Sunday, 23 November 2008

Performance - Assessment Criteria

Hi all,

Just a reminder that here are the three assessment criteria we had decided for your performance in Week 11:

  1. Clarity of storytelling - how well are the stories connected?
  2. How well was the piece staged?
  3. How successful were the 'resources' (set, props) in transforming scenes / making transitions?


Sunday, 12 October 2008

Readings for week 4 (next week)...

Hi All,

There are 2 articles I would like you to have read before next class:

  • Theater sans Frontières: Essays on the Dramatic Universe of Robert Lepage. ‘Identity and Universality: Multilingualism in Robert Lepage’s Theater’ (pages 3-19)
  • Hamlet in Pieces, pages 95-149

I have photocopied both of these articles for you all and you will find them at the Main Office in Sutherland House (due to the size of the articles I will leave them in the office rather than outside in the trays - so please ask at the office and they will give you copies of both articles)

Please ensure you have read both articles before next week as we will be discussing them in class

Have a good week and see you next Monday,


Sunday, 5 October 2008

Week 3...

Hi All,

In week 3 I will be away in the afternoon, but I have set the task to watch the complete DVD of 'The Andersen Project' during class time (the video is approximately 2 hours). A register will be taken in my absence so it is essential that you attend as normal.

In addition to watching the video, I would also like you to read the following 3 reviews to build up a clearer picture of the critical responses to the work, which was staged at the Barbican in 2006.

We will begin week 4 by discussing these reviews as well as your responses to 'The Andersen Project' in some detail, so please ensure you have made notes about the areas of the production that interested you.


The Guardian
'The Andersen Project', Barbican, London
Review by Michael Billington
Monday January 30 2006

The Independent
‘The Andersen Project’, Barbican, London
‘Fairy tale with a Grimm streak’
Review by Paul Taylor
Tuesday, 31 January 2006

The British Theatre Guide
‘The Andersen Project’, Barbican, London
Review by
Philip Fisher

Friday, 3 October 2008


Hi all,

Apologies to anyone who has experienced difficulties getting hold of the 'Connecting Flights' reading.

It is in the plastic trays on the wall outside the Main Office (the reading is actually only 2 pages long so don't worry, you still have plenty of time to read it before class!)

Any problems you can reach me via my email address,



Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994)

The Seven Streams of the River Ota

The first project Robert Lepage created for his company Ex Machina, 'The Seven Streams of the River Ota' is a saga that opens in Hiroshima during the late 20th century and divides into seven tableaux. The symbolic centrepiece of the work is the major event of the explosion of the first atomic bomb, but the work also tells the story of a Czech artist whose childhood was marked by his time in the Terezin concentration camp and who died in Hiroshima, on the banks of the River Ota. To the themes of death by atomic bomb and in concentration camps is added that of death by virus, taking the form of a person with AIDS whose only escape is assisted suicide. In spite of so much grief, the idea of survival emerges with vigour, and Hiroshima resurfaces as a symbol of renaissance rather than destruction.

Theatre Reviews:

'Restless Tribute to Human Resilience'
By PETER MARKS Published: December 4, 1996, Wednesday
*Published in what publication?* - Liam

''I thought you say you take pictures of physical damage,'' the disfigured Japanese woman says in broken English to the American war photographer in one of the opening scenes of Robert Lepage's visually stunning epic-length dramatic work, ''The Seven Streams of the River Ota.'' With her back to the audience, she implores the G.I. to record what the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima has done not only to her surroundings, but also to her.

Her demand for pictorial truth overpowers his revulsion. ''When I die,'' she explains, ''I want people to see my face.'' Kneeling before her, he gently removes her kimono, then steps back to shoot. The neutral eye of the camera allows the soldier to see the external effects of the radiation, and opens his eyes, too, to an inner radiance that the bomb could not extinguish.

With this sentimental, seemingly inconsequential love story on the edge of the abyss, Mr. Lepage, the visionary French-Canadian director, and his versatile cast and crew set in motion an ambitious, rambling, exhilarating portrait of human resilience amid the cultural shifts and multiple apocalypses of the mid- to late 20th century. Jumping from epoch to epoch, continent to continent and language to language, ''The Seven Streams of the River Ota'' employs the narrative techniques of this century and others -- film, documentary, novel, French farce, Noh drama, opera and even medieval Japanese puppetry -- to create a theater piece as sweeping and untamed and whimsical as the modern world itself.

