Reaching Around

Original Hungarian language version by Lilla Turbuly, appeared on 7ó on July 25. 2013. English language translation by Gábor Kálmánczhelyi.

Although the title hints at the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as the creators point it out in the subhead (Physical theatre performance inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead), that work was just a starting point. Truly, this Book of the Dead isn’t exclusively nor principally about death. Or if it is, it’s that in a much broader sense, than we usually think about it. It’s much more about the circle of life, the shifting of the phases of life, about the constant leave-taking and arriving which fills our lives. Anyway, it’s such a performance, that you can’t really say, that it’s about something overall, because individually it is more than usually affected by in which life-phase the viewer is in, what kinds of goodbyes or encounters are past or before them, or how close are they feeling themselves to this (almost) wordless, deliberately slow and meditative physical theatre.

The performance is made up of three etudes, connected to each other in several points. In the first one, an old woman and a wanderer meet each other, and at first, the old woman tends to the wanderer, then they switch roles. In the second one, there appears a mother with a small child and an elderly man, and in the third one, two monks. What we see doesn’t add up a to story that can be told, but perceptibly it’s not a goal either, but that we ponder about each life-phase, and the encounters of the people living in them. The characters are constantly changing: the dying wanderer picks up, the old man becomes a baby, the mother gives birth to the old woman’s shawl, the monk turns into a Russian soldier. There are roads leading up and down, back and forth, spiralling, at times reaching around.

The roads and circles also appear in the visuals (the work of Ádám Pignitzky): at the beginning of the performance, the sight of the wanderer going upwards in the background, the pouring rain of rice in the third part, then the circles, arches and mandala-like shapes drawn in it are also decisive elements of these visuals. A few objects with meanings: a teapot, symbolizing the passing of time, swinging like a metronome, the Book (of the Dead), which contains more and more entries, while they paint trees on its blank pages, a watering pot; and the simple, also meaningful choice of materials: stone, water, grain, paper – make a whole out of the visuals of the performance. It’s that, that the soldier’s cap with the five-point star stands out from, but not incidentally, because with it, they bring a cultural heritage easier to place in time into this otherwise timeless performance. We should note here, that you can only make out a few comprehensible words out of the gibberish – or moreso, a peculiar murmuring language, when Csaba Formanek puts on the cap and the soldier’s coat. Being connected to Tibet, he could speak even in Chinese, but no, from the surreal sentences, likened to Russian, you can only make out a few comprehensible bits sometimes, for example about an agressive dog.

Particularly because of the reason, that the performance considers death as an exhibiton of change, and not a one-way, unequivocally tragic life-event, the mood is characterised  by humor, and loving irony as much as tragic, and more than a few times in a way, that the two are apparent at the same time, and as we’re viewing a physical thatre performance, primarily in the movements, gestures. As Lénárd Ilyés as an old woman constantly scuffles about, bringing stuff from here to there without really moving. As the wanderer of Csaba Formanek washes up the old woman – with movements a bit clumsy and slobbered, in an absolutely different way, than a woman washes up a patient. As Lénárd Ilyés sets up the bamboo umbrella, when his partner (as a monk now) pours the rice on his head. This scene, held out for a very long time, for that matter, is one of the most beautiful ones of the whole performance.

Now, it’s in that third etude, where you can principally feel, that the individual scenes don’t fit seamlessly, problems of speed are also arising at times ( to which the unusually big space compared to the one the performance is accustomed to, could  contribute), and as if the end too would overshoot itself with a quarter of an hour or so.

But as a whole, the roads and arches do connect, most of all perhaps in the certainty declared by the creators, that there is always a view aside from the obvious and common, even regarding basic issues, like birth, life, death, and it does worth it to give it a shot. But they connect – regarding the form – in the wholeness of the atmosphere too, thanks to the visuals, which are strong in their simplicity, and the intense and genuine presence of the two actors, should they appear in any gender and shape.

(THEALTER Festival, Szeged, July 21. 2013.)

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