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Reviewed by:
  • The Theatricality of Robert Lepage
  • Courtney Ryan
The Theatricality of Robert Lepage. By Aleksandar Saša Dundjerović. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007; pp. xii + 252. $95.00 cloth, $32.95 paper.

In The Theatricality of Robert Lepage, Aleksandar Saša Dundjerović attempts to answer the question: "How does Lepage achieve visually, emotionally, and intellectually stimulating performances through his now famous … work-in progress approach?" (xii). Focusing on the cyclical nature of Lepage's work, Dundjerović is the first to point out that his book "is not a critical study or a theoretical debate about theatre practice," but rather an examination of "the artistic and personal context of Lepage's way of creating performance as a director-author and deviser" (ix). As such, the book describes Lepage's improvisatory method in great detail, reiterating the director's transformational approach through several excellent theatrical case studies.

Chapter 1 offers a brief biography of Lepage's formative years, paralleling the director's personal search for identity as a bilingual, gay male with Quebec's own search for national identity. Dundjerović suggests that the director's diverse identity inspired him to explore the many misunderstandings and mistranslations that can occur between the local and the global, to "juxtapose the local and distinctly Québécois perspective with global references and [End Page 143] intercultural exchanges" (23). The author further argues that the very qualities for which Lepage was so criticized in his conservatory training in realism—"reserve, control, and plurality of styles"—became his greatest assets when he graduated and joined the experimental company Théâtre Repère (16).

In chapter 2, Dundjerović introduces his primary subject: Lepage's "transformative mise en scène," which embodies the "process of continuous change and the transitional and evolving nature of Lepage's performance writing process" (25). Touching on the book's secondary theme, he also describes how the director implements Anna and Lawrence Halprin's RSVP Cycles in his creative process. The RSVP Cycles, first introduced to Lepage through Jacques Lessard's adaption Repère Cycles, stands for "resource, score, 'valuaction,' and performance," and, in subsequent chapters, Dundjerović skillfully applies the theory of the RSVP Cycles to several of Lepage's theatre productions (30). It is here that Dundjerović also likens Lepage's transformational style to that of Peter Brook, a parallel that is further elaborated upon in chapter 7, "The Text: A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Chapter 3, "Solo Performances: Lepage as Actor-Author," describes the director's early career, in which, inspired by the workshops of Alain Knapp, Lepage strove to be a "total author—simultaneously director, actor, and writer—creating text through improvisations in theatrical space" (49). Dundjerović draws on the highly celebrated solo pieces Vinci, Needles and Opium, and The Far Side of the Moon to demonstrate Lepage's employment of "alter egos that allow him to project his personal anxieties and psychological questions into the work" (53). The author highlights Lepage's use of autobiography and his rough, unfinished performance style, refrains which resurface in chapter 6.

The author dedicates chapters 4 and 5 to RSVP Cycles' resource and score, respectively. In the first, he maps The Dragons' Trilogy, tracing its sundry evolutions and the various resources that inspired them. According to Dundjerović, a resource is any "trigger" (76) that is able to "generate personal feelings, interpretation, and motivation for the performer" (81), and a score is "the temporal and spatial response of a performer to his or her theatrical resources" (99). Considering that resources and scores can be virtually anything, it is unsurprising that Dundjerović's definitions occasionally become elusive and overly broad. However, the author ensures that his main point is never lost: the RSVP Cycles, which morph from one cycle into another without ever reaching a definitive endpoint, is an ideal tool for Lepage's transformational directing style.

The concept of scores as both multiple and flexible is elaborated upon further in chapter 6, "Performers: The Seven Streams of the River Ota." Here, Dundjerović describes how Lepage uses audience response in open rehearsals to shape the next cycle of a production: "Without the absolute guidance of a written text, performance mise en scène...


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