“… surely the most explicitly political of Barba’s productions to date”—European Stapes, USA
Beginning with the biologicalTo bring performance alive
Director Eugenio Barba has been a pioneering force in European drama circles for over five decades following the launch of Odin Teatret, a sought-after multinational acting lab centred on Barba’s Theatre Anthropology approach. Drawing on an international array of artistic traditions, this vision of the dramatic art delivers impact through close analysis of the movements behind physical expression, mastery of the tensions caused between different parts of the body, and the inner energy generated. The Chronic Life takes place in Europe in 2031, after the Third Civil War. Groups and individuals converge, challenging each other over their diverging dreams, disappointments and hopes. A boy from Latin America arrives in search of his father, and people
escort him from door to door... The 82-year-old director and actors will talk to the spectators after the first performance.
Main Visual: Peter Bysted Photos: Jan Rüsz
Director / Dramaturgy
Kai Bredholt Roberta Carreri Jan Ferslev Elena Floris Donald Kitt Tage Larsen Iben Nagel Rasmussen Carolina Pizarro Fausto Pro Julia Varley
Founded in Norway in 1964, Odin Teatret moved to Holstebro, Denmark in 1966 and changed its name to Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium - Odin Teatret. Now based in Holstebro, it has so far performed in 66 countries, currently with 44 members from 11 countries across 4 continents.
Over the past 55 years, Odin Teatret has strived to become a professional and scholarly milieu characterised by cross-disciplinary endeavours and international collaborations. One of their most notable research fields is ISTA (International School of Theatre Anthropology). Since 1979, the ISTA has become a performers’ village where actors and dancers can meet with scholars. Together, they compare and scrutinise the technical foundation of the actor’s scenic presence. Another achievement regarding acting is the periodic performances with the multicultural Theatrum Mundi Ensemble, which has been active since the early 1980s with permanent artists from different professional backgrounds at its core.
Apart from research and acting, their “barter” practice has also received critical acclaim in Denmark and abroad. The practice stands for an exchange of cultural manifestations. Through different social interactions, actors can earn insights from other forms of expression which they add to their own cultural presentations. By hosting the annual Odin Week Festival, taking part in the Festuge (Festive Week) in Holstebro, collaborating with the University of Aarhus’ Centre for Theatre Laboratory Studies, publishing various books and magazines and other endeavours, a specific Odin culture has been cultivated.
Born in 1936 in Italy, Eugenio Barba grew up in the village of Gallipoli. His family’s socioeconomic situation changed drastically when his father, a military officer, became a victim of World War II.
Upon completing high school at the Naples Military College in 1954, Barba abandoned the idea of embarking on a military career following in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he emigrated to Norway to work as a welder and sailor. At the same time he took a degree in French, Norwegian literature and history of religions at Oslo University.
In 1961, he went to Poland to study directing at the State Theatre School in Warsaw, but left one year later to join Jerzy Grotowski, who was then director of the Theatre of 13 Rows in Opole.
Barba stayed with Grotowski for three years. In 1963 he travelled to India where he studied Kathakali, a theatre form which was unknown to the West at that time. He then wrote an essay on Kathakali which was immediately published in Italy, France, the USA and Denmark. His first book on Grotowski, In Search of a Lost Theatre, appeared in 1965 in Italy and Hungary.
Upon his return to Oslo in 1964, Barba aspired to become a professional theatre director but, as a foreigner, he was unable to find work. So he gathered a few young people who had not been accepted by the State Theatre School, and created together the Odin Teatret in October. As the first theatre group in Europe, they worked out the new practice of training as total apprenticeship. They rehearsed in an air-raid shelter their first production, Ornitofilene, which was shown in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
Odin Teatret was subsequently invited by the Danish municipality of Holstebro, a small town in northwest Jutland, to create a theatre laboratory there. To start with, they were offered an old farm and a small sum of money. Since then Barba and his collaborators have made Holstebro the base for their varied activities.
