Marvelous Molière

There is a chair in the museum collection of the Comédie-Française in Paris, which is displayed in a corridor right off the theater’s main lobby, encased in a glass cabinet like Sleeping Beauty. It is a simple armchair on casters, upholstered in tattered leather. The chair is old, at least some 350 years. Legend has it, that the playwright-actor Molière practically died in it, on stage, when he had a coughing fit during the fourth performance of Le Malade Imaginaire, playing Argan the Hypondriac (or Imaginary Invalid). He barely made it through the last act and died at home shortly after the performance. (There is a parallel here with the death of the great British actor Edmund Keane, who almost died onstage in the arms of his actor-son Charles who was playing Iago to his Othello).
An untimely death at 51 for the playwright-actor-manager Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka Molière, who had spent many years touring France, making people laugh in a period of grime and mud and sky-high infant mortality rates, with Commedia dell’Arte-type plays that unmasked the abyss dividing rich and poor, the uselessness of the medical profession and the hypocrisy of the clergy.
But it was not an entirely unforeseen death, as he suffered from tuberculosis – most likely contracted during a stint in debtor’s prison.
When Molière had returned to Paris he was eventually incorporated in the entertainments at the court of Louis XIV. His breakthrough at the Sun King’s court was greatly engineered by another Jean-Baptiste, the naturalized Italian composer Gianbattista Lully. Alas, after some splendid collaborations, Lully got tired of playing second fiddle to Molière’s words. Lully had ambitions to create his own operas, so the two were estranged by the time Molière staged Le Malade Imaginaire in 1673. The musical interludes were written by another composer, Marc-Antoine Charpentier. This all to the chagrin of Lully, who had claimed a solid monopoly for his operas and had managed to get a royal edict passed to the effect that theatrical performances were only allowed the services of two strings and two voices.
Why am I telling all this?
I never cared much for the staid interpretations of Molière’s biting, satirical plays, until I saw De Ingebeelde Zieke performed last week in a staging by Jos Thie at the municipal theater in Utrecht.
Building on a tradition that was perhaps set in motion by Ariane Mnouchkine’s 1978 film Molière ou la vie d’un honnête homme, Thie renders the play in a way that neither wants to be excruciatingly contemporary, nor wants to forget about all the layers built up around such a classic in terms of its (performance) history and its underlying socio-political context. An extra gift is, that the long-lost music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier has been incorporated in this incredibly funny, superbly acted and beautifully designed performance. Finally we can see Molière the magnificent, who registered all the wrongs of his times, and may have been biting the hand that fed him, yet it didn’t stop him to speak his mind with mastery, insight and an enormous dose of humor.

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Mickery and La MaMa

The histories of Ellen Stewart’s La MaMa E.T.C. (Experimental Theater Club) in New York and the Mickery Theatre in Amsterdam are intertwined. Both La MaMa and the Mickery provided a home base for experimenters in the theatre from the sixties onwards. Just like with La MaMa, once you had worked at the Mickery, you were part of that family, you belonged to a group of people that shared a very specific collective history. La MaMa and the Mickery became the wellsprings of an internationally branched-out network of creators in the theatre.
Mickery was the brainchild of Ritsaert ten Cate, a rebel who found a cause in the budding avant-garde theater scene of the ‘60’s. With money inherited from his textile-manufacturing family, Ritsaert ten Cate set up shop at a farmhouse in Loenersloot, about 13 miles outside Amsterdam. He was an avid collector of “arte povera” and used the vast barn space as a gallery. (The parallels with Ellen’s First Street La MaMa Galleria are clear.) When Ellen Stewart got wind of Ritsaert’s new theatre space, she called him up to establish a tour date and residency for her La MaMa troupe, wedged between performances at Eugenio Barba’s theatre in Holstebrö and the Edinburgh Festival in 1967.
Her handwritten confirmation said:
“We will arrive with 3 buses, you will pay the actors a fee of $60 for each performance, plus a per diem, and you will make sure that they can sleep somewhere. We will perform Tom Paine, Part One, and we will perform each play two times. We will also need to rehearse. Thank you, Ellen Stewart”
During their two week-residency in Loenersloot, the company performed the first part of Tom Paine, while Tom O’Horgan readied Part Two with them for the Edinburgh Festival. Some actors slept in the farmhouse and others were hosted by neighbors. The Dutch press flocked to the Mickery barn and was unanimously flabbergasted by the spectacle, resulting in hundreds of theatergoers and curiosity seekers following in their tracks.
Over the years La MaMa revisited the Mickery – which in the early ‘70’s had relocated to an abandoned cinema in the center of Amsterdam – with 12 productions.
Unlike La MaMa E.T.C., still going strong and in its fiftieth anniversary year, Mickery closed its activities after some 800 productions in 1991.
Ellen Stewart and Ritsaert ten Cate have passed away, but not before passing on the commitment and passion to experiment.

