by Jonathan Walters
Earlier this year, I talked to a few people who saw Vivarium Studio’s ‘Itching in the Wings’ in New York at the Act French festival. The overwhelming feeling was that the company was doing something new, a fresh take on performance that didn’t have the actors ‘drooling, and straining’ to impress with their skills as performers, but had them relaxed, honest and blurring the line between acting and being.
I can’t prove it, but I think that this low impact approach isn’t so uncommon in Old Europe, and that Vivarium is actually spoofing some trends of self-important performance. When asked at T:BA chat if the show was ironic, Vivarium’s director Philippe Quesne said something like ‘Ironic, and genuine. At the same time’, but in French, and artistic talk backs always sound better in French.
Philippe comes from a design background, a rare idea, a contemporary designer transformed into a director. It’s an exciting proposal, and undoubtedly the sweetest aspects of the performance were the design. Sweet’s the right word, theirs was such delicate use of sound, with a beautifully lit (flourescent lights that you passed through on your way through the stage to your seat) recording studio behind thick glass and a strangly hyper white apartment, filled with video projectors.
At times actors would speak into the microphone, removed at a distance by the glass, and their voices would tickle the inside of your ear. One speech about a strange neighbor convinced he could catapult himself to the other dimension, was elegant and moving. Other times, a video projection of a wild-haired man working/being worked by a flight simulator would splash on the wall and the video was so cleanly fit into the wall space that it was impossible to tell where a square image was being sent.
Less successful were a number of ‘everyday’ interviews with quasi actors who talked on and on about the themes of the ‘itching’; the desire for life, for love, for an opening of the soul. These filmed people remind you of your friends at their most passionate, going on about a secret hobby or favorite band. That is usually mesmorizing (aided by beer most times) when its someone you love, but sadly, these talking heads aren’t your friends, and they are clearly in on the ‘joke’ of the performance. Sure, they prattled on in poetic /philosphic French, but it wore a little thin. As Philippe writes in the program, he is interested in the collision with these filmed pieces and the live actors. He might be, but are we? Clearly they were integrated so smoothly, but in most cases live actors win the contest, they are more interesting. Let’s see what they can do.
In T:BA 05 Ivana Muller brought a performance from the continent (she’s Croatian, does that count?) that had a similar ‘ironic’ use of filmed and live explorations of a theme. Similar to my feelings at Vivarium, I also found myself wanting the film projector to malfunction, and the casualness of the live performance to be shooken up a bit. After an hour of the cool, almost reality-TV-show (minus the editing) everydayness of ‘The Itching’ even a late arriving, hard jamming punk band seemed a bit too casual for my taste. There were beautiful things to here, funny things to see, great ideas to think about…but, any real risks out there on the stage that night?