During the past 55 years Barba has directed 77 productions with Odin Teatret and with the intercultural Theatrum Mundi Ensemble, some of which have taken two years to complete. Among the best-known are Ferai (1969), My Father's House (1972), Brecht's Ashes (1980), The Gospel according to Oxyrhincus (1985), Talabot (1988), Kaosmos (1993), Mythos (1998), Andersen's Dream (2004), Ur-Hamlet (2006), Don Giovanni all'Inferno (2006), The Marriage of Medea (2008), The Chronic Life (2012) and The Tree (2016).
Since 1974, Barba and Odin Teatret have devised their own way of being present in diverse social contexts through the “barter” practice, an exchange of cultural expressions with a community or an institution, structured as a common performance.
In 1979 Barba founded the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA), thereby opening a new field of studies: Theatre Anthropology.
Barba is on the advisory boards of scholarly journals such as The Drama Review, Performance Research, New Theatre Quarterly, Teatro e Storia and Urdimento. Among his latest publications, which appeared in many languages, are The Paper Canoe; Theatre: Solitude, Craft, Revolt; Land of Ashes and Diamonds: My Apprenticeship in Poland, Followed by 26 letters from Jerzy Grotowski to Eugenio Barba; On Dramaturgy and Directing: Burning the House; and A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology in collaboration with Nicola Savarese.
Barba has been awarded honorary doctorates from universities around the world, as well as the “Reconnaissance de Mérite Scientifique” from the University of Montreal and the Sonning Prize from the University of Copenhagen. He is also the recipient of the Danish Academy Award, Mexican Theatre Critics’ Prize, Pirandello International Prize, and Thalia Prize from the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC).
Born in 1954 in London, Great Britain, Julia joined Odin Teatret in 1976. Apart from acting she is active in directing, teaching, organising and writing. With Odin Teatret, Julia teaches in schools and universities and has synthesised her experience in four work demonstrations: The Echo of Silence; The Dead Brother; Text, Action, Relations and The Flying Carpet. She has been involved in the conceptualisation and organisation of ISTA (International School of Theatre Anthropology) and of the University of Eurasian Theatre, both directed by Eugenio Barba. Since 1986 she has been active in The Magdalena Project, a network of women in contemporary theatre. She is also artistic director of Transit International Festival, Holstebro, and editor of The Open Page, a journal devoted to women's work in theatre.
In connection with Odin Teatret's intercultural productions and Holstebro Festuge, Julia has started an ongoing pedagogical collaboration with groups of young actors both in Denmark and abroad. She has directed for Pumpenhaus Theater in Germany, with Ana Woolf from Argentina, Hisako Miura from Japan, and Gabriella Sacco from Italy, among others.
Julia has written two books: Wind in the West – A Novel by a Theatre Character and Notes of an Odin Actress – Stones of Water. Her articles and essays have been published in journals such as The Mime Journal, New Theatre Quarterly, Teatro e Storia, Conjunto, Performance Research, and more.
An actress, teacher, writer and organiser, Roberta Carreri was born in 1953 in Milan, Italy, where she graduated in advertising design and studied art history at the Milan State University. In 1974, she joined Odin Teatret during the group's stay in Carpignano, Italy. Carreri has taken part in ISTA (International School of Theatre Anthropology) since its beginning in 1980, coming into touch with performing techniques from Japan, India, Bali (Indonesia) and China. This has influenced her work as an actress and teacher.
From 1980 to 1986, she studied with Japanese masters such as Katsuko Azuma (Nihon Buyo dancer), Natsu Nakajima and Kazuo Ohno (Butoh dancers). She conducts workshops for actors all over the world and presents her professional autobiography, Traces in the Snow, as a work demonstration. She also organises and leads the annual international workshop Odin Week Festival in Holstebro and abroad. In 2009 and 2014 respectively, she directed Rumour with Cinzia Ciaramicoli and The Woman Who Spat Out the Apple, with Rosa Antuña. Her professional experiences are documented in The Actor's Way, edited by Erik Exe Christoffersen.
Carreri has written her own book Tracce, in which she relives the most relevant aspects of her theatre life - her training, pedagogy and her story as an actress of Odin Teatret. Her articles have been published in journals such as New Theatre Quarterly, Teatro e Storia, Máscara, The Open Page, Peripeti and Performance Research.
