Monday, July 20, 2009

Encounters.... (Theatre - Les Ephemeres by Theatre du Soleil and Ariane Mnouchkine)

The Theatre du Soleil in Paris directed by Ariane Mnouchkine is, in my view, one of the most important theatre companies producing today. They work collectively, developing their stories for theatre through improvisation, and live collectively, eating their meals together at the massive Cartoucherie a complex of old factory buildings on the outskirts of Paris.

Les Ephemeres is their latest piece - a 6 1/2 hour collection of vignettes, some seemingly unrelated in the language of any conventional plot, taken from the company's own stories and memories - that chronicles life's most essential encounters, those where one person is good to another. What binds them loosely together (in retrospect) is a story related to Mnouchkine's own life, in which a young Jewish girl is taken in by an Armenian woman during the Nazi occupation of France. Many of these encounters happen in context of great grief or callamity - a war, a car accident, an illness, a divorce - perhaps the times when we notice other people's goodness the most? Along with each scenes is Jean-Jacques Lemetre's musical score (as always in Mnouchkine's pieces). This music - part recorded and part live - has the feel of a Baroque pasacaglia played on musical instruments from all over the world. It is intensely, even repetitively elegiac. The scenes take place on circular platforms, moved about by the company. As many as four or five can be on the stage at once - each a little world, a planet in revolving continuously during the scenes played on it - sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. This creates a dreamy rhythm for the piece, an ability to see the vignette from all sides, and suggests each episode is somehow its own complete world but constantly interacting with other worlds. I sometimes found the unrelatedness of the pieces a little frustrating but, when experienced in light of the final episode, they converged. Seeing both parts of the play in one day is a long ordeal, but one that one goes through together with the company. I would not want to see them separately. I found the pleasure of this piece was the essential humanity of the encounters, the elementality of the performances filled with, as the title suggests, the ephemera of daily existence that finally accumulates into that thing we call a life just as the bits and pieces of character and scene accumulate over the hours into a play whose meaning and value become more and more evident and continue to deepen in retrospect.

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