Saturday, 22 November 2008

'don juan. who?' - athletes of the heart + mladinsko theatre

ANNA FURSE Athletes of the Heart (UK) in co-production with
Mladinsko Theatre, Ljubljana (Slovenia)
from cyber space to theatre space

directed by Anna Furse
with Damjana Černe, Željko Hrs, Mare Mlačnik, Tanya Myers, Matej Recer, Giovanna Rogante, Marie-Gabrielle Rotie
at riverside studios
FeEast - Festival of Central and Eastern European Arts at Riverside Studios
This international company worked in a private ‘cyber studio’ for 18 months. Confessions of darkest dreams and desires then gave rise to a haunting work that pulsates with passionate physicality, bittersweet irony, 1000 feather pillows, a drag king and a man who cries at too much beauty. DON JUAN.WHO? is about men and women and why we still fight. It’s about seduction, love, sex, power, and the Man who never stays for breakfast. With over sixty million three hundred thousand web hits in his name, how come Don Juan still grips us?

A poetic, complex, simple, intelligently directed performance, bounding in
eroticism and desire… Don Juan. Who? is a unique piece.
Complex, complicated, and totally simple at the same time…very sincere, full of
passion and love...fascinating….More performances of this kind!
Amelia Kraigher
VECER, Slovenia
An unusual, provocative performance that both avoids and employs
Gregor Butala DNEVNIK, Slovenia
The performance is even more provocative when it ventures into existential,
erotic, sexual extremes….a kind of melancholic aura..a kind of transcendental
dimension..reaches beyond the known, the verified and the
Blaz Lukan DELO, Slovenia
Following sell-out performances at Mladinsko Theatre, Ljubljana and previews at the Shunt Vaults, the production is at Riverside Studios for 4 performances only as part of FeEast Festival 2008.

Post-show chaired by Nick Flood

Ensemble traditions

Tanya Myers
18months in cyber space
Sunday evening - every - turn up and improvise in cyber space -anonymity of being able to imagine I was a man

Zeljko Hrs
We were sure we know who wrote what lines and always we were wrong

Anna Furse
What really worked was setting a theme. Vomitic work - the process obliges you to work with interruption: there are sentences that have been written by more than one voice - ego-less creation

Giovanna Rogante
I had to learn to type

Anna Furse
Lost two who couldn't cope with process
We had to meet religiouly two hours every sunday - we had to do this to make the work - very dedicated work - this was a a deliberate strategy to try to respond to the new financial restriction on making work

We could pretend to be the boss

Then workshop
Then text
Then 3 and half months rehearsal
Then premiere

I am used to speaking english even with my mistakes - English is the language of the western world - when I speak a language I think that language

All we wrote was in english and then translated most into slovenian

Marie-Gabrielle Rotie
I was not part of the writing and Anna gave me a lot of artistic freedom - everything i did was entirely responsive to the text using my own physical vocabularies

Alot of work taking a scrap of text an applying physical language we had made together - the structure came very late in process
We had reading list and films we watched etc
Someone wrote a wonderful parody of the byron don juan for us and this became a key reference - it's there in the work but even more its about the don juan in our minds

What is hell for you?
just an invention a special place we can go running off to - another woman
Men and women who still can't talk to each other - I don't subscribe to an idea of post-feminism - we haven't achieved what feminism reached for yet

What did you miss from this process?
Embarrassment -all the social issues that come up when people are in the same space together by being So well- masked you could become unmasked a lot- of nakedness

Would you do it again?
Yes but a lot of work involved

Don Juan. Who? as a performance.
Don Juan. Who? is a ‘timeless scenario where sexual politics are sweated out on a red carpet’ by an ensemble of seven and a supporting pillow-throwing chorus of several more. It begins with an evocation of Venus and Vulcan: from out of the darkness we see a welder, masked and stooped over the sparks of his work: Vulcan, god of fire and metalworking.  We watch a naked man approaching from behind, embracing and undressing the welder, who naked is revealed to be a woman: Venus, unfaithful wife of Vulcan and goddess of love, beauty and fertility. ‘She downs her tools, reluctantly yields to him.’ And this non-verbal opening scene contains and signposts the potency, contradictions and deceptions that this theatre will show us: the story of relationships between men and women is never straightforward nor as obvious as our cliché’s and postmodern savoire faire may beguile us into believing. Don Juan. Who? animates an apparently archetypal Don Juan coupling, and the first words of spoken text - ‘ZELJKO: Seducer / DAMJANA: Seduced’  - establish an emphatic Male v. Female duality. But during the journey from the ‘Dressing Don Juan and his Prey for Seduction’ all the way through to ‘She and He After He Quit’, the simultaneously amplified inner monologues from the Chorus of ‘Her’s and ‘Him’s repeatedly confound the over-easy stereotypes of ‘Him, Tarzan; Her Jane’, and we cannot be sure the roles of ‘Seducer’ and ‘Seduced’ are cast and engendered in stone quite as given. In each of the four Seduction scenes, although we seem to be getting a pretty traditional Alpha male controlling the story and pulling the strings, it is ‘She’ who is actually the protagonist: in ‘Seduction 2’ and ‘Seduction 3’ it is she who makes the moves, and then in the first and last Seduction scenes, she is very much the writer of her own seduction story, almost irrespectively of what he actually does or doesn’t do.

Through its storytelling of this one tale we see and hear the many voices of women and men trying to make sense of how men and women can come together without fighting, what they love, what they want, what they don’t want, what drives them together, what drives them apart. And as might be expected in a show about Don Juan, it appears to be full of male and female archetypes and cliché’s.  And the play is deliberately structured with heavy gender scorings, both in the language - ‘TANYA: She’s made of her childhood dreams that pull her on a lead like a dog. / MATEJ + ZELJKO: In the same way his dick does.’ - and performatively with the men’s team lining up around ‘Don Juan’ and the women around ‘Her’ from the start.

But, of course, to be interesting and new this play must, and does, show us that things cannot be what they initially seem or are expected to be from the Don Juan branding.  This complexities illustrated in the symbolic opening are woven throughout and into this show, revealing the first appearances of superficial and almost careless familiarity to be a mirage of deeper patterns of much richer and contrary counterpoints and opposites: ‘She’ is not given the authority of a name, but this apparent disempowerment means also that she can never be fully pinned down (as well as giving the audience our ‘everywo(man)’ entry into the story); ‘She’ talks about appearance, ‘He’ talks strategy, but it is the women who continually provide the dynamic propulsion for the story and demand progress and action, the men’s talk being more fixed on results and outcomes whether actually realised or merely fantasised. And the voiced inner thoughts often let us in to hear the errors in supposed certainties, and test our own assumptions, such as ‘His’ sureness that ‘She’ is obsessed with ‘Him’, when in fact she is more often obsessed with ‘Herself’, and that being Don Juan is all about domination and conquests: and in ‘A Drag King Dong Juan’ we hear that ‘Her’ fantasy Don Juan is about being herself rather than conquests and being dominant: ‘GIOVANNA: I don’t want to feel I have to be bad to be Don Juan. I don’t want to kill anyone. / TANYA: no no no / GIOVANNA: I don’t want to control any body … I want this person to love me though.’ 

Textural analysis of this play brings constant surprises, such as finding in the seeming equal spread of ‘His’ and ‘Her’ words quite unequal preoccupations in that ‘His’ thoughts are spread between thinking about himself and projecting what he is sure ‘She’ is thinking, whereas ‘Her’ thoughts are almost entirely about ‘Herself’ and rarely does she talk out thoughts about him. In the final scene, ‘Friends’, we hear ‘Her’ finally get her happiness and her freedom when ‘He’ throws her out the window: ‘GIOVANNA: And I’m flying / TANYA: Flying / GIOVANNA: Flying / DMAJANA: Flying.’ And still in control of telling her own story.
It is only from the penultimate scene, voiced by ‘Dolores, Don Juan’s Faithful Steed: A Perspective’, that we get to hear anything that sounds possible long term, and a more lasting, mutually dependent and symbiotic relationship is imagined than any the Don Juan mythology leads us into: ‘… He loves me. We’re a team, a pas de deux. I love his jumping out of windows on to my back … I want sparks to fly from my hooves. I want to give Don Juan the world.  Reader: I carried him.’

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