A review of Inside the Wild Heart, an immersive performance directed by Linda Wise in New York and based on the life and work of Clarice Lispector (1920, Ukraine - 1977, Rio de Janeiro), Brasil’s most renowned woman-writer. It opened on October 19 and runs until November 18, 2018. BOOKING & INFORMATION NOT TO BE MISSED
The project was conceived and produced by Andressa Furletti and Debora Ballardini – directors of Group.BR, a Brazilian theatre company based in New York. Both are militant admirers of Clarice Lispector, and chose an array of texts from her collected works. They also envisioned the performance project as “immersive”, and chose the location. And, very important, both wanted to act in the piece, among a cast of twelve or so performers. This is obviously a complex equation and, I must say from the outset, having seen it three times, a great artistic and team achievement, a total success if only on those counts, and I hope lots of people get to see it since it is likely to be a unique experience.
In order to comment the piece, I must point out, from critical experience, that one of the most difficult if not impossible requests for a director to receive is when a creative artist asks her or him: “I would like you to direct me as I would like you to direct me.” Plus, in this case, the request comes from the tandem agreement of two strong artist producers who had tried a previous inconclusive undertaking with another director, a Brazilian one. So, first, my congratulations to all three for pulling off such a wonderfully ambitious collaborative achievement and to Linda Wise for the effective diplomacy she deployed!
A tour of the location at present, the exceptional house where the immersive is happening (it is worth reminding that “happenings” were important predecessors of “immersives” – especially in New York. More below in connection with Robert Rauschenberg.) The house is a unique four or five-story building located on Manhattan’s East 25th Street; a treasure trove of antiques and archeological objects: statues, pedestals, rosettes, bas-reliefs, bath-tubs, busts, Afghani, Tibetan, Persian, Indonesian, playfully and elegantly assembled into a well-off hippie jumble. Just walking around and up and down the various stairs is great fun. A house of spirits too, especially when the performers and the music started stirring.
Travelling is a cinematic term – probably less in use nowadays that fast video-clip editing seems to have taken over movies – or computer simulation. I remember the virtuoso take in Federico Fellini’s film Roma (1972) that stunned everyone at the time with a ten-minutes travelling take, navigating through, circumventing, flying over and zooming in and out of a crowded square full of restaurant tables and spaghetti-eating Roman families. Today, such a feat has become everyday movie-animation. Then, it was like the roving eye of a playful Eros enjoying the delights and provocations of picaresque encounters and naughty voyeurism. Luxury travelling through the cinematic good life and archeological memories of a Roman square.
Linda’s mise en scène is in such a Fellini-line: angel choreographies with both the actors and the spectators travelling through multiple encounters and rituals, sometimes going with the current, others, stumbling into mystical chapels or private bedrooms, or meeting disquieting ghosts; or, why not, taking a rest in a comfortable sofa with nothing happening except distant echoes.
One of my reproaches to cinema is that the choice of image is framed, dictated by the camera: our eye follows its rectangular selection while we are strapped to a seat. There is little if any roving eye freedom. I happen to love image-scapes, and any type of theatre that provides it: multiple-layers, multiple-visions, multiple-meanings, where the eye is free and the ear alert to sound-events which are not necessarily linked, or worse, in emphatic illustration (the enemy word) of what the eye is seeing. In this instance of immersive theatre, we are in open architecture and decor. The moves and moods do not visit ‘strapped’ spectators (its not show business) and the show itself is not strapped to the need to call and captivate the attention. Entertainment is (or should be) relative, adult, autonomous, and not histrionic, imposed, sensational and desperate for attention. Here the spectator can change place, point of view, room, do the travelling, a dance with the performers who are themselves travelling. I have to declare here, in case anyone is entertaining the thought of Walt Disney animation, that I am a militant adept of Poor Theatre, yes, in the Jerzy Grotowski line: I want to see the acting inside the fiction, bare, stripped of any device that distorts presence. If I think magic must be reinstated, it is not as illusionism, (at least primarily: let us not be purists or Luddites.)
I would think it is Linda Wise’s touch and manner that created and spread such delicious serendipity – and magic – with the kind of sensitivity that actually creates significance out of the traffic (and of the ‘noise’) of ghosts. At the 2018 Myth and Theatre Festival, we spoke of the famous “royal road” that links the world of the living to the underworld. It is used, according to James Hillman, in his fundamental (certainly to Pantheatre) The Dream and the Underworld, in both directions, and by both the dead (mostly going down) and the dreams (going up) in their nightly visits. It is the road of Nekyia, travelled more or less graciously by civilizations’ heroes, from Herakles and Gilgamesh to Virgil’s Aeneas and Jesus-Christ (almost exact contemporaries.)
