Being together is remembering together

Review of a street theatre performance.

Markeliñe Compañia Teatro (Spain/Basque): Andante

8th July 2017, Ljubljana, Ana Desetnica International Street Theatre Festival, 2017

The article is a part of my highlights of 2017 Ana Desetnica festival.

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 3. dan

Thus, the second layer of the performance in revealed – these are shoes of people who died in an air raid. As each member of audience connects the dots in their mind, realisation kicks in, from which each of us creates our own emotional reaction.

Waiting for the performance to start, audience gathers around an installation on the street – building debris, pieces of bricks, a broken mirror, and shoes, many, many shoes. From the distance, a weird wooden cart slowly proceeds to the scene, partially made of tree branches with woven baskets and an oil lamp hanging from them. Accompanying the cart are four characters, one of them playing an accordion, the other three wear big papier-mâché masks with sad eyes, representing … maybe ghosts, maybe unnatural creatures, perhaps people? As they encroach on the scene of devastation, the tall figure, possibly a priest, rings a bell. This gives a sign to the other two, a man and a woman, to start investigating the location, gathering shoes in baskets or trying them on. The three masked performers are well versed in physical theatre, communication emotions through their bodily expression even with their faces hidden, directing the audience’s gaze towards the action. As we follow the interplay of the three characters moving shoes around, suddenly the (recorded) sound of an airplane attack and bombing comes upon us. Thus, the second layer of the performance in revealed – these are shoes of people who died in an air raid. Suddenly there are stories emerging from the objects: under the broken mirror, there’s a pair of women shoes, and inside each shoe, there’s a smaller, baby shoe. As each member of audience connects the dots in their mind, realisation kicks in, from which each of us creates our own emotional reaction.

As we walk to the next “stage”, we ponder about what we’ve seen and wonder about the new shoe installation as we encounter it – what will emerge from it in the following act?

As the performance continues it strengthens the interplay of these two levels – the immediate visceral actions of the characters and the underlying meaning behind them. After the first scene performers begin to enact the last moments of the deceased: a wedding that gets gunned down; a 1930s dictator’s nationalistic speech to his followers; the dictator’s death; celebrations of dictator’s death. With each subsequent scene carrying a darker tone, focusing more and more on historical undertones, the jubilant celebration of dictator’s death brings a surprising shift of focus onto what’s happening physically in front of us – with the joyful balancing/juggling of shoes. Till the moment in the magician’s trick for a rabbit to be pulled out of a hat…, err, out of the dictator’s boot and … the plush rabbit is found decapitated. We’re again pushed from enjoying in the visceral present into realisation about the historical context and the past. For audience to have time for their inner realisation and to digest what has just happened Andante uses pauses in between its scenes in which the entire performance moves to another location. As we walk to the next “stage”, we ponder about what we’ve seen and wonder about the new shoe installation as we encounter it – what will emerge from it in the following act?

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 4. dan

Once the audience establishes as a physical community on a “ground level”, the second level emerges, based on a pool of the shared common knowledge of historic real-life events.

The communal is established on both levels the performance works with. Audience enters the show through the shared situation of a street theatre which creates the strange world of these masked figures, their playful bodily expression, their visceral immediate interaction with the one another and the objects they encounter. Once the audience establishes as a physical community on a “ground level”, the second level emerges, akin the Marxist superstructure – one based on a pool of the shared common knowledge of historic real-life events. It was interesting to observe a kid next to me who was engaged only by the first, visceral level of the physical action: he was very excited by a firecracker explosion, telling his parents he’d love to see the next one. After a while his mother knelled next to him to explain the meaning behind the firecracker blowing up amidst the ominous atmosphere of the nationalistic Franco’s speech. She talked about the war, the suffering of civilians – creating a nice example of how collective memory is shared: by telling stories and by being engaged in a collective remembrance.

Ana Desetnica 2017 - 4. dan

“Andante” borrows from processions and rites such as commemoration, through which human communities consolidated themselves from time immemorial, merging individual and collective in a realisation of mortality, empathy and humanity.

Markeliñe performers explained me how Andante’s role is in being an enacted memorial, each scene a commemoration to unknown people whose shoes are found, each scene opening with the elder figure ringing the bell ceremoniously. I could link the performance to the expressionist station drama approach or, perhaps more fittingly, to its inspiration, the Christian procession through the Stations of the Cross, as the format of these is a communal journey through the stations/steps, connecting the collective memory with individual’s inner experience and contemplation. As Andante doesn’t relate to a specific event, time or place, and even the nature and origin of the masked figures is left a mystery, it leaves a lot of space open to interpretation – a space each audience member can inhabit on their own, filling in the blacks with their accumulated personal knowledge.

Through the artistic procession of “Andante” a collective participation merges with individual realisations and in this process a community becomes self-aware.

The topic of Andante is the act of commemoration itself. On the physical/tangible level, the performance allowed a community to establish itself through the collective journey in which the multi instrumental musician lead us like a Pied Piper through the images of tragedies the performers re-created like archaeologists from the rubble. This shared physical enactment was then filtered through individual inner processes of each audience member – our knowledge, imagination, emotions. As each of us reached a certain personal realisation, this “harvest” was then brought back to the communal, contributing to the atmosphere of the shared understanding. Andante borrows from processions and rites such as commemoration, through which human communities consolidated themselves from time immemorial, merging individual and collective in a realisation of mortality, empathy and humanity. The performance gives this format an artistic, fictional twist releasing it from potential historical debris of religion and politics and focusing on essential human empathy. Through the artistic procession of Andante a collective participation merges with individual realisations and in this process a community becomes self-aware.

Samo Oleami, September 2017, re-edited August 2018

Photos: Luka Dakskobler

Trailers:

Author: Samo Oleami

Reviews drama theatre, street theatre, improv theatre, contemporary dance, intermedia, boardgames and stuff.

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