The seven-hour work, which is being performed in two parts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Majestic Theater through Dec. 14, is the product of an artist at the height of his powers. Ceaselessly, restlessly inventive, Mr. Lepage, a visual imagist who has tackled subjects as diverse as the life of Leonardo da Vinci (''Vinci''), the Old versus the New World (''Tectonic Plates'') and the Chinese experience in Canada (''The Dragons Trilogy''), is obsessed with discovering new ways to tell stories on a stage. Like his war photographer, he is an artist of new technology, meticulously searching for the damage, and always happening upon the beauty.

Mr. Lepage and his myriad collaborators have, for the most part, spared the audience art for art's sake. This is not the kind of airless performance piece that relies on solemn theatrical abstractions like ''myth'' and ''ritual'' and tries to hypnotize rather than entertain (although it does, in the slightly arch fashion of the day, employ theatrically correct puppeteering). Also, the production does take its own sweet time. If the fairly uneventful tale of the soldier and the disfigured woman occupies an hour, so be it; if it takes what seems like eons to depict an elliptical conversation in a Japanese restaurant, then that is O.K. with Mr. Lepage, too.

There is, in fact, nothing conventionally compressed for the stage in this sprawling drama. The seven streams of the title refer to the tributaries of the Ota, a river in Hiroshima, and the seven interrelated stories that begin with the encounter at the woman's cottage in Hiroshima in 1945.

The brief affair has consequences that resonate on three continents for the next 50 years, conjoining disparate people, cultures and cataclysms in a series of Stoppardian chance encounters and parallel events. Hiroshima, the Holocaust and the AIDS epidemic become connected calamities, in the interwoven courses of individual lives. Mr. Lepage, a stylist with a theoretician's appreciation of both order and chaos, has the idea that in the modern world, there are no degrees of separation.

In one of the work's many human chains that stretch across the various stories, a son of the wartime photographer meets a Dutch opera singer in New York City, whose mother died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she had befriended a Czech girl. The girl survives and grows up to be a monk in a Zen monastery in Japan, where she becomes friends with a blind Japanese translator who is the half-sister-in-law of the American soldier's son, who dies of AIDS. Whew.

As the piece progresses, the mixings of languages and cultural traditions multiply. A theater troupe from Quebec performs a Feydeau farce in Osaka, in French. The story of the infidelity of a Canadian diplomat is performed by Bunraku puppets. A phone call between a Japanese and a Canadian is carried on, with the assistance of an unreliable translator, in French, Japanese and English. To survive in this complex world, everyone, it seems, must adapt.

The characters are not always well defined: the opera singer, the monk and the translator are chilly, remote creations. And often, the distinctions and connections Mr. Lepage and company are trying to draw are more carefully rendered than the people themselves. This may be a result of the way in which the director, his ensemble of nine actors and the design team have created the work. Mr. Lepage, once an improvisatory comedian, has long been associated with Theatre Repere, a company based in Quebec City that holds to the idea that the text, characters and design should evolve together through the contributions of everyone involved.

But whenever the piece starts to suffer from too-many-cooks syndrome, it is rescued by the virtuosity of its ravishing imagery.

The Japanese cottage is the literal staging ground for virtually all that occurs in ''The Seven Streams.'' Mr. Lepage and the set designer, Carl Fillion, place most of the action in the tiny rooms of the house. In endlessly changing configurations, the cottage's exterior screens are slid in and out to reveal apartments, cafes, theaters. Mirrors, video screens and stage sets within the set are employed as devices to advance the storytelling.

The effect is both theatrical and cinematic. Enclosed by the rectangular rooms, the scenes look like frames of a movie. In a series of vignettes that constitute the second ''stream'' -- a funny, meandering playlet set in New York in 1965, titled ''Two Jeffreys'' -- the screens are pulled back to reveal a warren of a rooming house filled with young musicians and other transients. The three-room layout, resembling nothing so much as a triptych, is a model of ingenuity and caprice.

There are painterly touches, too, such as the exquisite moment near the end of the third ''stream,'' called ''A Wedding,'' in which the American son of the soldier opts to end his life in Amsterdam in 1985 through the legally acceptable practice there of assisted suicide. Lying silently on a cot, with his doctor and his friends nearby and daylight streaming in through a window, he dies in a freeze frame as painstakingly rendered as a Vermeer.

In a work that strives so earnestly for harmony among its musical, dramatic and design elements, no actor is a particular standout. The star is, in a sense, the big picture they have helped to create, the portrait of the world assembled from all the dazzling images that Mr. Lepage draws from his seven streams.

