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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27.1 (2005) 61-64

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Imagining Europe

Carles Batlle's Combat (Landscape in the Aftermath)

We are rooted in a place, we are rooted in the absence of a place.
Herbert Blau, Take up the Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point

At the end of Suite (1999), an award-winning play by Catalan dramatist Carles Batlle i Jordà, there is a memorable scene in which the spectators observe the collapse of a doll house upon the living room floor.1 It is a metaphor of domestic, as well as global, instability—not to mention, an ironic reference to Ibsen—in which the audience is left to wonder whether the character of Berta, confused and disoriented in the suite of an old hotel, will return to the mirage-like image of bourgeois European domesticity, to a home and marriage without foundations, or whether she will flee to the more exotic space of Essaouira, in North Africa, the space that has invaded her dreams and memories.

The preoccupation with place, space, and geography that Batlle foregrounds in Suite is, in effect, a fundamental component of his theatre, a recurrent feature in a trajectory of ten plays that includes Combat (Paisatge per a després d'una batalla) (Combat [Landscape in the Aftermath], 1995), Les veus de Iambu (The Voices of Iambu, 1997), Oasi (Oasis, 2001), and Temptació (Temptation, 2003).2 In these works, Batlle constructs allegorical spaces of transcultural desire upon which there is engraved an aspiration to transcend the local and the particularities of "home."3 His treatment of space coincides with the emergence of a contemporary theatre that attempts to imagine a "new Europe," one that engages all its ambiguities, indeterminacies, and exigencies.4 Today, the contemporary Europe of vacillating cultural, political, and physical boundaries is, like Catalunya (or even the living room of Suite), a bewildering entity, rife with tension and uncertainty, which eludes any fixed definition and can be viewed as a constant flow and substitution of images, peoples, and cultures. It thus seems fitting that Batlle, who is also an accomplished critic and scholar, would be one of a handful of contemporary dramatists from Catalunya who, in recent years, have begun to establish a profile reaching far beyond the immediate geopolitical borders that they call "home." To date, Batlle has seen his works staged in France, Luxemburg, Germany, and Austria. In keeping with the type of transnational impulse that has characterized the evolution of modern Catalan [End Page 61] drama since its nineteenth-century beginnings, his plays ponder the issue of cultural identity vis à vis a series of intercultural associations.

A great deal has changed in the Barcelona theatre scene since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975 and Spain's subsequent transition to democracy. The Catalan stage has recovered the professional legitimacy and visibility that it was denied during nearly forty years of dictatorship, and Barcelona is presently immersed in the most dynamic and prolific period of its modern theatre history. The road to recovery has necessitated the construction and reconstruction of theatrical infrastructures and institutions throughout Catalunya. It has also entailed the revitalization of text-based drama, which never vanished completely but was acutely impaired by the presence of a regime that sought to stifle the Catalan language and its correspondingly vibrant literary and cultural traditions. Since the mid-1980s, the Barcelona theatre community has witnessed a hysterical outpouring of new playwrights and plays, and within this new wave of Catalan dramaturgy, Carles Batlle represents one of the most experimental and innovative voices.

Batlle has sipped from the same fountain as several other prominent Catalan dramatists of his generation: the waters of the Sala Beckett, the experimental theatre laboratory founded by Valencian playwright/director José Sanchis Sinisterra, in 1989. Today, under the artistic direction of Toni Casares, the Sala Beckett is one of Spain's most prominent and prestigious alternative theatre venues. For those playwrights who are the creative offspring of this locale (Sergi Belbel, Llüisa Cunillé...


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