Ellen Stewart and Ritsaert ten Cate. The mirror behind Ritsaert ten Cate has a quote from Heiner Müller "Enduring Is Also A Choice"

A Moving Monument

Is it Dance
Is it Theatre
or is it LIFE
the trailer announces PINA (Dance, Dance, otherwise we are lost…), a film by Wim Wenders that just opened in Amsterdam.
The 3D film is a loving monument to choreographer/dancer Pina Bausch, who died suddenly and unexpectedly on June 30 2009. Here space, such an essential part of dance, is a character/actor, as is the camera, not registering the movements and emotions frontally, but amidst the dancers.
The result is a mesmerizing, totally tension-laden feature film. Full, rich fragments of Rite of Spring turn into moments filled with ominous suspense as heavy as any good cliffhangher scene in Hollywood movies.
In the sparse moments that Pina herself appears in person in the film, she speaks with utmost love of her dancers, a motley crew of well-trained, daring and above all extremely imaginative dancers. It becomes clear that Pina Bausch searched and collected shards of the collective unconscious in her dancers, who arrived in Wuppertal from all corners of the world. What they shared with her and us, the spectators, constitutes a gestural idiom from all nations, resulting in the creation of a universal language of longing.
I’m less interested in how people move
than in what moves them
she simply says.
Wim Wenders’ film zooms in on Café Muller and Kontakthof, both dating from 1978 and Vollmond, a newer piece created in 2006.
Thrilling sections tilt the dance out of the theater and rehearsal studio onto the streets, into industrial spaces and woodlands of Wuppertal. Its famous suspended monorail serves as a location and becomes a character in and of itself.
Wim Wenders gave the dancers the opportunity to give Pina a last message, much in the way she herself poked them with questions like: “What does it mean to you, love, joy, pride?” They are short glimpses into their souls and shed light on the process.
One of the dancers says: “For 22 years she watched me from behind that table. That’s more time than my parents ever watched me.” Another dancer relates how the only direction Pina ever gave her was “Keep searching.”
They were willing to go deep, her dancers, for her, for themselves, and for us. It is real, their exploration, never a coquettish play with ideas. At the beginning of the film, Pina Bausch says in voice over: “It is not about the words, it is about what it invokes, that’s where the beginning of dance is.” Signature movements with arms floating up and hands fluidly following each other like fish in a stream, are repeated over and over until something stirs. Not unlike Sanford Meisner instructed his actors to repeat the words UNTIL SOMETHING HAPPENED. Pina’s eclectic choice of music is always a joyful surprise. She uses anything, from Dido and Aeneas, Edith Piaf, popular, traditional and folklore music. As long as it enables to evoke feelings and invoke what Germans call Sehnsucht (longing, yearning, desire, nostalgia). She dared, they, the dancers, dared in ongoing commitment and with an intensity that gives the chills, touching a universal chord.
Wim Wenders captured this with a deftness that defies any of the blockbuster movies made in 3D sofar, giving dance and art in motion a depth it has longed to match with the experience of live performance.

Be sure to watch Die Klage der Kaiserin (The Empress’ Laments, Pina Bausch’s personal moving snapshot album (filmed on video in 1990 and blown up to 35mm for distribution) and
Un Jour Pina m’a demandé, Chantal Akerman’s documentary in which she follows the company in rehearsal and on tour in 1983 – both available on You Tube

MakingOf PINA – 3D from neueroadmovies on Vimeo.

Laurie Lives

Was that fabulous last night?
Those of you who were there must agree.
Laurie Anderson.
Delusion.
Finely worked jewels of personal short stories sprouted from the back of Laurie Anderson’s mind, interspersed with shards of music played on her electronic violin, backed up by arrays of sound bits.
Laurie Anderson – in real life of small stature – on stage larger than life, moving between folding and draped objects that function as reflecting screens. Behind her, a huge back projection spitting out an avalanche of delicious images mixed live.
The stories go deeper than ever. About time, space, and loss. The bind one finds oneself in, realizing that the death of a beloved dog causes more pain than the death of the mother.
Sometimes the deep chords of her music made the walls of the theater vibrate and my body with it. A pleasant sensation. Her voice, and her Fenway Bergamot’s voice, which never ages, soothingly, sagaciously and whimsically drove home some truths to think about during sleepless hours.