The director ends his immense saga in the present, with the scattering of the cremated remains of the half-American, half-Japanese child of the war photographer and the bomb victim, on the banks of the Ota, at the edge of a restored Hiroshima. It's an apt place for Mr. Lepage's vision of a world of horrible endings and hopeful rebirths. For just as ashes can be wind-borne, so can seedlings.

Posted by Nicole Wooldridge and Kelly Barber

Vinci (1986)

  • 'Vinci' - (a hillside of olive trees) - The title of this play immediately delivers very dense visual impact. This is ironic as the narrator is a blind, Italian man in the original production. As audience members we are pushed away from the reassurance of an omniscient narrator and encouraged towards autonomy. This is an effective technique as it enables a more in-depth appreciation of language, meaning and de Vinci as an influential visual artist.
  • The use of the train as a visual tool to communicate the concept that “art is a vehicle” is intriguing because we are introduced to differing and controversial associations with both art and its ability of carry us.

* Leanne/Dorcas: Some really interesting research findings here, but what is the source for this information? It's really important at University level to always cite the original source of the information you are quoting...* - Liam

Posted by Leanne Lashley and Dorcas Olatunji

The Dragons' Trilogy (1985)

Dragons’ Trilogy by Robert Lepage
Reviews on Robert Lepage’s Dragons’ Trilogy
The Internet Theatre Magazine of reviews

In 1986, The Dragons' Trilogy launched Robert Lepage's genius into the international consciousness. After twenty years of phenomenal success and recognition, this epic theatrical experience remains as moving and unique as ever. Lepage's trademarks of breathtakingly beautiful images and impressionistic narrative are reproduced to full effect. He explores generations of characters living through the shifting liminalities of race, identity and social change, to reveal the Orient beneath the surface and within the imagination. The first act, Green Dragon opens in 1910 near Quebec City's Chinatown. Two French Canadian teenagers (Françoise and Jeanne) play and laugh together, setting down a street map out of shoeboxes and peopling them with characters. In a characteristic blend of fantasy and onstage reality, they imagine an Englishman wanting to open a shoe shop who duly appears onstage. He then visits the local Chinese laundryman enquiring about shoes. The two men's entrepreneurial foray into a poker club has disastrous consequences for Jeanne's drunken, widowed father who is teetering on the edge of daily bankruptcy.

The second act, Red Dragon, follows the two girls, their domestic situations and their misfortunes against the backdrop of events with worldwide significance. A husband who is neither his wife's lover nor his daughter's biological father, a child with a disabling illness and a mother's breast cancer coincide with the broader tragedy of war.

In the final part, White Dragon, some of the fragmentation is reconciled and the action concludes in a cyclical fashion. The Englishman Crawford, now wheelchair-bound, metaphysically returns to his birthplace Hong Kong in death. The children of immigrants encounter each other across language and race barriers: Yukali (Emily Shelton), descended from an absconded American pilot and a geisha killed in Hiroshima meets Françoise's son, the conceptual artist Pierre (Hugues Frenette).

The Barbican's cavernously vast auditorium has been converted into two parallel smaller blocks of seating and thus neutralizes the theatre's usual impersonal immensity. The set is a gravel-filled space with a single lamppost at one end and a wooden booth at the other. The fine grey gravel is trudged across, dug in, and even converted into a zen garden. Images from news clips, of the skies or of details onstage are projected onto a screen at one end and adds texture to the action.

Lepage's famously dreamlike style is simple and understated. The production encompasses the broadest themes imaginable, but in such an unaffected way that it is utterly beguiling. Dances realize prophetic dream sequences or re-enact segments of the narrative in a creative and ingenious way.

At one point, two lovers in army uniform skate around the edge of the stage to the "Skaters' Waltz." As the music grows louder, they are joined by other soldiers and the patriotic, congratulatory send off quickly develops into a destructive march, trampling domestic effects and forcing helpless civilians out of their way.

The actors demonstrate a chameleon versatility with which they unrecognisably adopt different roles. The music (performed by Jean-Sébastien Côté) is hauntingly atmospheric and seamlessly integrated into the action. One particularly poignant song, "Youkali" by Kurt Weill, is full of yearning and lyrical ache for a harmonious world.

This experience will expand your theatrical outlook, making other productions look staid, conventional and mundane. The unique chance to see The Dragons' Trilogy is both a perfect introduction to Lepage's brilliance and an exceptional opportunity for fans to revisit a formative play. The stories are at once human and cosmic, and the far-reaching themes are produced imaginatively and unpretentiously.