Linda’s direction is a flow of graced occurrences – serendipity. Her work was at its choreographic, cinematic best; it could be called Cinematic Theatre. Such grace (i.e. of the pagan kind, charis, charisma), is linked with our next, 2019 festival theme: LUCK – (“you are a shaman as long as your luck lasts”.) Artistic luck, and magic. I notice nevertheless that up to now (except for the presentation note) I have not mentioned the object-subject of the project: Clarice Lispector, whose texts are sprayed like a metaphysical mist (from ethereal to volcanic) over the travelling immersion. Sometimes the texts draw you into a cameo scene; sometimes they simply spray you over. They are mostly of a metaphysical / existential nature, announced or sometimes displayed as ornamental or hieratic scriptures (some are actually posted among the ‘archeology’), or as will-o’-the wisp sibyllic oracles (the whole installation is in fact like the Cumean Sibyl’s grotto.) And Clarice Lispector does write, when philosophical, like an oracular or even prophetic Sibyl – in line with Surrealism’s mediumnistic writings. In any case, a mixture of existential philosophy and automatic writing; and fierce spontaneity, in all politeness, and often very pessimistic.
Having seen the piece three times I was particularly drawn to listen and even to study a video projection of Clarice Lispector being interviewed (we are told it was the only filmed interview of hers). And there she was, the subject-object of our immersion. The film was projected with no sound but subtitles (yellow the questions, white the answers). And often, with a scene taking place in the same room. Seeing, reading, listening. The triangle was quite fascinating: it opened Clarice Lispector’s silent voice as in Giorgio Agamben’s: “Listening to the voice in speech is what thinking is all about”. I was struck by the very internalized moods and emotions of hers. Her smoking took on the flow and nature of feelings: inhaling to ballast her responses, exhaling to let out her tempers and devils. I could see her moods in the smoke, given, especially, the elementary 1950’s-like questions she was being asked – way below her intellectual aristocratic stance. I loved the way she often said, “Quite frankly, I do not know.” But the smoke added: “Nor do I care: when is this interview going to finish?”
I missed her temper and her haughty rat and nasty-Kafka devils in the performers’ renderings – except maybe in the maid who, when told by Linda Wise that a scene was taking too long and might need cutting, replied: “If you cut any of my text, I’ll vomit my words out!” The temper! I could hear Clarissa Lispector being that sharp in her smoking, and I thought I absolutely had to hear her voice speaking those moods with her cutting-edge intelligence, and not just her ‘official’ texts. If there was one person whom I felt could give voice to and ‘smoke’ her words (vomit would be over-the-top, so only once, and for real, vocally – a super-krisis), that person was Linda Wise herself. I know the actress: she can fulfill my militant definition of voice performance: “Roll on the ground and scream”. If I consider this fantasy (a critical one) in all its implications, then performers cannot restrict their acting to psychological realism cinema figuration, acting like in a documentary on “scenes from the life of…” They must bring out insightful genius (release the demons in the bottle, especially with Clarice Lispector), and break into identities and into the illusion of unified so-called characters. I have called such moves “Cubist as in Cuba” i.e. vodou, magic insight, akin to Hillman’s “seeing through”. In relationship to the notion of LUCK, I am peering into quantum theories: “explaining is not foreseeing” (René Thom), and its (acting) reversal: “foreseeing is not explaining”/ I.e. “please, actors, do not explain but give us the emotional core: we can figure out the (psycho) logics.”
I remember, once upon a time, a peer critic friend saying he absolutely loved a performance I had directed – “because of its transitions”. I must have looked wary, because he added: “the story was absolutely of no interest to me, and I did not need any of the texts”. The texts were drawn from a love story by none other than Isaac Bashevis-Singer! That exchange was a critical landmark on my way to choreographic theatre and to my own resolution of the equation of what is nowadays often called “non-narrative theatre” – which tends to be very cinematic. I am a long-time fan of the work of Romeo Castellucci on that count. He owes up to his wish ultimately to make a ‘feature’ film. He is now directing operas, which to me rarely live up to the promises of his early “poor” work: his Gigamesh (no electricity!), Hamlet (truck batteries only), Genesis (electricity and x-rays), Oresteia, Julius Cesar, etc. But I cannot do without words and the commitment of the speaking voice and therefore I scale my work in consequence – nowadays essentially to laboratory dimensions.
