2 December 2019
Victor Hugo Pontes
“Drama” [co-produced by Teatro Municipal do Porto] will be presented at Teatro Rivoli in December. The piece is based on the play “Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore” [Six Characters in Search of an Author] (1921), by Luigi Pirandello. Words, however, have been replaced by movement, correct?
Victor Hugo Pontes (VHP) Conceptually speaking, I take Pirandello’s text and its characters and I do exactly what the author intends, only without words. So we are left with the actions, the gestures, the emotions of the characters and the conflicts, but there are no words. Therefore, it becomes a much more abstract object for those watching, but at the same time you can tell it’s a game being played on stage, and we invite the audience to finish it. In Pirandello’s play a rehearsal is underway, and six characters interrupt it calling for their lives. They demand their lives be brought on stage, because they believe their lives have theatrical interest. And then the very company that was rehearsing stops doing so, because what they propose is really very interesting. And the proposal ends up being the performance itself. It is a theatrical game within theatre. I’m very interested in this kind of observation. So much so that at a given moment there’s no longer one, but rather two audiences; then not one director, but rather two or three or we don’t even know how many… Things multiply and a system of mise en abyme is generated with a scene within a scene within a scene.
When it comes to the work process, how do you turn a written text into movement? How do you silence words and give voice to the body?
VHP First, you analyse Pirandello’s text in great detail. In other words, you perform a dramaturgical analysis and an in-depth study of time, action and conflicts, and of which characters are there in each scene — exactly like Pirandello proposes we do. There’s a stage when the performers also memorise the text — you start from there. It is as if I were producing a theatre play, but then the text is replaced by movements, action, choreographic sentences, while trying to maintain the dynamics, the conflicts and the issues the author raises in the play.
Does such blurring of boundaries between theatre and dance in a way mirror your own path?
VHP I stay in both. I believe my dance work has higher exposure than my theatre one, but I’ve always taught theatre and I was an assistant theatre director for 10 years, so theatre is there from the start. No doubt this piece brings together two fields to which I’m very close and in which I’ve worked extensively. At bottom, this project is the follow-up to another one. That is to say I started this research in the scope of another project called “Se alguma vez precisares da minha vida, vem e toma-a” [If You Ever Need My Life, Come and Take It], which was based on “Chayka” [The Seagull], by Chekhov. In the case of “Drama”, I have other issues not so easy to transcribe. “Chayka” was somewhat easier, because the scenes were designed as duets, but not here. Here I have 20 people on stage virtually the whole time. And we must realise where the focus is, where the action is, where we must look, where the conflict is, and also somehow influence what the audience watches. Since there are no words, everyone has the same presence, and so we must take into consideration how that presence is then conquered, and how we are able to keep track of the narrative, knowing that people follow one character more than the others, and everyone ends up making his or her story.
Did that system of mise en abyme you mentioned, that doubling of characters and the several layers of the narrative become confusing in the rehearsal room?
VHP It was very confusing! We play a lot with that as well! The chaos is there along with the misunderstanding from the start. We don’t know who’s directing who, who are the characters and who are the actors who playing the characters… Now you play a character, now you play an actor, who’s who? Who’s copying who? Who’s impersonating who? And that’s why I kept this word, “Drama”, which means impersonating the other. So it always starts with the basic principle of impersonating.
What role does the spectator play?
VHP I like my pieces to be abstract, unfinished. I always say they’re unfinished puzzles with pieces missing, and that those pieces must be filled by the spectator, by the audience. No doubt that in this performance it happens a lot. The fact that I remove the words — which is the beginning of it all — leaves plenty of room for the spectator to build his own narrative, which does not need to be linear. No one will understand our story or Pirandello’s story unless one has read it, because we stick to the text’s timeline. And that was precisely what we set out to do. Not skipping or removing some parts to the detriment of others. I was interested in doing exactly what was in the text. That was the challenge. There was no “Oh, I don’t know how to solve this part, so I move on.” It had to be “I don’t know how to solve this part, but I’ll have to come up with something”. Some things probably have to be enhanced, and others exaggerated, so that we spotlight some to the detriment of others and don’t remove anything.
Interview conducted on May 28, 2019, at Teatro Rivoli’s Great Auditorium, by Leonor Tudela from TMP’s communication office.
Photography © José Caldeira/TMP