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Reviewed by:
  • The Theatricality of Robert Lepage
  • Robert Ormsby (bio)
Aleksandar Saša Dundjerović . The Theatricality of Robert Lepage. McGill-Queen's University Press. 2007. xii, 252. $32.95

The Theatricality of Robert Lepage confirms the view of the director as a process-oriented practitioner rather than a product-oriented one by offering a fine exploration of 'the creative process and transformative nature of Lepage's theatre directing and devising,' especially his adaptation of Anna and Lawrence Halprin's RSVP cycles.

RSVP stands for 'resource,' 'score,' 'valuaction,' and 'performance,' but, as Dundjerović explains, 'performance is not a final product that the director and actors prepare in order to make it become something on stage but is actually that process of becoming.' By emphasizing the contingent and cyclical nature of Lepage's approach to making theatre, he largely succeeds in demonstrating the serious implications that this approach has on traditional understandings of such fundamental issues as character, text, the function of the director, authorship, and design.

One of the book's principal strengths is that Dundjerović details each of these implications in relation to specific productions, allowing the reader to apprehend the role that the cyclical approach played at different stages in the development of Lepage's career. For instance, in chapter 4, 'Resources: The Dragon's Trilogy,' Dundjerović explains that resources can be anything - physical objects, anecdotes, prior performances, memories - so long as they evoke some personal significance for the performers. He demonstrates how performers used resources in devising The Dragon's Trilogy, and how resources acquired different meanings according to how actors employed them. Dundjerović aptly notes that this personal, improvisational, and physical method of making theatre [End Page 540] is radically different from text-based, language-focused performance and, indeed, renders the traditional script unnecessary.

When devising new pieces, Lepage replaces scripts with scores, or script-like annotated diagrams that Dundjerović defines 'as the temporal and spatial response of a performer to his or her theatrical resources.' In chapter 5, 'The Space and the Scores: Tectonic Plates,' he describes the cyclical evolution of Lepage's Tectonic Plates, implying that the score is only a temporary form of notation, which changes as performers' collective responses to their resources change. Insightfully, he observes that, although resources are spatially conceived and often result in arresting scenography, Lepage's performer- and collective-oriented methods challenge traditional text-based understandings of design: 'Instead of elevating the role of the designer, it replaced that role within the creativity of the collective and within Lepage's editing of the improvised material.'

In chapter 6, about The Seven Streams of the River Ota, Dundjerović offers the reader some useful, basic information about how Lepage incorporates audience response into his work during 'open rehearsals,' and thus extends the cyclical development of his shows. He also discusses here the effect that Lepage's rehearsal techniques have on character, specifically the blending of a fictitious character and an actor's own personality that results from the performers' very personal interaction with resources. This take on character reiterates the persuasive arguments Dundjerović makes in chapter 3 about the alter egos that Lepage creates for himself in such solo shows as Vinci, Needles and Opium, and The Far Side of the Moon.

Dundjerović is not always so convincing, however. While he provides a relatively informative narrative about Lepage's three Midsummer Night's Dream productions, he has little to say about the details of Lepage's use of Shakespeare's text or how, precisely, Lepage's methods differed in these productions from his usual resource-based practices. The more serious problem is Dundjerović's failure to provide sufficient conceptual and historical contexts with which to frame his arguments. For instance, he could say much more about Quebec's historical relationships with its Chinese communities in his discussion of The Dragon's Trilogy. Similarly, he needs to consider more fully Quebec's and Canada's status as postcolonial entities and needs to engage more thoroughly with existing criticism about Lepage's Dream at London's National Theatre. Finally, his analysis of Lepage's historical impact would have been far richer had he explored in greater detail the actual printed reaction to Lepage...


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pp. 540-542
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