Thursday, December 15, 2016

L'Amour de Loin at the Metropolitan Opera, NYC - not a review

A show is the sum of its parts. Here are a few:

Lepage brings the ocean made out of colored lights on the stage, for our ecstatic experience. He lifts Deus on a Machina: a prince, who is a troubadour from France (Eric Owens). His love, a distant countess from Tripoli (Susanna Phillips). Lepage fakes the distant horizon on stage with lines that are smaller and closer together. A small pilgrim (it’s a puppet really, we’re not asked to be fooled!) rows his boat in the far distance. Goes off stage. Back on stage, he’s closer (a larger puppet on a larger boat, clever Robert). Off stage again. This time he comes back as a real person, a young pilgrim cum go-between (Tamara Mumford, who must get bored - and aren't we all - with mezzo-soprano roles crossdressing as young boys) singing like a nightingale on his frail skiff. The chorus pop their heads like mermaids out of the waves, or their hands like the tails of some marine creatures. Moonlit water. Huge waves in a storm. Lepage celebrates unabashedly the secret magic of the stagecraft.

It’s too easy being sarcastic, I shall not dwell on how hard it is to believe a very bulky man is dying on stage of deprivation. I shall neither qualify nor quantify the acting skills of the soprano. On the other hand, every one could sing, while the mezzo-soprano could both sing and act.

The orchestral and choral music might not have broken boundaries but the singing by most apt artists - it's the Met - was thoroughly enjoyable. An opera written by a woman composer (Kajji Sarriaho) conducted by a talented woman conductor (Susanna Mällki) on the same night at the Met?! Quite the femme celebration! Pour the Pro Secco out!

Best part? Libretto by esteemed Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf. What a treat it must have been for him to write poetry that people are actually going to listen to. In the 21st century. It’s obvious Maalouf immersed himself enthusiastically in this work. The lyrics, funny at times, are more often simple and poetic. A beautiful tale of longing for the Other, of crossings, of cultures coming together with a tragic end. In real life, what love encounter ever ends well? Unless both partners die at the very same time in their sleep, unaware of impeding death, their bodies entangled, while dreaming of love?

The sum of the parts was most positive. But not in the black. In the blue, and the pink, and the gold, and the silvery moonlight, all reflected by a Countess’s shiny dress.

Contributed by  - Arabella Hutter  -

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The truth according to a lawyer

Pierre Olivier, a lawyer, discusses truth in court. He presents the situation of a pedophile who denies the facts despite the overwhelming evidence that has been gathered against him. Olivier's role as a defense lawyer is to explain to the accused that if he denies, he will get 15 years in prison, if he admits he will fare better with only 8 maybe. But sometimes the accused does not want, or can not, recognize the facts. He needs to continue to deny to preserve his perception of himself, to protect his family's illusions. Pierre Olivier maintains that the lawyer must not push him to confess his guilt, because this could result in suicide, either of the accused or of his family, one of his children for example.

I was shocked. If I put myself in the place of the victim, I think I would need, more than a "punishment" for the perpetrator, that the crime be recognized, that my victim status be confirmed by the accused. Does the perpetrator's family entitlement to protection prevail over the victim's need for the truth to be told? Maybe for the defense lawyer.

It is a difficult subject. Our legal system comes to us from the Romans. Is might be time to review it and to improve it.

Contributed by - - Arabella Hutter

Posted by - - Arabella Hutter

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Thread: A Prologue

Below is the prologue to a project part memoir, part historical fiction, The Thread
Inspired by Helen Schjerfbeck

Inspired by Remedios Varos
We were the only family that ate corn on the cob and celebrated Christmas on the 25th of December instead of the 24th. We didn’t know the simple explanation to these peculiarities: our mother was American. One day, long before she came to Switzerland, she had taken a machete and cut her life in two. Did she open this gash over one day? A month ? A year ? My father, who met her when she was 20, knew little more than we did. She had already changed her name, did not see any of her family nor any childhood friend. She did not write to them, did not speak to them, did not discuss. Thus we knew her, born at twenty, all questions about her past taboo. This code of silence existed before I, the youngest of the family, started asking questions. Even friends of my parents seemed to be aware of the taboo and respected it.
“She must come from Britain because she speaks English and often travels alone to London. “ we whispered during one of our secret conferences. She sent us beautiful postcards from the British Museum, with sweet words that failed to touch us as her absence seemed further proof of her aloofness.
“She must have lived near the sea, as she talked about picnics at the beach. “ Reported my sister. “She mentioned a nanny. “I added. “ She didn’t. “ “ Yes, she did. “ I imagined a large Victorian house, a bit run down, near windswept dunes covered with brambles. And behind the shutters of the villa, the great secret, the deep mystery that was hidden from our sight. If she made any allusion to the past, we would freeze and pretend casualness, in the hope that, oblivious to our presence, she would inadvertently slip into confidences.

