169 – 174

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On tonight’s edition of ‘How to Deal with Snow’…

 

We all thought it was over, that winter would finally give way to (a rather grey but still sometimes sunny) spring. We were wrong.

 

Today, Saturday March 17, 2018, it snowed. Big, fluffy snowflakes. Just plopping down from the sky in little ploofs. Silly mocking ploofs. Thankfully, I didn’t really have anywhere to be until later this evening when I met up with friends for dinner at Ahssi (see photo of sizzling pork bibimbap above), so I got to glare at the fluffy white puffs from the inside of my warm apartment. With tea. A big mug of it.

 

Enough of that though. On to this week’s theatre recap.

 

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Never thought anything would ever get me to like Madame Bovary. Then this happened.

 

I honestly feel like I’m just going to go ahead and add the Théâtre de la Bastille to my list of theatres I’ll be focusing on for my thesis just based on the mere fact that I really like going to shows there. Yes, the set-up is essentially frontal and whatever, but the sheer immensity of the stage and its almost lack of separation from the (at least to me) smaller audience space lends the whole room a sort of intimacy and coziness that I haven’t really seen replicated in other theatres here yet. Really, it’s almost as if the actors are standing right on top of you, as if at any moment any semblance of a line between their space and ours as audience members is blurred, prodded, torn, and just generally fucked with. I love that.

 

And to tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting to like this show. Actually, I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect, as the only thing I knew going in was that the director (who is Portuguese, I believe) had quite a good reputation. Judging from the very packed house on Monday evening, I’d say I’d agree with that assessment.

 

Instead of being a direct adaptation of Madame Bovary (a novel that, I will confess, I am not a fan of), this play takes as its starting point the trial over the book’s publication. As we filed in and took our seats, the actors were already on the stage, scattering about pages of Flaubert’s manuscript, the words that soon were to be put on trial for their potential to incite immoral thoughts and disturb the public order.

 

Funny how some things never change.

 

 

Anyway, the actor playing Flaubert eventually spoke, reciting a letter sent to a friend that at the same time acted as a direct address to the audience. It was here that he specified that during his own trial, he would not be allowed to speak to defend himself (only his lawyer could do that). Instead, his words, the text, the words that came from his mind onto the page would speak for him – the novel as both direct descendant and link to the author (Barthes would have a fucking field day with this one). And this is how the story of Madame Bovary was woven in. Quite frankly, the retelling here was much more raunchy, dark, disturbing, sad and exciting than what I remember reading in class. Then again, as Flaubert remarked in another letter to his friend towards the last third of the play, the prosecution was right: this book is full of quite a bit of naughty things. Maybe our focus – in the act of ignoring the naughtiness to try and ‘rise above’ it or prove a ‘moral high ground’ – has just been slightly off.

 

I don’t know if I can put into words completely what it was that made me really like this, so I’m just going to copy (and translate because this conversation was happening in French) below what I sent to my boyfriend when he asked me why I liked it so much:

 

“The energy, the humor [and oh yes, this play was indeed very funny]…there was just this ludicness about it all that I really appreciated [side note: at one point, someone’s cell phone started ringing. Instead of carrying on and trying to ignore it, the actors started rifling through their pockets, as if to check and see if it wasn’t one of theirs that had gone off. Result: not only have they now officially brought forward the very plural nature of their position on stage – existing, as they do, in between our present and the fiction in the process of being constructed, one foot in each but never completely one nor the other – , they have also enveloped us as audience in it. Yes, the relationship remains essentially frontal between ‘us’ in the house and ‘them’ on stage, but our worlds converged in that moment. That’s one of the things I mean when I reference the possibility for intimacy in this space.]

 

“Indeed the whole thing basically played with a certain kind of plurality that is very specific to the world of theatre – that makes theatre what it is. Actors are on stage in the process of becoming their characters (Madame Bovary et al are called up and (re)created in the course of the trial), but at no point is there any attempt at temporal ‘vraisemblance’ or cohesion. That is to say, there is a constant back and forth between the narrative in the novel, and the trial itself. The actress who played Madame Bovary, for instance, at times would directly call out Flaubert for what he wrote about her, for how he – her ‘creator’ – crafted her story. And then Flaubert, who was denied the right to speak during his own trial, could only ‘speak’ through his novel, itself the product of his ‘act’ of writing. And of course, throughout all this, they are very aware that there is an audience in front of them, watching.”

 

Audience awareness took on another meaning on Friday night with Wajdi Mouawad’s newest creation, Notre Innocence at La Colline.

