabric of references to Western thought and art at their most significant, ranging from the Sumerian statues to art-language. Hence, the confrontation of the oversized (and turned into black and white) Salvator Mundi by Antonello da Messina, with the underground reference to the work of the artist Piero Manzoni becomes the focal point of Sul concetto di volto nel foglio di Dio (“On the concept of the face, Regarding the son of God”). The same applies to in The Four Seasons Restaurant, where the developing storm set against a mannerist photograph from the XIXth century, encounters the works of Rothko, An even more potent anchorage point in the director’s work is that of literature, irrespective of genre. The search for the mot juste, noun, and its roots drives all the onstage developments. The subtitle of the Raffaello company’s Lucifero (1993) carried the following indication: “The older a word is, the deeper it goes”. Switching back and forth provides a measure of depth. Going from from the Bible to Shakespeare, from Aeschylus to Artaud or from Hawthorne to Hölderlin, and from the aleph to constellations of words, is a form of resistance against our own obliteration, a invocation to song and silence, and an affirmation, through the verb itself, of the staying power of the human being, even when it appears to have withdrawn from the stage.

    Representation and its consumption

    How do we approach the unrepresentable? Such is the question posed via the mention of the word Auschwitz in Genesi. And in the work entitled, From the Museum of Sleep, presented by the Festival d’Automne à Paris in 2000.In the words of Romeo Castellucci, “From Cain onwards, all acts of creation carry within them a black stone or core, its negative charge, and the power of this non-being undermines, from the inside, each claim to our existence. As such, this is a Genesis read and represented through the eyes of Cain, full of the tragic knowledge of emptiness.” The work is divided into three acts: In Principio (Berêsit); Auschwitz; and Cain and Abel. After the darkness of the “Beginning” - the In Principio which opens the Old Testament - in which the naked, deformed bodies of Adam and Eve writhe under a bombardment of signs and symbols - Auschwitz drowns the stage in a blinding light. A milky world full of softness and kindness, in which small children take up pared-down poses, as if observed from afar. In Act III, Cain, with only a stump for his left arm, confronts his father, while two dogs are unleashed onto the stage. The stage starts to pulsate with the effects of a tell-tale heart, its mortal flesh palpitating as it drums out the funeral drone. The myth allows History to be heard, and giant flames consume what is representable.

    Presented the same year at the Festival d’Automne à Paris, Il Combattimento dai Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, Libro VIII by Monteverdi was matched up against Combattimiento in liquido, an original composition by Scott Gibbons. The work featured a mixture of history, war, love and conception, blood and sperm, chemistry and physics, the baroque and electro. It resembled a mechanical ballet of an extraordinary nature, lead by hydraulic pantographs used in industrial painting, turning the set into a three-dimensional Pollock-like painting. Julius Caesar (1997), presented by the Festival the following year, brought together snatches of Shakespeare with those of Latin historians. And another murder. The father and the “son”. As Romeo Castellucci says, “I always saw the murder of Julius Caesar (same initials as Jesus Christ) as a euphoric and gentle eucharist, celebrated by Brutus”. Questions about the notion of statues and rhetoric arose. And with it, the figure of Cicero, literally full up to bursting point with the excess of discourse, and whose back is tattooed with double bass sound-holes. Then came Anthony, severely lacking discourse, subjected to a tracheotomy, the only way to seek out the vibrations of the voice being via endoscopy (performed live on stage).

    Though minor-orientated, Bucchettino (Little Thumb) is a mark of the importance of fairy-tales and the fantastical in the work of Romeo Castellucci. The primeval forest spreads in Tragedia Endogonidia, as it does in Parsifal, with its witches and ogres. The question of infancy in theatre and the infancy of theatre remains an essential one. As Romeo Castellucci reminds us, “Infancy, traced back to its Latin roots, is synonymous with the non-attainment of language”. And his work in theatre has been relentless in its search for the constitution of a language. The theme of infancy reappeared, once again, in 2004, in the Festival d’Automne’s revival of his adaptation of the Hamlet myth, Amleto. La veemente esteriorità della morte di un mollusco (1992). On a blackboard, an autistic youth, still in his prime, puts up graphs of a life divided by “To be AND not to be”. In 2006, Hey Girl! was proof of another departure from infancy. In it, Romeo Castellucci addressed a very contemporary-looking, young woman his “Je vous salue Marie...”, a series of enigmatic tableaux bursting with colours, bathed in the wondrous, the magical.

    The tragic look

    In between times, during the 2003 Festival d’Automne, the Ateliers Berthier were the scene of the sixth episode of “Tragedia Endogonidia” : P.#06 Paris. The Tragedia Endogonidia forms a cycle of eleven pieces which has no known precedent in theatre, rooted in the history of ten European cities. The cycle was staged from 2002 to 2004 ,and constituted a gigantic, eleven-sided polyhedron. The piece dealt with the end of tragedy in its original configuration and the difficulty of reinventing the tragic form. “There is no such thing as a tragic look worthy of that name, meaning that there is no look exists which is capable of creating a human community through its own strength alone. This is the task of the theatre in the future.”, wrote Romeo Castellucci at the time. Jesus goes in through a window, questions the Sphinx, and Hamlet’s skull, perhaps. Policemen, taken straight from an American vaudeville of some sort, reenact the sacrifice of Isaac on top of washing machines. French flags stick out from from walls, flapping amidst the void, long live the Liberation! The stage is set for the arrival of De Gaulle. Three cars fall from the ceiling. One, two, or three monotheism? The figure of the crucified reappears on the roof of one of the cars, carried up by a man in a red top-hat. Once again we have aleph and beth, sat astride a horse which fades from black to white.

    After the much talked-about Divina Commedia at the Festival d’Avignon (2008), the work of Romeo Castellucci headed off in a new direction. Romeo Castellucci talked of this new departure in terms of “a more transparent reading, with a pent-up form of energy, rather than an explosive one.” Sul concetto di volto nel foglio di Dio, presented at Théâtre de la Ville and CENTQUATRE-PARIS in 2012 bore witness to this new approach. It continued with The Four Seasons Restaurant in 2013, one element of a new cycle, entitled Voile noir du Pasteur, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Minister’s Black Veil. The work is not “organized” like Tragedia, but reveals itself through a process of unveiling - with the veil thickening all the while. Each new work is the occasion for him to go back to the drawing board of theatre, by focusing on this indomitable notion of the unrepresentable. As will be the case in the three pieces presented at this year’s Festival d’Automne: in Schwanengesang D744, a process of unveiling, layer by layer, will enable us to contemplate the performer’s “palimpsest body”; The Rite of Spring will see the springing into action of the danced traces, left hovering in the air, by an ancestral world; and, lastly, in Go Down, Moses, we will be invited to probe into the burning bush, this “dialogue with fire that leads to the burning of all images.”

    Jean-Louis Perrier


    Schwanengesang D744
    © Christophe Raynaud de Lage
    Romeo Castellucci
    © Christophe Raynaud de Lage
    Schwanengesang D744