This indescribably mesmeric production is a flawless combination of aesthetic majesty and emotional integrity. It will assail your senses, enthral and enchant you.

Review: The Dragons' Trilogy, by Robert Lepage

How can you sum up 325 minutes of theatre - that's nearly five and a half hours (albeit with three intervals) - that whirls with imagery, pulses with energy and buzzes with ideas?

At the level of narrative, The Dragons' Trilogy, now at the Barbican in London, could be summarised as a too-neat, too-circular family saga: two young French-Canadian girls living in Quebec City in the 1930s, close friends, begin the play just on the cusp of adolescence. One gets pregnant and is gambled away to become the wife of a first-generation Chinese-Canadian by the drunken barber father. The other joins the army, marries "appropriately" and has two sons. Meanwhile in Japan, a geisha is made pregnant by an abusive Englishman, who abandons her. The daughter of that baby will eventually get together with the French-Canadian's son, while the illegitimate daughter will, well not to give too much away, will suffer a nasty fate.

Yet the director, Robert Lepage, is not, you can't but feel, terribly interested in narrative, or indeed dialogue. He knows audiences expect it, crave it, and gives them the bare bones, in a sometimes naturalistic, sometimes stylised mixture of English, French, Chinese and Japanese. (There are surtitles when necessary.)

What really matters to him, however, is the stunning image, the shock of movement, the flash of light. Sometimes it is surreal. At one point a nun standing in the basket of a speeding bicycle (being ridden by the father of that illegitimate girl, still a delivery man in his home town) is shouting out the humiliation of her public trial in China after the revolution, underneath a screen image of Mao, while the married French-Canadian woman sits on the roof of a shed learning to type to a disembodies voice of an instruction manual that is actually commenting on the action, while her old friend sits and mourns the departure of her daughter.

Yet it all makes sense. Really!

The triology is staged in a pit of gravel, a brilliant touch for often what is important here is the swish of movement through it, or the stamp of (metaphor) jackboots, even the slice of ice-skates. An often underused sense often strains for full fitness. It is also a Japanese garden, a grave, our earth mother, and a parking lot that contains the history of all that came before.

So what does it all mean? I heard more than one member of the audience asking. That's where the reviewer's task gets really difficult. It would be possible to use phrases made vacuous by overuse like "choice and free will", "the flow of life", "the human condition", "the modern condition", "the female condition". Really, this is a show about life in all of its messy, and metaphorical, reality.

And it is an optimistic reality. The new generation, coming to life as the old fades away with the "white dragon" of autumn, seems to be making a better fist of it, in its glorious multicultural, multi-ethnic reality, than did their parents and grandparents.
Last time the Trilogy was produced in London, one reviewer said "See Robert Lepage and die". It is hard to disagree.

The city Limits Magazine had the following Summary of the play:

Here's an event to fall in love with. In four parts (like many fine trilogies) spanning 80 years and the breadth of Canada, this full version of The Dragons' Trilogy lasts six hours, all of which possess a visual elegance of symphonic proportions; at its best it is a breathtaking marriage of grace and emotional resonance.

Director Robert Lepage begins with a range of materials – a parking-lot kiosk, an expanse of sand, some lengths of rope – and a fundamental image or theme – an impressionistic portrait of Canada's Chinatowns in this century. From these he has woven a vast fabric in which the unlikeliest juxtapositions make for wholly unexpected cumulative effects: a typing tuition tape comments upon a character's fears, a nun recounts her mission's expulsion from Communist China while standing in the pannier of a speeding bicycle.

The experience builds insidiously from a leisurely start, drawing the audience imperceptibly into ever more intimate involvement. As the vague narratives unfold (in English, Québecois French, Chinese and Japanese) to the accompaniment of Robert Caux's haunting score, contrasts between scenes become more and more agonising, with climactic set-pieces – a savage march of victory/destruction, the simultaneous arrival of Halley's Comet and a Chinese New Year dragon ("dragon star", geddit?) – of shattering intensity. See Robert Lepage and die.

*This information is all very useful in helping us to build a picture of the productio. Please get into the habit of providing the source of any information you are quoting, or any quotes cited. You've listed the name of the publication but who wrote these reviews? Is there a link? What was the date of publication? This is all research information that we need to know...* - Liam

Posted by Lauren Tudhope