 

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This was the night I also found out I could sprint from my apartment to the theatre in under 7 minutes

 

The premise here: a group of about 20 actors – all between the ages of 20 and 30, so…millenials – gather together the morning following the suicide (through jumping out of a window) of one of their classmates at their acting conservatory. Questions abound: what was her motivation? Did anyone know she was thinking about this? Did anyone provoke her? What was to be done about her 9 year old daughter? Etc. Tensions are high. The group begins to tear at the seams, ripping apart over accusations not just of who – if anyone – could be held responsible, but over everyone’s individual attitudes, and how the girl, Victoire, should be mourned (or maybe she was too flawed to be mourned right away and thus had to be torn up again, verbally, first…grief does interesting things to people).

 

This, however, wasn’t the most interesting part of the show. No, the most interesting came at the very beginning when all the actors were on stage speaking in unison for about a half hour. Imagine 20 voices chanting at you in perfect synchronization, the closest thing to a classical chorus I have seen in recent memory. And just like a chorus, they are a reflection of the polis, or at least a part of it. Namely, people my age…those of us who sometimes think we are a new lost generation thanks to the actions of the generations before us. We, as the chorus chanted, have to deal with the possibility of never being extraordinary, the impossibility of reaching mythological, legendary status, of becoming something beyond ourselves. We were robbed of that, in a way.

 

And this bit might make more sense in the French context because while in the States, whenever the question of millenials gets brought up, it’s almost always done in comparison/contrast with the Baby Boomer Generation – the generation that made the mess we have to deal with. The generation that left their mark so brutally in both extraordinarily good and extraordinarily bad ways that to surmount it is unthinkable. And yet, we are often asked why we cannot be like them, why we cannot reproduce the same gestures they did, knowing full well that the world can no longer sustain those gestures. That we need something different.

 

In France, the generation that was taken to task that night was that of May 1968. The former revolutionaries…actors of a movement that some say succeeded in some ways, but that many also say ultimately failed, becoming a shadow, a myth of what it really was. Imagine being in this room, this room filled not just with other 20/30-somethings, but with those who were definitely part of that movement 50 years ago and hearing this wall of words, of criticisms come at you. Talk of the ‘revolution’ is sick if you use it to refuse to acknowledge the complete bullshit engrained in the whole act of reminiscing over how ‘wonderful’ and promising everything was then, how wonderful you all are in your political acts compared with this new generation who is seemingly so ‘unaware’ about everything. This generation is not unaware. This generation has been betrayed. The wall of twenty voices pushed outwards into the house, and for a moment, in sensing the energy around me as the barrage of insults (that were quite frankly, not that far off) kept coming, I thought that, should this keep going, and going further, it might end up inciting something.

 

It didn’t though, and then after a bit, the narrative described above took over. To be honest, as much as I found moments of the main narrative interesting, I feel as thought the thing could’ve just stopped right after the insults were done and just left us with that. That’s it. No lesson to ponder, no possible solutions to put forth. No moral to think on. I mean, the play itself closes with Victoire’s daughter, Alabama – who may or may not actually be real, and instead be a sort of allegorical stand-in for all children, that is, the future generation waiting in the wings to see what ours is doing – claiming her ascendance to the rise of ‘mythical’ figure, reminding the group of friends around her that she and those of her generation were watching them, that we have, in a way a responsibility to them.

 

And I really wish this bit was ironic – hell, maybe it was and I just missed the point – because for one thing, if anyone wants to talk about theatre and ascendance to figuration, Genet has probably some of the best examples of this, and another, why does this moralizing need to happen when the whole first third of the piece (rightly) called out the very dangers of this sort of intergenerational relationship and behavior?

 

 

So anyway, yeah I guess you could say I liked the first half better than the second.

165 – 168

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The Hurricane at Lulu White

 

Sometimes I feel as though I get into these sort of slumps where writing feels more like a chore than something I actually really look forward to doing. Maybe that explains why I felt like I had to drag myself to update this thing today. Granted, I did come off just finishing a preliminary bibliography – including small (and large…very large) paragraphs to accompany each text I read – so the thought of typing out anything didn’t exactly seem very appealing. Thankfully, weekends exist to help with the whole recuperating process.

 

 

I’m one of those grad students who basically treats what I’m doing as my job and, as such, I hold weekends – particularly Friday nights and Saturdays – pretty sacred, as in, I’m not going to touch anything related with my work unless I absolutely have to. Experience (and let me just take a minute here to process the fact that I’m currently in my sixth, yes sixth, year of graduate school right now) has sort of taught me that the best ideas come after I shove everything to the side for a minute and think on other things. Or  simply just try and be in the world instead of thinking about it from an ‘outside’/theoretical perspective.

