When Grusomhetens Teater succeeds, as is the case with Last Song, the group expands the concept of performing art.
Lars Øyno is one of our most original performing artists. It is now 20 years since he produced his first performance at Trønderlag Theater, where he was engaged as an actor on a permanent basis, and 17 years since Grusomhetens Teater (The Theater of Cruelty) became his own company. His role model is the Frenchman Antonin Artaud, the source of the concept of the ‘Theater of Cruelty’, and Lars Øyno endeavors to create “theater with the body’s own musicality , its breath and poetry, as the origin of all action.”
On Friday, the theater premiered, Comte de Lautréamont’s Last Song, where Lars Øyno has been inspired by the French writer, Isidore Ducasse, for the second time. The first time was with the performance, Poetries, in 2000. In 1870, Isidore Ducasse died alone in his hotel room in Paris. He was 24 years old. Under the pseudonym, Comte de Lautréamont, he had published, Maldoror’s Songs (Les Chantes de Maldoror), a book that did not receive much attention at the time. But 50 years later, the Surrealists rediscovered his work, and today Isidore Ducasse is considered one of the 18th century’s greatest poets.
In the middle of the stage, a worn school desk and a chair. A figure in a men’s suit comes in, kneeling, it slowly and deliberately makes its way to an old fashioned organ, and sits down carefully in front of the instrument. He is followed by a middle-aged man. Casually attired with his sleeves rolled up, he resembles a hotel concierge, but the rod that he brandishes brings to mind a school head master. Virtuously, he presents a brilliant, exuberant, and rather acrobatic performance, which stands in stark contrast to the formally dressed youth’s tormented movement to the instrument. He is not completely supreme though: at times, his outstretched hands, with all their might, deter an unknown and invisible threat, and soon he is confronted with a new challenge: He must carry another suited figure, the organist’s alter-ego.
After one final lash with his rod, the older man leaves the younger man sitting at the desk, and accompanied by notes from the organ, the young man fights an increasingly desperate confrontation with death, where he conjures forth humanity’s affinity with birds, fish, and insects, and finally accepts his hidden animality. A gleaming black beetle scuttles towards the actor like a menacing Angel of Death, while a majestic eagle attentively follows every movement. In the end, death becomes a mild reconciliation, a dancing ritual that leads to an all-devouring and peaceful darkness.
I experienced, Last Song, as an intense, almost frightening, narrative of youthful curiosity and despair, in contrast to the self-assured world of adults. Yet, Lars Øyno’s uniqueness and strength lies in his ability to present performances that, presumably, arouse varying associations in different spectators. Øyno follows Artaud’s imperative that theater should not be, “to act out written plays, but to give some form of material expression to everything that lies hidden, undisclosed, or buried deeply in the human mind,” and that will be different for each and every one of us.
Slow and captivating movements, hypnotic repetitions, the three actors complete physical presence radiates a terrifying, fascinating dread that is intensified by the props, lighting, and costumes that we are unable to describe more fully in this review. When Lars Øyno succeeds, like he does here, then Grusomhetens Teater radically expands the concept of performing art. Not many can do the same.
This review was printed in, Klassekampen, Monday, December 7th 2009
In, Klassekampen, there was no room to discuss the set design and costumes. My homepage does make room, though, which I am happy for. Gjøril Bjercke Sæther had also made the fantastic costumes for, The Mountain Bird, Grusomhetens Teater’s last production. Here she includes small and very period correct details, making the actor’s costumes an expression for their roles’ personality – most vividly in the scene where Odille Blehr undergoes a convincing sex change. The program does not mention the Set designer, yet the stage backdrop is fascinating in all its grey monotony, which is only broken by a few old fashion anatomical charts and a few cheery animal pictures. Another evocative element is the window that looks out upon the roofs of Paris, and a soft, dark blue night sky.