Thinking in Actions: Masterclass with Eugenio Barba & Julia Varley/ MASTERCLASS
A not-to-be missed opportunity to explore the different levels of organisation in a theatre performance and elementary aspects of Theatre Anthropology, including daily and extra-daily techniques, movement and action, static and dynamic immobility, energy in space and time, and the application of montage.
Instructors: Eugenio Barba & Julia Varley
29.10 Tue 7–9pm
GR1, Level 6, Grand Theatre Backstage, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Latecomers will not be admitted
Dance of Intentions: Masterclass with Roberta Carreri/ MASTERCLASS
This masterclass helps actors free themselves from their habitual clichés and (re-)discover their scenic presence in relation to the space and other actors on stage. Participants will learn how to find their own centre line, achieve dynamic immobility, create physical/vocal actions, realise them with different energies, and more.
Instructor: Roberta Carreri
30.10 Wed 7–9pm
GR1, Level 6, Grand Theatre Backstage, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Quota: 50 (12 actors* and 38 observers)
* Ticket holders can register online as actors (first come, first served), or remain observers
Latecomers will not be admitted
Each ticket holder must bring along a script of at least 20 lines in English
Incomprehensibility and Hope
I am often told that my performances are not easy to understand. This makes me think of a remark by Niels Bohr: the opposite of truth is not a lie, but clarity. The truth is, I usually like clarity. I appreciate complexity in books, but if they are impossibly obscure, boredom creeps in.
It is different with theatre. Sometimes, when watching a comprehensible performance, I think of an expanse of ice. I get the sensation of a petrified landscape, one without hope.
Hopelessness is when we are convinced that nothing can be done. Before being a state of mind, despair is the more or less painful acceptance of the status quo, the admission of the forces at stake, of everything which is evident, sensible, and which in the end we submit to. Despair is inaction which comes from understanding only too well what encircles us, what lies behind all events as well as what is forthcoming.
A mysterious bond links hope to incomprehensibility, I tell myself. Maybe it is not a mystery, maybe hope is just a way of preserving self-delusion. To me hope is something more than this: a dark undecipherable force which helps me to see closely and in detail that which I feel the need to refuse, without sheltering behind preconceived judgements and resignation. And without deluding myself that I have found the key which throws light on what I still experience as a confusing complexity.
I have just finished working on another performance. I watch it; it seems different from the others. One question torments me: is it immobile?
The image of Fridtjof Nansen appears. He was a scientist leading the International Bureau for Refugees of the League of Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He died in 1930 at the age of seventy. In the years of his maturity, he was a polar explorer, the most creative among the Norwegian explorers. The ships that opened the road to the North Pole were imprisoned by the ice during the long winter freeze. Nothing could be done. The only hope was to succeed in not succumbing and to wait for the weather to change. Because times do change and even the longest night, as Brecht writes, is not eternal. Nansen did something more. He dreamt with open eyes against despair. He dreamt a contradiction: the navigation of a ship imprisoned by invincible ice. He called his ship Fram (Forward), a name that could easily be turned into derision. Nansen studied the ice; the conditions of the psychic and physical resistance of the men in the murderous vice of the frozen season; he calculated the tides and currents. Because also the frozen sea moves and changes. He let himself be trapped by the ice and exploited its long, desperately slow drift. He turned it into a paradoxically static navigation, ready to take the initiative again at the first change in the season. Nansen is the great master of the deep hope.
A ship in the grip of the ice: I do theatre to turn this ship into a tiny precarious islet of resistance for me and for my fellow travellers, actors and spectators. On this islet, which a thousand sea-paths link to the surrounding geography, I weave performances that seem and are obscure. I try to bring to light the dark forces which inhabit me, my biography, the history in which I am caught up, the difference which I have conquered and the differences which others have known how to conquer. I want to repay the spectators for their effort in coming to the theatre by making them explore a ship imprisoned by the ice, apparently immobile yet driven by dark underwater currents so deep that their existence seems impossible.