 

Friday night thus found me back at Lulu White’s where I discovered that they occasionally play live music. It’s kind of surprising to think that they can pull this off to be honest, given how small the space is, but let’s be honest, if your Friday night doesn’t occasionally involve you cozying up to a three-piece jazz combo (as well as one or two small clusters of individuals who, immediately after admitting they aren’t experts on jazz, try to offer their opinions on what is happening to everyone else within earshot while taking on an insipid air of ‘expertise’…) are you really living?

 

Honestly though, the music was a really nice addition to the night. Coincidently, so was the hurricane cocktail that I ordered. Nice and rather potent.

 

 

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CalArts comes to Paris

 

Saturday was a bit more chill compared to Friday, in part because a good chunk of my afternoon was spent at the theatre (my one exception to the no work on weekends ‘rule’ – going to see a show…because it’s fun). This was my second time at the Théâtre des Abbesses, and I think I can honestly say that I’m not incredibly keen on seeing a show in this space again, unless I happen to be sitting in the orchestra. I was talking this over with my companion for the afternoon, and we both agreed that we were right to take the opportunity to move to the orchestra from our original seats in the mezzanine, mostly because even before anything started, the distance between our section and the stage coupled with the fact that the proscenium arch – and thus the stage itself – is not particularly tall, made it feel as though we were too far removed from it all. Honestly, I think the space would be better served with keeping things relatively intimate, but then again, theatres – even ones supported by the State – need to survive somehow. Capitalism…

 

Moving on to the show itself, the reason why I wanted to try and squeeze this one in to my rather full March schedule is mostly because it is a partial retelling of the Orestia, and I’m due to attend a conference around notions of power and theatrical representations/retellings of the Agamemnon myth throughout history. The fact that the show is not only a coproduction between CalArts and La Comédie de Saint-Étienne – and cross-cultural theatrical collaborations interest me – but also is a production of a text written by a female playwright of color (Alesha Harris) kind of gave me the last convincing push I needed to buy my ticket.

 

At its core, the play tackles the question of what makes us a society through the examination of two different families: the Halburtons, a political family lead by a matriarch with ‘lofty’ aspirations (and I mean this literally because her dream, as she lays out in her opening speech, is to build a great tower that will house all of society), and  the family of Agamemnon (here portrayed as a military general recently returned from war), his wife Clytemnestra and their son Orestes, a very shy, awkward fifteen year-old. There’s no direct mention of any of Agamemnon’s daughters (Iphigenia and Electra), though at one point Clytemnestra does evoke a female baby that she remembers holding in her arms before it disappeared (could we say a reference to Iphigenia perhaps…?). The play opens, however, not with a presentation of the two families, but with one of the actresses from the ‘chorus’ delivering a soliloquy on memory, the dead, and the evocation of ghosts.

 

I’m going to be upfront and say I was *slightly* disappointed in this production, but only because my expectations were so high after this first monologue. As the play was performed entirely in English – though the actors were a mix of French and American performers – the expectation was that there would be a screen of some sort set up for the surtitles in French. Imagine my very pleasant surprise when, instead of just a rectangular screen with ordered lines of text, the words were projected directly onto the curtain behind the actress, sometimes with print so large that the projection crossed over onto her body. These were not static words, they were rhythmic, lively playful words, words that appeared and disappeared in a rhythm evoking the spoken-word pace of the text being voiced. Call it an addition of vocality onto an otherwise silent form, or a way to  create an active form of reading text. I almost expected this to be brought back again, but unfortunately, instead of being a sort of throughline – and I should be specific here, I mean this in the case of both the alternative surtitles and the spoken-word style of the text itself – all this  manner of approaching speech and translation was reserved just for this opening prologue, though the themes of ghosts and reviving the dead came back again briefly. Instead, the overall structure returned to a slightly more traditional approach with regards to the surtitles, clean orderly lines replacing active and bordering on musical playfulness.

 

I will say though that the set design was probably my favorite overall element of the show. Created in a way so as to both keep a trace of a fourth wall – one thing that stood out to me as I was reading the dossier pédagogique  before going in to see the show was set designer Carlo Maghirang’s comments that he wanted the space to evoke that of a prison, with the cells stacked atop one another – as well as imagine the existence of possibilities beyond said fourth wall, the action was confined to two floors of the aforementioned tower, each one representing an apartment of one of the families. Verticality, I find, is something that is often not quite taken advantage of as much as it could be, and it was interesting watching the constant up and down shift of focus from one apartment to the next, making moments in which someone did actually cross the stage horizontally that much more impactful.