There is a scene in Castellucci’s recent Democracy in America which is actual classical theatre in its structure: a couple, in dialogue, having a huge puritanical row, with the wife breaking out into a solo tirade cursing God. That scene is for me psychological-realistic theatre at its (unique) best. Unique also because one has to gage the use of microphones and minimal sound-music (and lighting) to understand why such a theatre
epiphany came to be. I have never felt “emotion objectivized” to that degree in ‘classical theatre’. My despair is that I see most theatre (especially its actors) wanting to imitate cinema, to compete with movies: absolute losers’ waste of time. We cannot travel into close-ups for instance. Immersive theatre goes half-way but its pleasure is in live, physical encounters. We have in fact, as physical performers, all other acting rhetorics left for us to use, and invent. And the worse for me is cinema’s use of music: emotional sugar which, I’m afraid to say, makes me mostly want to throw up like the lady-maid.
I did travel to New York to see Inside the Wild Heart three times, which in itself is luxury travelling. I have recently invoked Joseph Beuys’ trip to New York in 1974, in total isolation, wrapped in a thick felt blanket, travelling directly to and from the gallery where his landmark performance encounter with a coyote took place. I travelled to a large degree also wanting to isolate and immerse myself into the way Linda re-dreamed, re-visioned the dreams and nightmares of a Brazilian writer, with a mostly Brazilian cast, in a Manhattan house of spirits.
I will finish with some reflections on my favorite painter: Robert Rauschenberg. Both Linda Wise and Brazilian Debora Ballardini told me they felt that Americans had more trouble accepting the aesthetics of their immersive project than Europeans, especially because of its lack of a story-line. Yet Linda, when answering questions from the cast on this quandary, called on Rauschenberg as an example of non-narrative image-making, an artist considered quintessentially American – quintessentially, but well-travelled. On the plane back from New York I came across a very interesting article on Rauschenberg’s travels with Cy Twombly – they must have been in their late twenties and clearly needed to get away from the New York totemic macho heroes of abstract expressionism, and its implicit homophobia. Rauschenberg was also well-travelled in sexual and cultural politics: in many ways he was the one who funneled, shaped and made artistically public the acute, high-taste gay irony that opened the subversive, deeper layers of camp and queer values – layers that I also see as ‘knowing’, committed and at the time, certainly, discreet guardians of magic.
With Twombly at first, Rauschenberg found inspiration in places like Palermo, Casablanca and especially Rome, collecting and assembling (combines became his trademark) shamanic-like bits and scraps (Fetticci Personale: personal fetishes). Rauschenberg never let go of figuration, and his iconography verges on story-telling. His master piece, to me, is his Thirty-Four Drawings for Dante’s Inferno (1954-64). Scholar David L. Pike in the preface to his book Passage Through Hell (see PDF SCAN of my anoted version), addresses this borderline position through the motif of the descent to Hell – a book on artistic Nekyia and necromancy if ever there was one – but Ulysses-like: Ulysses never crosses over into the Underworld, he stayed on the edge to consult the dead. Not a hero to try and defeat Death, or rescue a loved one. David L. Pike reads Rauschenberg reading Dante: “Rauschenberg reminds us that at the same time, there is another, nonlinear, non-narrative movement documented by the work of illustration, compilation, commentary, translation, allusion.” Linda Wise constructed for us this type of mytho-poetic geography and subtle migratory travellings, a “magical mystery tour” that allowed us to visit and feel the inner vibrations and torments of an impressive wild heart.
Post Scriptum. In 2011 a great Brazilian film-maker, and wonderful friend, André Oliveira, filmed a laboratory performance I directed in Santiago de Chile. In his case, the travellings were his rolling around the floor amongst the actors with a hand-held camera. The filming, followed by his amazing editing, produced an eight minutes film which is the best cinematic travelling film that I have seen – with all respect to Wim Wenders and Co. I do not think one could do such a film with Inside the Wild Heart; it would be redundant, pleonastic – like editing an edited film. I experienced, though, a similar pleasure to André’s film, this time: live. And my eyes and ears (and touch and smell) were my own camera. Bravi to all the BR team!
Enrique Pardo, Paris, October 25, 2018.