- From Banishment to Meeting with the Soul, a Pilgrimage on Earth, (Del destierro, al encuentro con el alma, el peregrinaje por la tierra, y)
A Group Creation from Venezuela’s Altosf Theatre
Directed by Juan Carlos De Petre
Produced as part of the Teatro De La Luna International Hispanic Festival
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Venezuelan actor Victor Ovalles, as The Actor, walks toward us. Another performer, Mildred Maury, as The Actress, is wrapped like a vine around him. They are in a spot light of white light against the dark, sounds of drums and exotic bird calls. He screams as the two, male and female, pull away from each other. Or is that anguished cry coming from a voiceover piped in behind us? No, the scream is from him. But The Actor seems larger than life. What’s going on here? Just keep that opening image in mind.
Clearly this is experimental theater of the highest order; the human body used as moving poetry. From Banishment to Meeting with the Soul, a Pilgrimage on Earth and…, a Group Creation, inspired by artistic director Juan Carlos De Petre presented by the Altosf Theatre (The Unknown Theatre), is Venezuela’s entry to Teatro De La Luna’s Tenth International Hispanic Theater Festival.
This isn’t madness we’re seeing danced and enacted before us. Juan Carlos De Petre has a method, called “The Unknown Theater,” or “Actor as Creator,” we’re told in the program, worth reading in detail before the performance. This is an exhilarating theatrical enactment that fuses modern dance, pantomime and story telling without words, and even reenacts iconic images from great paintings. No need for sur-titled English translation
Admittedly, I was baffled at first but immediately drawn in by heavy breathing sounds, syncopated drums, haunting flute melodies. Then for 50 minutes I felt suspended in a wind tunnel and was totally conquered. We’re strangers in a surreal territory. What cannot be written can only be danced.
The Actress is on the floor. The Actor stands, his legs apart. He reaches down and pulls The Actress through his legs, as if she is emerging from a birth canal into life. The Actor utters a wailing sound in open vowels; The Actress croons, her voice an octave above. She kneels, as if in prayer, then slithers onto The Actor’s back. Her arms extended, fingers flexing like feathers, as a bird. The Actor, arms also extended, soars like an eagle. Together they are flying, accompanied by sounds of the wind. It’s an exquisite sequence that says so much about a symbiotic relationship.
Then the lights change. Both fall screeching to the floor and yell gibberish at each other. Is this a domestic quarrel? Or a struggle within the self? It could be either. Both are separated. But when The Actor, alone downstage right, extends his forefinger to The Actress, upstage left, I was reminded of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam,” on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. God’s forefinger reaches out to touch Adam’s hand to infuse him with life. In From Banishment to Meeting with the Soul, the same hand gestures are recreated but with a variation. When the performers touch fingers, they fall into a ballroom position. They tango to wild music and fall to the floor. We’re watching the joy and pain of creation danced out before us, especially in the highpoint scenes that reenact the ritual of sowing and reaping, that must be noted as a highpoint.
The Actress, dressed in a simple, pale-white dress, scatters seeds, (actually lentils) from a rimmed, brown hat. The Actor follows and mimes planting. The lights fade. When the lights come back up, he gathers the seeds in harvest. Their singing in open-vowels seems joyous. Then comes harsh lighting and audio changes. Red lights bleed over the performers. Sounds of kettle drums, machine guns, and barked orders come from overhead. And The Actress and The Actor simulate a machine-gun execution. As the Actor moans on the floor, we’ve descended from order to chaos, from joy to despair.
But the rituals repeat as the performers again rise to dance athletically, sometimes with prayer-like gestures. Absolutely memorable is the image of The Actor pouring grain seeds, like rain, from the hat onto The Actress’ feet. The cycle of life repeats through the rituals and ends where it begins. The Actor and The Actress are indeed symbiotic. They cannot exist, one without the other.
The timing of lighting changes are perfectly synchronized. When one spot fades and the lights come up again, we’re in another scene. Dramatic impact is heightened by the highly effective lighting changes and scenery designer Maria Egea’s chromatic blend of blue, pinks and cream on the backdrop.
I’ve always been challenged by the entries that are performed in the Teatro De La Luna’s International Festival and this year promises to be no exception. I reemerge invigorated, renewed, as if I too have been on a spiritual journey.
Past festivals have shown us how Latino theater performers through the spoken word are preserving disappearing oral traditions, ancient myths, facing extinction from confrontation with modern culture. Pantomime and dance communicate universal themes. This 50-minute Venezuelan piece from the Altosf Theatre, a troupe that has performed internationally and won numerous performing awards, was over too quickly. That’s my only complaint. But look at what’s ahead.
Three performances remain: Friday, Oct 12 at 8 pm and Saturday, Oct 13 at 3 pm and 8 pm.
At Gunston Arts Center – Theater Two, 2700 South Lang St, Arlington, VA. Tickets: $30, $25 for seniors and students. Call 703-548-3092 or click here.