Reality Check

RITSAERT IS DEAD . . .

Art is money and money is art.

Ritsaert ten Cate was aware of that. The fun thing about him was: he had money.
He had the money and made an art form out of presenting, producing and creating the cutting edge in the (performing) arts.
What’s even more fun: he had the social grace to let us share in his fantastic journey of exploration and discovery.
When the money was spent after about five years (we are talking 1965-1969), the sharing ended temporarily.

Then the marvelous Marga Klompé (the very first woman to gain a ministerial post in Dutch government) had the social grace to prolong audience participation in Ritsaert’s discoveries.
Because he had the eye, Ritsaert, and she knew that, Marga.

Ritsaert ten Cate was an excellent observer. A privileged and entitled background took care of his having no qualms about picking and developing what he thought fit.
He observed and shared what he thought fit. And it was marvelous.
Until the money was spent again.

He changed course.

And then the money was really and truly spent.

Ritsaert ten Cate foresaw the gaping abyss of the moral and cultural deficit that we are facing now exactly 20 years ago and he quit. He burnt down the house and all bridges behind him.

The legacy of his observing eye was kept alive for a period of seven fat years in a postgraduate school that he conceived and led. The moment he pulled out, the lean years announced themselves for the school, leading eventually to its incorporation into an institutional moloch he so despised.

Such is life.

Ritsaert is dead and the last nails to his coffin – a book and a website – have firmly been hammered in the past week, accompanied by some final swooning eulogies uttered by an aging and adoring crowd.

It’s up to us to wriggle out those nails by opening the book and navigating the website, to be niggled by the man’s mad, visionary energy.

It is not and cannot ever be about having to defend the need for our existence as artists.
That’s implied.

A community without access to the artful transference of necessary stories to be told will shrivel up and die.

. . . LONG LIVE RITSAERT

Soccer Madness

I don’t care for soccer. Not a single shred in my body cares for it. If soccer would disappear from the crust of the earth today, I wouldn’t miss it. But others would.
Eighty-thousand soccer fans trekked yesterday to the Museumplein in Amsterdam to join in the celebrations for the thirtieth national title of the Ajax team.
My nephew had assured me that FC Twente would win, so I had deluded myself into looking forward to a quiet Sunday afternoon and evening.
Ajax is the only publicly listed company and its shares went up 8% today. Television executives are elated about yesterday’s ratings for the match itself and for programs around the honors ceremony on the Museumplein afterwards.
The City of Amsterdam reports that it is pleased, because “Nobody got seriously hurt.” This, in spite of dozens of people being hurt in minor ways squashed by the crowds, the need to set up an emergency hospital behind the stage, ambulances delayed by berserk crowds and racial slurs toward the Jewish people persisting, even during the honors ceremony. Sixty-two people were arrested for violent behavior and vandalism.
Amsterdam is happy.
Money speaks.
The majority speaks.
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Philip Glass – the Days and Nights Festival Party

In a packed Melkweg space last Friday night the master of minimal music dazzled and mesmerized a conspicuously young audience with pieces from all stages of his illustrious career. Most of his listeners must have been born decades after Einstein on the Beach premiered in 1976. I perceived some chuckled reactions to the relentless repetitions of the Spaceship-section of that opera, written by Glass and directed by Robert Wilson. The performing arts have not been the same since. The chuckles went mute when Tim Fain performed a dazzling Kneeplay from same opera.
But the highlight for me was to hear Allen Ginsberg’s recorded voice in Wichita Vortex Sutra. Hearing Allen Ginsberg’s voice swept up to emotional heights, accompanied and balanced by Glass’s meditative live piano performance was a religious experience.
Producer Rob Malasch, a longtime friend and producer of Glass’s work in The Netherlands, threw the party of the season afterwards in his gallery Serieuze Zaken Studioos on the Lauriergracht amidst the starkly evocative photographs of Max Snow, whose exhibition opened with much fanfare that afternoon.
Video giants Jack Moore (Videoheads) and Raul Marroquin were there to enliven the scene, besides everyone who is somebody in the Amsterdam cultural scene, to pay homage to “Phil.” Two lusciously bearded bakers of Bakker Baard provided on-site-a-la-minute miniature apple/cherry delicacies and plates with Chef Thor’s – small bites, big flavors – orgasmic vegetarian “bitterballen” kept everyone going until the wee hours.
You should have been there.

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