 

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Sun’s back…time for ice cream

 

The rest of Saturday consisted of a long walk home – the weather had finally taken a turn for the better so there was no way that was not happening – followed by a dinner featuring very smelly cheese (aka the best kind of cheese). I had originally intended to stay in on Sunday and spend the day tackling one or two chores that needed doing, but then the morning of, a friend put out the call to grab a coffee and given how nice it was out (sun! Finally!), I really could not resist.

 

And so I spent the day in the great sunny, yet still a tad crisp, outdoors walking. Oh, and eating the above ice cream cone.

 

 

Have I mentioned I’m really ready for spring and summer to get here? Because I am.

113 – 118

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.

 

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Thought this was amusing

 

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.

 

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Cocktail special at Le Renard

 

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).

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Instagram @effie143

 

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.

 

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Instagram @effie143

 

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.

 

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107

Amazing the things that can happen when you finally get out of your own head.

These past few weeks – as some of my posts can attest – I’ve been grappling with some pretty unruly writer’s block with regards to my dissertation prospectus. Although I had jotted a few notes down here and there, I had yet to attempt to flesh out anything, partly due to my recent project change, partly due to a feeling of uncertainty that I had any authority to say anything about my subject (though this could also be linked back to the first point). It was getting to the point where I could almost feel myself bending and overburdened by stress – the jet lag was certainly not helping either – but then last night, in what I’m calling a brief flash of sanity, I reserved myself a spot at the BNF, the goal being to go there with just my ipad, park myself in a chair, and write.

And although towards the end of the afternoon, coherent paragraphs gave way to rather extensive bullet points, I can say that I left this afternoon feeling very productive and clear-headed. In short, I have a lot of thoughts, but at least for now they’re out of my head and filling up a word doc instead. There are still gaps to fill, I am fully aware of that. My goal was never to write a ‘perfect’ document. But I can start to see the gaps more clearly, at the very least. It’s almost as if I’m untangling myself from the weeds.

Progress is a slow, steady thing. Sometimes I still need to remind myself that I’m not tasked with writing the next great text that absolutely must upend everything and completely revolutionize the field, etc. etc. etc. Not that this should downplay what I’m working on, just that maybe I need to slightly readjust my way of thinking. Let the project just be. Nurture it, change and grow with it instead of trying to force it to become some idealized…thing (also, idealized according to whose standards?). Anyway, I told myself that this year I would actively try to be less hard on myself when it came to my work. Perhaps now would be a good time to start.

96 – 97

 

This is a map of UC Irvine.

 

For those unfamiliar with the campus, let me briefly break this down for you. Built in the mid-1960s (right around the time when student demonstrations on other UC campuses – notably Berkeley – were at their peak) UC Irvine is located in what was once a lot of open land. As such, the good people of the Irvine company had the freedom to construct not just the university but also its immediate surroundings in a way that, to a certain extent, responded to a growing need for a restoration of order on otherwise fraught college campuses.

 

Organized in a ring, the different departments and schools of UCI are notable for their detachment from each other. Indeed, rather than evoking an image of unity, the ‘rings’ of Irvine’s campus give more the impression of a panopticon than anything else. Although there is no looming tower in the center of this circle – as one would find in Foucault’s description of the panopticon in Discipline and Punish – the park at the center of campus presents its own set of conundrums. Although it is quite sizeable and provides plenty of space for picnicking and other outdoor activities, it is also very hilly. The walking paths shown in the picture kind of suggest this, but what this essentially leads to is a park with no ‘center’, that is, no point of convergence. I remember when I took my first tour of the campus before becoming a student back in 2008, our guide evoked the image of the campus layout resembling a bike wheel (a reference more to the fact that the school really, really wanted people to bike more, rather than to its having an actual cycling culture). Thing is, though, even the spokes on a bike wheel – what keeps its structural integrity intact – have a central point where they all cross.

 

The problem of the lack of centrality on this campus became very clear during the recession and the resulting exhorbitant rise in tuition fees. As with the other UCs, there was a mobilization effort on campus, but unfortunately, our efforts never took off to the extent of those in Berkeley or, memorably, UC Davis. This could be attributed to several factors, but here are a few I stand by:

1. The isolation of the different departments in distinct buildings, although common on many American campuses, created here a sense of ‘each department as its own island’, further emphasized by the fact that, given the circular structure of the campus, there was always a sentiment of someone watching.

