Hectic week (and a bit of a stray cough from losing my voice from talking so much) means I’m a bit behind. Anyway, here’s a rundown of the past week, in no particular order with regards to dates.
First off: I just want to bring everyone’s attention to the fact that Raviolis Chinois Nord-Est offers 10 dumplings for just 5euros. Aside from adding this to the ever-growing list of reasons as to why I love the neighborhood I live near (and will hopefully continue to live in next year), this is probably a good time to once again reiterate some difficulties I have whenever I get asked for restaurant recommendations by people visiting. It doesn’t really need to be specified that the kinds of restaurants usually sought-after are French ones (you know, kind of a priority when visiting France), but the thing is, when I go out to eat, I don’t usually go for French food. One: I can pretty much acquire all the cheese, charcuterie, breads and pastries I desire from my local market (and also, when it comes to classics like soups and stews, I can make those at home). Two: it’s not exactly the most affordable of dining options, with one or two exceptions. You know what is both affordable and delicious? 10 dumplings for 5 euros, that’s what (I highly recommend the pork, cabbage and mushroom ones).
To continue on the dumpling theme, this evening included a midnight snack of sorts with a friend of mine at Le Pacifique, another establishment not terribly far from my place, and which has the added bonus of offering continued service from 11h00 to 01h30…yeah as in AM. Prior to stopping there, we paid a visit to a couple bars in the area (namely Combat and Le Renard) for Paris cocktail week.
Anyway, back to Le Pacifique. I’m not sure how, but during the course of the evening, the conversation turned to dim sum (more specifically, whether or not any places that served dim sum cart-style existed in this city), which later developed into a craving for some late-night dumpling snacking. As it was around 23h30, Le Pacifique was really our only option, but as it had caught our eyes on the way to Le Renard from Combat anyway, the lack of other options wasn’t really that disappointing. We ordered two kinds of dumplings : pork sui mai, and one only labeled as ‘fried with five-spice’, along with a small Tsing Tao to share.
I’m not entirely sure if it was because of the late night, or the two cocktails from earlier in the evening, but those fried dumplings – or, to be more accurate, little football-shaped puffy, gluant, pillows of joy – were just about some of the most heavenly things I put in my mouth that evening. The fact that they were fried and filled with what we assumed to be pork – the menu didn’t specify – probably had something to do with it, but believe me when I say we sat rhapsodizing about them for a good half an hour after we were finished. For the sake of preserving the memory, I’m going to wait a bit before heading back there, but given their pretty decent dim sum offerings (cart or not), I have a feeling I’ll be back soon to make my way through the menu anyway.
Right, moving on.
This week I also happened to see two shows involving video projections. First, La Maladie de la Mort (an adaptation of the Marguerite Duras text of the same name) at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord (for all you theatre geeks, yes this is the theatre Peter Brooke used to work in).
I want to preface this commentary by saying that although I’ve hinted at my let’s call it ‘suspicion’ at the almost default status of the frontal relationship in theatre/staging, I do think it is still possible to use the format in a critically successful way. Case in point: the stage here was set up not unlike a film set (complete with an ever-present camera and sound crew), meaning that there were points where a good part of the stage – or from my perspective sitting on the extreme right side of the mezzanine, most of the stage – was obstructed from the audience’s view. In light of this, a screen was set up above the stage onto which was projected both what was in the process of being filmed as well as some pre-recorded segments.
Given that the narrative – for those unfamiliar with Duras’s novella – revolves around a man paying a woman to come visit him nightly in a hotel room to teach him how to love, the use of the screen and video, in juxtaposition with the real-time staging and recording of the action, was, to me a logical way to explore the way in which we consume images/media, and that involving women’s bodies in particular. The connection to the pornography industry is, of course, evident, and put even more in the forefront by the fact that, periodically, the Man would open a laptop to watch a pornographic scene with relative indifference. Interestingly though, even though there were moments where I wished I could simultaneously watch what was happening on stage as well as on screen (especially during moments where one character was being filmed and the other was prepping for their next scene, or when a pre-recorded moment was playing while the actors themselves were readying for their next cue), thinking back, I feel that one of the results of this permanent denial of the gaze is how it enhances the flatness or lack of depth that comes with sitting in front of a screen to consume images/media. The background work, the bodies, the in-between cuts are missing all for the sake of constructing a singular narrative. Maintain the image over the body that brings it forth.
Coincidentally, the piece I saw last night was also an adaptation – this time of Strindberg’s Ghost Sonnata – that used simultaneous recording/projection as a central part of its staging.
I was back at the Theatre des Amandiers in Nanterre for this one, only this time instead of the usual audience/stage set-up in the main theatre, a tri-frontal stage was set up on the stage itself. As we all filed in to take our seats around the playing space – on which were set up a couple of what looked like cardboard house-type structures as well as a crude paper mâché fountain in a baby pool – a large quadri-frontal video screen projected images of other audience members as they walked in, not unlike a video surveillance system in a shop. Coincidentally, this is also how I discovered my thesis advisor was in attendance. Amazing what this quasi-Big Brother-like gaze can do.
The play opened with director Markus Öhrn walking on stage, looking not unlike a more zombie-like Marilyn Manson, to welcome everyone, as well as to set the general vibe for the evening by inviting audience members to switch seats as they wished or, should nature call within the next 90 minutes, get up to use the restroom and then come back.
I always find it interesting how, especially in theatre settings, whenever audiences are told they have the option of movement, they rarely, if ever, take advantage of it.
In this case though, this may have had to do with the fact that we were more reliant on the projected images than I think I would have liked to take advantage of the fact that there were a few empty seats around that we could move to. Granted, I don’t think keeping much of what was happening enclosed in the cardboard structures helped matters, nor did the lack of places to sit anywhere except in one of the four banks of seats around the stage. If the goal is to break with spatial codes or the architectural imposition of theatrical spaces, a spatial design that not only, to an extent, reinforces a certain set of frontiers and boundaries between space reserved for playing and that for observing, but also functions on a system of surveillance both with the early video projection as well as the fact that it was very easy to train one’s gaze on the other audience members sitting on the other side of the room, does not necessarily invite divergence. If anything, this show that at first seems to want to move away from frontality actually ends up reverting back to it.
I also think I made the somewhat poor choice of sitting in a front row of seats, as I had to crane my neck up to watch the videos (the play was in Polish with surtitles in French and English, so reading along was almost necessary on a linguistic level as well). Towards the end of the show, however, I found that I was paying less attention to the videos, and more to the little moments that these Jack in the Box mascot-meets-a-flamethrower grotesque clown figures moved about the stage, peeking out of the cardboard box windows, playing a bit with our gaze on them. Perhaps if there were a bit more of that – actually, I think the production could have done away with the text almost entirely, aside from the little intro video played in the beginning to explain who each of the characters were – the frontal relationship could have been broken down further. Then again, one of the first major sequences involved a rather violent rager in a concert hall (which followed honestly one of the funniest sequences in which a character tries to find his seat at an opera house, all in the very frustrating but incredibly real style of a dream sequence in which you know the thing you seek is right in front of you, yet your mental state refuses to let you accept this), which was maybe a bit too reminiscent of the In Yer Face theatre of the 1990s in the sense of, “can this thing which has been done to the point of transforming into an almost codified aesthetic still be impactful”.
Anyway, enough of that. Here’s to hoping for more frequent postings next week.