The main characteristics of Tomaž Pandur’s work - the space design and the architectural construction of the thought processes marked the theatrical poetics of this director and his two performances staged during the past few years: the opera AUS EINEM TOTENHAUS (Leoš Janaček) in Bonn and INFIERNO (to motifs from the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri) in Madrid.
“AUS EINEM TOTENHAUS”
(Opernhaus Bonn, opening September 26, 2004)
Director: Tomaž Pandur; setdesign: Sadar Vuga Arhitekti; moving images: Mileusnić+Serdarević; costumes: Tomaž Pandur; dramaturgy: Jens Neundorf von Enzberg; conductor: Roman Kofman.
Aus einem Totenhaus (From the house of the dead) is an opera by Leoš Janaček, composed on motifs taken from the novel “Notes from the House of the Dead” by F. M. Dostoyevsky and rarely performed by opera houses. The dark story of the Siberian prison experienced by Dostoyevsky himself was the basis of the story about the hopeless destiny of the camp inmates that is the last work by Leoš Janaček. It was performed for the first time after his death. Then the opera got the addition of an “optimistic” ending since the composer’s contemporaries thought it was necessary for the finale of the opera. Totenhaus in Bonn sung in Czech, and therefore the audience has to read subtitles to be able to follow the story. However, the audience abandons it since they want to enjoy the beauty of Janaček’s music and the hypnotic moving set and the interchanges of moving pictures at the side of the stage. Pandur’s version avoids naturalism and translates the libretto concerning monumental states of human enslavement into a system in search of moments of light during an infernal journey. Timeless Siberia is a matrix associated with any kind of violence, from the prison to Baghdad, New York and all the way to present-day London; it is a predictable state of spirit in the flow of time. Pandur chose the elements of the set - four sliding planes with cutout openings – the director uses them as hardware for creating each and every scene. The set design is thus an abstract, neutral and yet a physical product; it has generic qualities. “The sliding planes create a horizontal space, the openings stress the verticality”, explains Boštjan Vuga, one of the authors of the set (Sadar Vuga Arhitekti). The spatial section has yet another function: it is the instrument of time – it regulates the movement of the music, the singers and the planes – coordinated by the director. The atmosphere of the individual scenes is defined by the space created between the planes. The introduction of slide shows (moving pictures) brings depth into the two dimensionality, creating a cinematic space. The monumental, hovering construction, fast interchanges and closings of platforms that put the actors on the stage, the moving of dancers along the brim of the planes, almost fifteen meters above the orchestra, create a hypnotic atmosphere, a hierarchy of enclosed space, a hierarchy of dramatic relations and the layers of the mental states of the protagonists. This “opera ex machine”, as it is called by Željko Serdarević, uses sides of moving platforms in mathematic precision, as a display of moving pictures and as a source of the neon light that shocks the audience when the stage opens up behind the metal curtain for the first time. “The machine” continues moving even when the last notes of the opera fade away; the audience waits for the movement to stop before they reward the performers with their applause. After the opening of Pandur’s staging, German media wrote about an exceptionally modern work that confirms new ideas and which has laid down the criteria for all opera productions of the next opera season.
(Teatro Maria Guerrero, Centro Dramatico Nacional, Madrid, opening: May 25, 2005)
Direction: Tomaž Pandur; dramaturgy: Livija Pandur; set design: Sven Jonke for Numen; video: Serdarević+Mileusnić; costumes: Angelina Atlagic; music: Goran Bregović; lighting: Juan Gomez Cornejo.
La Divina Comedia, one of the most fantastic journeys ever written in human civilization, made up into a triptych consisting of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso is Dante’s allegorical vision and contemplation of another world, the world after death, and the world of recognition of the real everyday state of mind which men confront every single moment of day or night. Dante uses “commedia d´anime” and poetry to create the vision of another world, a vivid and warm picture under which the blood flows and passion flares up. It is an infinite gallery of pain, cleansing and bliss, passion, peace and love. His Divina Comedia marks the beginning of his glory.