2. Returning back to the park, the lack of centrality meant that there really was no natural ‘meeting point’ for students (and some faculty) to gather during demonstrations. Demonstrating on the steps of the admin building worked fine for a bit, but its location as a sort of offshoot of the greater ‘Ring Road’ made it a somewhat inconvenient place to get to for students in classes on the other side of campus.

3. What the Irvine company decided to build in the immediate surrounding area. Although we had a small shopping center just across one of the bridges leading to campus, the immediate area around UC Irvine was taken up by residential developments. Condos. Apartment complexes. Not occupied solely by students, but by private families as well. There were no student bars (the exception being the on-campus pub, but even they had to defer somewhat to campus rules regarding opening/closing times), coffee houses were pretty much various locations of impersonal Starbucks and Peet’s coffee, and in order to get anywhere of interest, one had to drive. In short, this was the anti-college-campus campus.

 

I bring this up because I could not help but think back to this last night after the show I saw (the title is actually a quote from architect Emile Aillaud and is rather long, so I’ll just let the photo speak for itself):

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Much like the last show I saw at Le 104, this show centered around a group of three ‘researchers’, this time interested in the architecture of the grands-ensembles – also known as the ‘cities’ of the Paris suburbs (banlieu) built starting in the early/mid-1960s as a response to a need for more housing (because, surprise, when your government starts calling for people to make more and more babies, eventually, these babies and their families will need homes). Originally populated by working class families, including a large number from Southern Europe (Italians especially made up large portions of the construction crews) and designed to be close to whatever factory the men of these families worked in, the reputation of the grands-ensembles did not take long to deteriorate. Instead of being heralds of the future, the cities were cold, impersonal, lacking life, isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. As the years passed, the conversation around the banlieues shifted to them being sites of urban tension, of violence, of upheaval (and yes, there is a racial element associated with this, in case you were wondering).

 

Anyway, back to the show. The first thing that was remarkable about this performance was that, for once, it was not frontal. Instead, it was a theatre in the round (well, 3/4 around) with the playing space in the center containing a set of white cubes (seen in the picture above). During the opening of the show, the cubes were organized in a way that four of them made a center ‘block’ and the rest were posted in sort of ‘tower’ formations in the four corners of the space. In other words, the space was centered, organized, we could easily create a relationship with it.

 

Then the actors start recreating, rebuilding, reconstructing, deconstructing, the various evolutions of one of Aillaud’s designs for the grands-ensembles. Suddenly, the center exploded. No longer stable, the blocks were set in serpentine positions, creating a sort of labyrinth on the stage that, to those of us in the audience, changed the way we related to the space in front of us. No longer part of a shared ‘laboratory’/research space as in the beginning, we were now almost god-like, looking down on this aesthetic achievement below us. Meanwhile, the actors themselves weaved around not only the blocks in the center of the room, but the spaces, the gaps between the banks of seats, the sound design at times making it difficult to pinpoint exactly where one of them was at any moment. And as they, with their literal and figurative acts of destruction and construction, traversed through time to try to puzzle over how or what to make of these constructions today, the absence of the voices, the bodies, of those living in the grands-ensembles became more and more evident. For once, I think the deliberate exclusion of certain bodies (not just voices, but physical, present bodies) worked very effectively here. Indeed, at the end of the play, we see the actors in the process of creating their own ‘micro city’, designating certain blocks as community centers, pharmacies, cultural centers, parks, etc., when one of them, in the closing lines, asks:

 

“And what about the residents?”

 

That, I think got to the crux of the matter. These cities were designed with aesthetics, rather than livability in mind. Is this not what happens, though, when urban spaces are designed entirely artificially instead of allowed to grow somewhat organically, when space overly tries to dictate what its inhabitants do and how? This search for an architectural utopia lead to the sacrifice of the human, the mortal, lived element. Despite what is implied in their name, these grands-ensembles were not designed for community, neighborly living (then again, when one thinks about when they were built and who they were originally built for – to say nothing of who is “relegated” to live there now – it is not hard to see why a more divided, sequestered population would be ideal).

 

This, really, is what brought me back to my days at Irvine, and I’m pretty sure I talked the ear off the friend I went to see the show with about that! Otherwise, I don’t know if I can say enough how positively refreshing it was to see a troupe propose a different interpretation of the playing space, not just in terms of simply not being frontal, but something that finds the gaps in the structure, that makes the space almost alien, strange, uncanny.