The day of the revelation, we sat at regular intervals around my mother, hearts pounding. The living room looked reticent now that I didn’t live home anymore. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know, I was frightened. She started speaking, without much preamble.
‘I went to the embassy in Geneva to look up my last name in the phone book. I found my brother’s phone number. When I called a man answered. I didn’t know who he was.
“I’d like to speak to Vincent.”
“He’s not here. Who’s calling?”
 “His sister. Who are you?”
“His father.”
A childhood can not be restored in one or two hours. This narrative of her past would normally have been built over time by what our childhood terribly missed: by hearing touching and humorous anecdotes, stories from the grandmother we never met, looking at family photographs together, visiting relatives. We asked a few questions, as if stroking cautiously an unpredictable cat. She answered, describing the harrowing events that led her to cut all ties with her family in a manner as devoid of emotion as a notary reading one more will.

Inspired by Ana Mendieta
The burden of suffering which my mother had shed became mine. I filled not just with my mother’s pain, but her mother’s as well, and that of all her little brothers and sisters’, rippling down the generations. The only way to drain the overflowing vault was through the valve of my imagination. I began to make up the missing episodes in my mother’s life, and in her mother’s. Then I went back to my great-grandmother, the famous Lietta, who seemed the source of all our calamities. This emotional monster, what could she have gone through in her childhood? I had no reason to stop, and beyond this cruel grandmother, I went to listen to the story of each woman who miraculously gave birth to a girl who then in turn became a mother, a long meandering thread over the centuries, saved against all odds from being cut down by nature and men. I followed it back to the time when a handful of thinkers on their peninsula decided the important facts to remember would not be desires, births, jealousy, vanity, rape. Instead they came up with a discipline that would only record political events, thus excluding women’s memory: History was born.

To read the first story of 100 women talk to their daughters over 2500 years, click here.

All illustrations original works by Arabella Hutter, as are the texts.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jasperse & King at BAM, a history of beauty? Not a review!

I have not followed dance the way I have with theater or visual arts. Therefore I would never call myself a dance critic, but then who is? So this is not a review either.

I thought about cheating and reading the New York Times review, the ultimate standard, to compare notes. But, no. Here it is, unstructured, uneducated, honest:

The beginning of the show brings up a whole cornucopia of images of all European art and the continuity of its ideas of beauty and masculinity/femininity: Greek vase art, Michelangelo, The Three Graces of Raphael turn into Matisse’s nymphs. It’s seductive (hey, we speak the same secret language!) and feels uncomfortable (hey, let's exclude everybody else!) This Game of cultural references implies a common Cultural Vocabulary but what If I grew up In Zimbabwe or in a working-class small town in Iowa?

Men replace women in a series of tableau with classical ideas of femininity, and vice versa. They were short tunic with skirts, the women severe grey tunics.

The choreography, as in a line of dancers moving fast over the stage on a waltz rhythm, is the work of someone at the top of his form, who is brilliant, intelligent and experienced. I think. The dancers must undergo grueling practice, from the way they control their body and the movements they are able to perform. Lighting imaginative and evocative. The music by John King, striking, adds a spiritual dimension to the visuals.  Usually, I prefer live music to recorded. But in this show, it sounded like it was played by the Gods and came down to us from the top of Olympus.

When the music, which arrives by dramatic bursts, becomes silent, the audience communes in its involvement with the show. Not even a cough, no kidding. 

As I was watching, I was thinking that maybe the reason I have followed dance less than other arts, is that I have two different reactions to it. On one hand, I wonder intellectually what the choreographer meant, what the references, context to images. On the other, there is a very gut reaction to watching another human dancing, a connection directly through the movement as referenced by our own body. Everyone dances or should. When we watch art, we automatically bring up other images, other art, landscapes, faces. When we watch theater, we are reminded of scenes of our lives. And when we watch dance, it’s through our experience of our own body we perceive the other’s movements. I think. I can’t reconcile these two reactions, one intellectual/visual, one kinetic, two far apart for my comfort. But I'm learning. I'm moving outside my comfort zone, and it's rewarding.