Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ivana Muller @ Lilian Baylis Studio - review

'In theatre you never know what is going to happen next. Except that there will always be a bow at the end.'

For just over an hour, the six performers in Ivana Muller's Playing Ensemble Again and Again take a bow. The show starts with the end of recorded piece of classical music, and the roar of clapping from an appreciative audience. Moving in slow motion, the performers come out from behind a curtain at the back of the stage: their performance is over, and they are now taking what is theirs - the appreciation, gratitude and support of the audience. They all come out, stand on a straight line, and bow, before going through what we all expect happens in those occasions: they walk down the stage, bow again, hold hands, take a step forward one at a time, the lead performers are singled out, they raise their hands to the back of the auditorium to thank the technical staff etc...

All this happens in slow motion, with the performers speaking their thoughts, making the show funny, touching or insightful. The humour often came from the juxtaposition of the slow movement with their thoughts: as they are all smiling and clapping, they would say 'There was a lot of blood on stage tonight. There even was a real rape', or one bitter performer would look at the lead and say 'Tonight is the first time I am not the lead', suddenly charging his smile with falsehood we hadn't noticed before.

There was also humour in some of the stories themselves: 'Sometimes I dream that I go to the supermarket the morning after a performance, and I get a standing ovation there'.

And there were in-jokes about the theatre/performance world:

- We do not have a costumer designer.
- We were only assigned colours.
- That's why we look like we have just come out of H&M.
- But I like to think that someone in the audience has the same yellow top.

- After the show we have talked to programmers, directors, audience members.
- But mostly it's just the six of us in a corner with no one talking to us.

- To perform here, we have received money from the national fund, the regional fund, the European fund, the theatre fund, the dance fund.
- And tonight you are 178 in the audience and together you have paid £2200
(they all bow)

There were also touching moments (eg: 'Tonight we all had two tickets for the show. I didn't have anyone to invite') and everytime the performers leave the stage and return for another bow, they have aged (though not physically). One of them would say 'We are between 20 and 34 years old', then 'we are between 42 and 50 years old' and finally 'we are between 60 and 80 years old'. So their thoughts would change slightly.

As you can see, I am going on a bit, which is a sign that I really enjoyed this performance. Maybe some characters were not defined enough compared to others though (the former lead with a high self-esteem was great, but it was hard to see what the other characters were so clearly), but this is a very minor issue. I found it funny, moving and very engaging and easy to get into.

Playing Ensemble Again and Again, with its pace and text and with the way it presents something not seen normally (the actual thoughts of a performer/dancer) , reminded me of Jerome Bel's Veronique Doisneau. And it made me think that someone should mix the two: Ivana Muller should create a Playing Ensemble Again and Again with ballet dancers, in a big opera/ballet house. There is so much ceremony to bowing in ballet, what with the flowers, curtain calls etc etc. I think it would be touching, irreverent and funny to have it in slow motion, with the thoughts of the ballet dancers spoken out loud. Imagine having a whole ballet company doing it - all the hierarchy, the history of the place, the stories behind those great performers... I think that would be awesome!

'When the lights go out, you will not see us anymore'.

No comments: