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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 4 December 2010

The Daniele Finzi Pasca signature

by Lucie Renaud / December 1, 2010

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He was discovered almost 20 years ago in Icaro, an intimate theatre piece for a privileged lone spectator who becomes his accomplice in telling an unclassifiable tale that perturbs, moves, draws laughter and tears, and haunts one for years. While together with his assistants from Teatro Sunil, his brother Marco and the composer, dancer and choreographer Maria Bonzanigo, he pursued his questioning about the best way “to take the audience in his arms and dance with it.” Thousands of miles away, the founders of Cirque Éloize wondered about the poetics of circus arts that would be founded on multidisciplinarity. Contact was unavoidably made between the two organizations, and Daniele Finzi Pasca laid the foundation of what became the “Trilogie du ciel”: Nomade – La nuit, le ciel est plus grand (2002), Rain – Comme une pluie dans tes yeux (2004) and Nebbia (2007). Meanwhile, he directed the Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo and the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin.

This time, he takes on the universe of playwright Anton Chekov, whose 150th birthday is being celebrated this year. When the show was presented in Moscow last January, the director admitted having hesitated between exaltation and denial with respect to the public's truly passionate response. “This show has a lot of love for the audience; it is tenderly funny,” he mused, seated at table in an Outremont café. This is the crucible for the ideas of Inlevitas, a production company he set up together with Cirque Eloize’s co-founder, Julie Hamelin, who recently became his wife.

Letter to Chekhov
Having refused twice to try his hand at the mythical opus of a writer that director Giorgio Strehler called “the great revolutionary of contemporary theatre,” Daniele Finzi Pasca ended up accepting the unavoidable: “If a father asks you to cook for his daughter's wedding, it means he likes what you cook.” Wishing to move away from a too-classical vision of Chekhov, he also appropriated wide swaths of his life: “I found there things that touched and fascinated me, small details, choices that he made, the way he chooses to write about human reality.” Here again, it remained crucial to relate a story that had the power to heal: “All the arts have the potential to alleviate a child's night-time fears, to give courage, to heal. Theatre might be the least lofty of the performance arts—how to compete with music, for example?—but it is the one that encompasses all others.”

In this performance, everything alludes to Chekhov. People who know Chekhov will recognize the quips, quotations, bits of biography, his love of fishing (the title Donka, is Russian for the little bell that warns that a fish is nibbling at the line), while the uninitiated can only fall under his charm, according to the director. Acrobatics, dance, song and music are part of the show, but for the spectator to become immersed in a world that is “surreal, comical and tender,” the theatrical side remains vitally important. Seeking what united Chekhov's characters, Daniele Finzi Pasca noted that all were faced with an apparently foreign world that is sinking, producing a rupture of something within themselves. “Candles had this ability to disappear gradually, and, even more so, ice that melts and breaks. The characters are therefore constantly skidding, melting, like the chandelier that is dissolving before us. I celebrate this strange human condition, and the spectacle thus becomes a huge, crazy party, borne by the spirits of vodka.”

There are many commonalities among theatre people—for instance, wanderlust. Even though he chose to become a bit more rooted in Quebec's soil, Finzi Pasca admits to feeling restless when he remains more than a few weeks in the same spot. An agenda that is bursting at the seams (with performances of Donka already booked up to 2013) undoubtedly serves as an antidote. Like Chekhov, he considers friendship to be an integral part of his life: “In friendship, people choose one another, slowly, through beautiful gestures. Friendship is one of my passions. As the Italian saying goes, when you have a friend, you have a treasure,” he told Voir back in March, when Icaro was revived (the show just won a MECCA Award from the Montreal English Critics Circle for “best visiting production”). Nostalgia also has a very special significance. “Nostalgia remains a particularly interesting theme for me, for it is the exaltation of a moment. We do not turn around to look behind us, but rather, we are dancing, greeting each other. This could be the last moment. We must remain aware that the beauty of the present can evaporate, and live the exaltation of the moment. I see it as a passionate, less aerial, form of carpe diem.”

Heart to heart
The man who sometimes describes himself as a “vibration sensor” knew even as a child that he would become an artist. Son, grandson and great-grandson of photographers, he wanted more than anything else to give motion to their pictures. Even as he takes on the role of a director, his quest remains foremost that of a clown. Whether Auguste, whiteface or Pierrot, the clown tries to seduce, either by being clumsy, or by calling upon his virtuosity, or by reaching a metaphysical dimension that allows him to play on the registers of death, disease (as in Icaro) but, above all, doubt. “A clown discovers his strengths and talents, and he starts dancing with these elements. Then, he discovers his weaknesses, his wounds, the parts of himself he likes less, and he slowly begins to use them while turning them into strengths,” he explains in Théâtre de la caresse, a collection of interviews with the philosopher Facundo Ponce de León, who is also the assistant director for Donka. The clown tries to tame the audience, naturally—and, by that means, to tame himself—and he ends up dancing a strange pas de deux with the spectators, taking them to the limits of their emotional register. Overturning preconceived ideas, playing with references, creating paradoxes—this brings about a constant reinterpretation of the world around us: “The clown is not someone who surrenders to power; he is filled with awe when facing mystery.”

Rewriting the codes of stagecraft
This reinvention is a daily task that remains at the heart of his creative process. After proposing an acrobatic and poetic reading of L'Amour de loin by Kaija Saariaho, he is now working with Valery Gergiev on a new production of the mythic Aïda. “I wish to compress Aïda as it was staged at the Verona Arena, and turn it into something more intimate, while fostering a pacifistic questioning of those strange mechanisms that incite people to go on the warpath for no good reason. Even when they are triumphant, victors bear deep injuries, and in Aïda, love does not succeed in overcoming this madness.” He is not relying on the power of the voices—the Mariinski III features superb acoustics—so much as on the characters' density. He envisioned young singers taking on these roles, so that he could, for example, show the wild beauty of Amneris as physically as possible.

Several projects are lined up for this workaholic who is driven by passion: “I love our world; it fascinates me. I cannot think of it as work in the conventional sense.” Having already published a book of short stories, Come acqua allo specchio, he designed and interpreted Aitestás, recognized as the best foreign show by the National Association of Mexican Critics, teaches the oft misunderstood art of clowning in many parts of the world, and has just completed the synopsis of an opera about the goddess of the sea, Mazu, that was commissioned by the Taiwan National Opera. He has received offers to become a consultant for the Winter Games ceremonies at Sochi. Inlevitas is working on film projects, one of them based on his script for Piazza San Michele. Also, he would very much like to work with horses.

A blank page
Daniele Finzi Pasca always seems to be consumed with fire, but he prefers the reassuring shadow of the backstage to the bright lights of the stage: “I like to remain backstage, wandering around the dressing rooms, talking with actors, watching rehearsals.” Above all, he refuses to become a demigod and does not hesitate to put himself on the spot by resuming his portrayal of Icaro, performed more than 700 times in six languages since its premiere. “One must become vulnerable on stage in order to plumb the depths of a piece,” he stresses. “When we ask an actor to take risks, we must remember that it is profoundly dangerous. To do that, we must live it ourselves.” He explains it in these terms in Théâtre de la caresse: “On stage, showers very often pour down on our souls. The pain and fears that do not belong to us quickly become relative... We, the directors, often forget the smell of fear. The stage is a place full of traps and whirlwinds. If you dive, you can sink very deep and injure yourself. Actors know this and move like horses when they tread on unknown territory: they sniff around in an attempt to take their bearings. A director should not forget this. To me, Icaro is a return to being a horse, and it is a very beautiful feeling.”

While, night after night, the experience is revived, this renewal remains essentially internal: “Repetition does not necessarily entail having to change anything about the performance. We are the ones who change, and we must adapt ourselves constantly, replaying the same score while accepting the fact that we are different.” He talks of mountaineers who, year after year, are confronted with the same mountain: “The mountain remains the same, but they have changed. Whenever I am on stage, I realize how much I have changed.”

[Translation: Anne Stevens]

Donka, A Letter to Chekhov. Usine C, December 2-18, 2010.
Information and tickets: www.usine-c.com

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