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Theatre Journal 53.2 (2001) 339-342
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Lincoln Center Festival 2000
Lincoln Center Festival 2000.New York, New York. 11-30 July 2000.
Lincoln Center Festival 2000, curated by festival director Nigel Redden, launched its fifth season this past July with an international program of dance, theatre, and music. I saw three distinctly different works in both genre and aesthetic that once again raised questions regarding the underlying values informing cultural production, as well as the relationship between art, audience, and commerce. The productions were Filao, produced by the "pan-European" nouveau cirque, Les Colporteurs; De Nederlandse Opera's Writing to Vermeer, a collaboration between the librettist Peter Greenaway and composer Louis Andriessen; and the Vakhtangov Theatre Company's production of Ostrovsky's Innocent as Charged.
Les Colporteurs, which translates to "peddlers who carry their goods on their backs," is aptly named. The group conveys the itinerant feeling of a pick-up company that charms through wit more than craft. They belong to the "new circus" movement and, as with other young troupes, draw from an eclectic vocabulary less interested in traditional circus acts as feats in themselves than as ironic reassessments of the form.
Filao, inspired by Italo Calvino's novel Baron in the Trees and directed by Laszlo Hudi, a Hungarian experimental theatre director, was structured around twelve movements, each one a spin-off of an original poem company members wrote improvising on the novel. Objects and images remained from the novel, but the storyline was indiscernible. Performed in a small, dimly lit one-ring tent in Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park, the seven acrobats and three musicians used a series of raw materials, such as a round piece of wood, that [End Page 339] acquired different attributes throughout the evening and were used to establish a variety of settings. Continuous music, from jazz to accordion, played frenetically, heightening the tension of the sometimes dangerous feats the company performed, which included trapeze and tightrope acts.
The performances evoked a live-by-your-wits feeling, although whether this was intentional or not was unclear. It called to mind, however, the ingenuity of a favorite uncle, who, lacking formal training in a particular skill, learns to juggle a little, walk the tightrope a little, and maybe even do a tour-jeté or two. The presence of an avuncular tightrope performer (David Dimitri) whose act included simultaneously playing a trombone, pirouetting on a tightrope, and occasionally falling, enhanced this feeling of unsophisticated versatility. He replaced the company's co-founder (Antoine Rigot) who suffered an injury before the New York run and was unable to perform. Although charming, Les Colporteurs lacked the magic found in nouveau cirques such as Cirque du Soleil.
Since past productions of De Nederlandse Opera have included risky and exciting works such as Philip Glass's Satyagraha and Arnold Schönberg's Moses und Aron, expectations were high for minimalist composer Louis Andriessen and librettist Peter Greenaway's production of Writing to Vermeer. Greenaway, who began his career as a painter and is best known for films such as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, also served as co-director of this production along with Saskia Boddeke. Their conceit centered around a fictitious correspondence between Vermeer and three women in his life--his wife, mother-in-law, and model--imagining the letters they might have exchanged about life in Vermeer's village during a week-long trip he took away from home. The year 1672, known as the "Year of the Disaster" in Holland, became the play's backdrop, supplying ample opportunity to superimpose ostentatious excesses onstage.
In contrast to the simplicity and economy of Vermeer's canvasses, with their incandescent domestic scenes, the overabundance of visual stimuli [End Page 340] representing the events of 1672 included continuous projections of historical texts depicting, alternately, the overthrow of the Republic, the French effort to Catholicize Holland, and the collapse of the tulip market. The flooding of the dikes was portrayed by torrents of water literally flooding the stage. Tableaux evoked daily life in seventeenth-century Holland and...