Theater 30.2 (2000) 150-155
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The Oracle of the Senses:
Enrique Vargas and Teatro de los Sentidos in Berlin
Translated by Karen Remmler
Theater der Welt festival invited thirty theater groups from seventeen countries around the world to Berlin for two weeks. The festival included renowned directors, authors, and installation artists like Christian Boltanski, Richard Foreman, Ong Keng Sen, Jean Kalman, Ilya Kabakov, Roger Planchon, Toni Servillo, and Rina Yerushalmi. Despite all the international competition, Enrique Vargas's Teatro de los Sentidos brightened the theater landscape of the German capital with an unforgettable instance of theatrical poetics and provocation.
The granary on the Spree near the Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin, a dreary, tall, late-nineteenth-century building and sooty icon of industrialization, survived two world wars. It is Berlin's oldest grain elevator and stood for forty years on forbidden territory along the Spree, on the border between East and West that ran down the middle of the river. When stepping out of the dark labyrinth of Oráculos into the light and looking over the Spree to Kreuzberg, one can still discern the inscriptions on similar old walls from a time when the grain boats moored and deposited their load, out of which Berlin's bread was baked.
The history of the building, in which Colombian man of the theater and anthropologist Enrique Vargas and his Teatro de los Sentidos created the labyrinth and oracle chambers, is of great significance. Its stonelike memory marks the point of departure and inspiration for the telling of its history and participates in the transformation of the architecture of the oracle. As the brothers Grimm knew, the word history derives from the old High German Gesciht--fate, chance, or event--and refers to the layers that are stored in the deep recesses of the unconscious, layers that Vargas's theater sets free more palpably than any art form before him. At the entrance, the visitor deposits his bag, the critic his paper and pencil, and a pleasant young woman asks them to keep a very personal question in mind during the ensuing journey. A heavy door then opens up into a room full of huge, rusty pipes and hoppers and the visitor enters the darkness of that world of dreams and riddles that will make up the journey for the next ninety minutes or so.
I hesitate here a minute. Should I describe the journey as I experienced and wrote about it as I sat on the steps at the end of the labyrinth in the dusky light above the Spree? After I filled my notebook with fragmentary memories, it occurred to me that I had once read how Indian tribes in the Amazon began to die out after their discovery was described. Should I sacrifice the experiences of my journey, betray unsolved riddles that await travelers who would wander after me through the labyrinth? They would have different experiences, draw other cards, and go their own ways. I remembered Vargas's story about the Indians of the Tecuna tribe in the Amazon, who, when they can't answer a question, stand under a tree for a night until they hear the answer rustling in the leaves. On the Spree's shore there are no trees, only the sound of pigeons and sparrows pecking greedily at the wheat kernels on the steps (fallen from the clothing of the returning travelers). Should I go home and seek a tree? I looked at the small tarot card that I had drawn, the number XVI with the tower and the men falling to the ground after being struck by lightning, a symbol for the Tower of Babel and the arrogance of the builders who hoped to reach heaven with their creation so that their names [End Page 150] would be unforgotten and their tribes remain intact, as the Book of Moses professed.
The cacophony of their languages was God's punishment as he bore down from above upon this tower and city. Since no one understood...