It is a comedy since Dante journeys from Hell to Heaven, and not vice versa, and Divina because it was inspired by the divine emanation in a hundred cantos. It is a magnificent score of encyclopedic dimensions, the “enciclopedia dantesca”, a poetic Bible, the foundation of the new era of European thought and philosophy. This “orbis pictus” (world in pictures) depicts the flux, mixing and organization of Dante’s mystical journey following the principles of a music phrase or a melody. The initiator is love which can do anything: “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stele” (Paradiso, Canto 33). A liturgical mystery was changed into modern drama as early as Dante’s own era.
Pandur’s Madrid Inferno composes a new whole. Pars et Totum. The order which is the basic category of the time bomb in its mathematical precision discovers an electric field where all things return to darkness. All that is entering that infinite space is changed. Space beyond borders, it is cursed and magical at the same time; and where everything is in all its power only one body crucified by the golden section of the tree of nature.
Under the starless sky Inferno heaves and sighes with fear and lack of peace; it is interrupted by fierce thought and is always ready for new travelers, for new files of exiles and numerous fugitives. The infernal place draws a structure with nine circles. The emission of sound wakes one up from dullness. It discloses the truth which pains the eyes so everybody looks away. However, it is not possible to look away since the truth is multiplied and projected into infinite reflections. Dante was a constructor of the underground; as an architect of souls he drags along the whole world, forgetting at the same time that he is only a symbol and an allegory by itself living in the barren fields of human metamorphoses. He is connected to the time axis, to “fear before time, revelation of time, consciousness of time” (E. Cioran).
These were the reasons why Sven Jonke (and Numen) constructed Madrid’s Inferno as a mirror cube, a space of infinite possibilities, multiplications, as a light caught in the height of theatre stage, where the audience may see itself – as if a voyeur - in the infernal system. The mirror reflects as much – only as much – as there is put into it. This virtual void space is inhabited by Pandur’s New Babylon stream of thoughts of the new world, pictures of the archaic projections which are older from the words and morals. We may perceive the uninterrupted transmutations and reflections as an imperial sexual theatre, as a supreme temple of the eyes of western civilization. We see fascism and the “pagan past, never dead, flaming in the mystical hierarchies of star-like glory” (C. Paglia). We may see blood, torture, ecstasy, tears – Dante’s art full of crimes. And there are no coincidences; there is only nature which rules by its weights. It is the “pendulum” which is only swinging and drawing a dubious path. The face of Inferno on its back side is permutated into continuous movement supported by the video projections (Mileusnić+Serdarević), which by the moving pictures of the infernal time sequence relive the memory of the experience of civilization. The map of inferno is drawn in all its segments. The sound and light grow and fade so that they stop the time at their intersection. We perceive our “brave new world” and try to wake up from the nightmare. We perceive a happy portrait of Inferno, hidden behind the reflection from the mirror, and the one and only thought which is filling up eternity. Serdarević says “it is at the same time a space which negates the basic Gothic rule – that demons do not have their reflection in the mirror. And where are the reflections? In Pandur’s Inferno, naturally, inhabited by multiplicities of demon reflections.” One can perceive the world in the grain of sand, as Blake says, or in the reflection in a mirror, which is also made of sand. Pandur directs Inferno, caught by the mirror cube like an archetypal picture which at the same time recalls to mind numerous art works of the entire western civilization circle, but which at the same time is also related to the original layers of existence. The reflection of light in the mirror does not change its nature; still it keeps a certain aspect of illusion. Who can recognize oneself in the reflections of Inferno, smooth and clean, or in the broken mirror which if put together again reflects only the broken picture of the world? We ourselves are naturally hell; hell is not only in others.
Madrid’s Inferno proves that theatre has power. Absolute power, which makes possible a transition into dreams. Love is a full auditorium, too, isn’t it?