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Reviewed by:
  • The Theatricality of Robert Lepage
  • Bruce Barton (bio)
The Theatricality of Robert Lepage. By Aleksandar Saša Dundjerović. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007; 264 pp.; illustrations. USD$85.00, CAD$85.00 cloth; USD$32.95, CAD$32.95 paper.

Robert Lepage is one of the world's most celebrated auteurs. His accomplishments in theatre, cinema, and opera place him among the vanguard of internationally recognized directors. As a result, any new book that focuses on his work and creative process is, by default, worthy of attention. The Theatricality of Robert Lepage earns its share of this interest and rewards its reader on multiple counts.

The image of the Canadian director's practice as perpetually in-process, defiantly unpredictable, rough-hewn, and utterly intuitive is reiterated throughout Dundjerović's text. It is perhaps the study's most valuable insight, as the author describes the multiple, progressive stages of development for several of the director's evolving productions with unprecedented continuity. However, this portrayal of Lepage's approach also seems in part intended to distance the director's practice and products from any stable or articulated criteria of analysis or assessment. "The major criticism of Lepage's theatre," Dundjerović concedes at one point, "is that it produces overgeneralizations and clichés [ . . . ] However, for Lepage clichés are useful material for improvisations, since they embody a socio-cultural consciousness and are part of popular culture. Clichés are gateways into some of the more relevant, hidden truths about the human condition" (94). I would venture that the author's use of a cliché to explain the director's use of cliché does not, in and of itself, constitute a sufficient defense. Dundjerović takes a similar approach to the troublesome issue of Lepage's opportunistic approach to interculturalism: "Lepage's free interpretation and borrowing of cultural resources appropriates any emotional or material content to make into a starting resource for a performance. He is not into exploring performance as a piece of theatre anthropology" (44).

This is, nonetheless, a valuable study, particularly for the insights provided in its early sections. In the chapter "Personal and Cultural Contexts," Dundjerović's portrayal of the young director cutting his teeth at fringe and improv festivals, while somewhat romanticized, provides vivid and welcome contextualization for what follows. Similarly, the book offers a brief introduction to the social and political developments in Lepage's home province of Quebec that parallel the director's early efforts. This section may strike Canadian readers as somewhat cursory; however, given the volume's scope and anticipated international audience, this "primer" effectively counterbalances the dominant, "globalized" perspective so often brought to discussions of Lepage's work. Dundjerović also makes a laudable attempt, in the chapter entitled "Lepage's Style," at introducing Lepage's early, enduring training—specifically, the RSVP Cycles of Lawrence and Anna Halprin and, more influentially, the Repère Cycles of Jacques Lessard. Both systems are notoriously difficult to articulate to the uninitiated, and both remain elusive in Dundjerović's descriptions. However, what emerges with utmost clarity is Lepage's systematic departure from conventional relationships to text, character, structure, and theme, [End Page 189] as well as his corresponding (and somewhat less systematic) reliance upon multiple concrete "resources" and the ingenuity of his collaborators.

Dundjerović approaches Lepage's "transformative mise en scene" (22) through a variety of appropriately selected perspectives, each of which is explored through a production case study. The chapter "Solo Performances: Lepage as Actor-Author" introduces many aspects of the director's work that will be pursued through the larger, collaborative pieces in later chapters. This is followed by "Resources: The Dragon Trilogy"; "The Space and the Scores: Tectonic Plates"; "The Performers: The Seven Streams of the River Ota"; "The Text: A Midsummer Night's Dream"; and "Multimedia and New Technology: Juliette at Zulu Time." The volume concludes with a brief, open-ended "Epilogue." This organization of the material allows Dundjerović to consider many of Lepage's most recognized and well-traveled pieces while focusing on select aspects of his creative process. As is to be expected, some of these efforts are more satisfying than others. For instance, the central (and admittedly tricky) concept...


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pp. 189-190
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