 

Tonight I saw another show, Tue, hais quelqu’un. It was fine. There was a point where they overlaid images of the actors over their bodies, which created a really cool painterly effect, further amplified when the actors began ‘manipulating’ their images through gesture.

 

Clearly, however, my mind is occupied by other things.

 

 

 

 

88 – 90

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Degas – a series of dancers

 

Networking.

 

I’m not the biggest fan of it, yet it is one of those necessities of my field. I think it partially comes from the fact that, seeing as I was kind of an…eccentric, weird kid growing up, my social skills edged very close to the “oh yeah, no, this person definitely has no interest in speaking to me about my interests” territory. Thankfully that’s abated somewhat – who knew that all it took was surrounding myself with other people who liked the same things I did – but that little tinge of anxiety always comes up in one particular situation: sending emails.

 

And yet, here I am sending out emails to people I hope to speak to about my project, patiently waiting for a response all while wondering whether ot not the lack of one means I came off like some kind of idiot in my message. There’s a term for this…oh yes: imposter syndrome.

 

Yes, once again that…thing…rears its ugly head.

 

Thankfully, though, there are ways to distract from it, at least momentarily. One of these ways is stopping into the Musée d’Orsay for a bit to check out the exhibit Degas Danse Dessein. Hommage à Degas avec Paul Valéry, which examines some of Degas’ works through the lense of writer/poet Paul Valéry – who coincidentally also published a book on Degas after the latter’s death in 1917.

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Degas as poet
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Valéry as illustrator

 

The exhibit was centered primarily around the close friendship between Degas and Valéry, one that has apparently almost been forgotten. Interspersed amongst the Degas works on display – the majority of them being works in process, or the stages of a process rather than ‘completion’ – , were fragments from Valéry’s 1937 text on the artist (and whose title the exhibit borrows for its own). Fragments conversing with other fragments, medium complementing medium, each one revealing more of itself through its attachment to or bonding with the other…there’s a certain intimacy that arises from the realization of exactly how much one person permeated into the works of another.

 

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Honestly, I don’t know if I will ever get over how much I love the…rawness of Degas’s bodies…
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The ubiquitous ballerina painting…

 

Tomorrow will be a day of preliminary Christmas shopping/scouting, closing with – finally – another night of theatre. Oh, and packing. I’m off on a quick adventure this weekend. More to follow…

82

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It’s almost December, and I still insist on walking everywhere.

 

Not too much to report today, other than another two hour walk, this time from the BNF to the high school (off Place Étoile) for tutoring, trying to walk along the river as long as possible. Result: it actually is possible if you ignore a *teeny* bit of rule breaking ;).

 

Oh, and I wanted to share this gem that I found in one of my readings today.

 

 

Behold László Moholy-Nagy’s (with Alfréd Kemény and Isván Sebök), Kinetisches konstruktives System (Système constructif cinétique). It may not look like it at first, but this is meant to be a theatre. Given its decidedly…unorthodox…style, its a wonder the project was never fully realized.

 

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In all honesty, I think it would’ve been fantastic if this had ended up being built. Upend everything!

 

And now for some Christmas lights.

 

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Project changes (81)

A few posts back, I mentioned how I had been feeling a bit adrift lately with regards to my research, how I was unsure about whether or not there was any point in what I was doing, whether I was just grasping at air.

 

Thankfully, after a very productive meeting today, I’m back to feeling somewhat grounded in something. To be honest, I think some of the unease I had been feeling these past few days had something to do with fear of plunging into another unknown.

 

In short: I’m abandoning my research on Genet to focus on something I have been mentally obsessing over for a while, the notion/dynamics of ‘space’ in relation to contemporary theatre. It feels weird to cast off something that has been a part of my academic journey for the past 5 or 6 years, but at one point it had started to weigh down on me more than anything. That’s the thing about this kind of work: we attach ourselves to certain elements, authors, concepts, ideas, and we wear them down until they are transformed into a burden, forward propulsion turned dead weight. I found myself trying to twist things to fit a contrived thought process that would have included his work for the sake of feeling that I thought it needed to be there rather than that it should, or that it added to anything in particular.

 

 

Besides, enough people have written on him, and I’ve never been one to retread someone else’s footsteps.

 

 

So I’m finally where I want to be, in theatre, in the now of theatre, at least with regards to theatre in Paris.

 

Reading is going to be infinitely more bearable from now on.

 

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A golden latté from the café at Shakespeare and Co.