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.

 

 

74 – 75

There are always those points when researching a (major, defining, all-consuming) project where you feel stuck.

 

Overwhelmed

 

 

Blocked

 

Unsure of where to go/what to do/what happens next

 

 

Feeling as if you’re not doing enough of what you should be doing. That you’re not reading enough – or worse, that you’re reading the wrong things for what you eventually want to produce. So would all that just be time wasted?

 

 

My project went through a bit of a much-needed house cleaning when I was in Boston, and while I am incredibly happy for that, there’s that unmistakable rush of stepping back into the wide expanse that is ‘research’ that is staring me in the face. I want to read everything but almost don’t know where or what to start with. I’m casting off some things – or actually, a certain writer – that have been my ‘anchors’ for a while, but maybe it would be more accurate to call them ‘crutches’.

 

 

Sometimes I do wonder about my capabilities to do this…thing. Whatever it ends up being. Then I remember that these sort of crises are normal – I experienced at least one during both years of my Masters programs as well as right before my Generals last year. Somewhere in the bowels of the BNF is the book/journal/text I need that will relaunch me on one of my reading ‘kicks’. I just need to find it.

 

 

Until then, there are walks at night, tacos for dinner at Candelaria (because it, unlike many other places, is actually open on Mondays) and conversations that get you to probe back into your thoughts, rehash them, remake, refresh them, bring them back into process.

 

 

I am a lioness. Hear me roar.