Beyond the ephemeral swarm of thousands of small daily hopes, there is the deep hope which dwells beyond the border of the Great Freeze and its fear. Maybe, if we want to keep the deep hope alive, there is no other means than to look at it from its opposite, staring at the dark face of its negation. To keep hope alive – and thus deny despair – is an arduous enterprise, and in certain historical moments we know this only too well. The act of hoping is as strenuous as the act of withstanding. It means to react in first person, often with actions which are incomprehensible to the criteria of the craft and the expectations of others.
We should not be deceived by titles. The Chronic Life is not a performance without hope. Hope nestles within it as does the “yes” within the “no”.
Without hope we cannot live. Hope can be a strength or a burden. It can fuel mediocre illusions or harmful and fierce beliefs. It can inspire those “truths” that leaders of doctrines proclaim eternal and philosophers call “idols of the tribe” or “vital lies”.
One of the most refined totalitarianisms of our time is the obligation to clarity, the disdain for the state of “I do not understand”, the shared devaluation of the feeling of incomprehension whose secret effects prompt decisive choices in our life. The cult of clarity, which served to enlighten minds, serves today also to darken them.
Every time we turn on the television, open a newspaper or listen to a politician or an expert, the world is presented to us as something that has been understood and can be explained. Every piece of information depicts facts coherently described and interpreted; or else exposes the impatient waiting for the solution of the enigmas of politics and news stories. There must be an explanation. If this is late in coming, the event will in time end among the refuse of unexplained news, and thereby be destined to oblivion. Anyone who speaks or writes fears above all not to be clear. The need to be understood impels us to censor our reactions and feelings which we are unable to understand in depth. Even in linguistic behaviour, the expressions that cannot be clearly translated from one language into another are discarded. The gift of clarity loses vigour and sense when it buries the gift of ambiguity and the experience of not grasping everything.
If I ask myself: "What is theatre?" I can find several bright answers. But none of them appears to be of any practical use in intervening in the surrounding world, in the attempt to change at least a tiny corner of it. If I ask myself in which paradoxical enclosure in space and time I may allow the dark forces which rule in history and in the individual’s interiority to surface, and how I can make them perceptible in their physicality without producing violence, destruction and self-destruction, the answer is evident to me: it is the enclosure called theatre.
Until now I have made performances which refer to events and experiences of the past or the present. For the first time, The Chronic Life is imagined in a near future, simulated and simultaneous. The action takes place in Denmark and Europe: different countries at the same time. The story unfolds during the first months after a civil war. To make this scenario less believable (which is no consolation) I have chosen a relatively close date, 2031. The resulting performance cannot be grasped rationally.
A multitude of voices, day and night and through many channels, comment upon the various directions of history which besieges our lives, threatening to drag them into chaos. The intelligible answers stifle the questions that concern us most, dilute their urgency and become a sedative. We know this, but we cannot do without them. The fiction of understanding reassures.
I don’t think that my undertaking in theatre consists in furnishing a reliable interpretation of events which others have narrated, or in showing ways out of the vice in which we feel trapped. I believe in the commitment to another task: to give form and credibility to the incomprehensible and to those impulses that are a mystery even to me, turning them into a skein of actions-in-life to offer to the spectator’s contemplation, annoyance, repugnance and compassion. This commitment binds me still to the craft of the theatre. I would like this skein of actions-in-life to infect that zone in each of us where unbelief blends with naivety.
We assume that a theatre performance has above all the aim of communicating. This is true up to a point. For me its primary aim consists in creating relationships and conditions of intensified life. For whom? For the spectator, for the actor?
Among the many repercussions which attract me to the theatre, is the moment when a bizarre question suddenly pops up: what other reality is hidden behind that which seems totally clear to us? Is clarity a form of blindness, manipulation or censorship?
I would like The Chronic Life to open a tiny crack into the dark incandescent magma of the individual and his painstaking vital zigzagging to free himself from an icy embrace: that of the implacable and indifferent Great Mother of Abortions and Shipwrecks, Our Lady History.
Translated from Italian by Judy Barba
An Island of Freedom
I recalled Barba repeatedly mentioned three words in the orientation session of Odin Week: “Transience”, the relationships within the theatre are transitory and the “now” makes up the world in theatre. “Superstition”, a “super-vision” articulated from its Latin origin; and if expressing it in a physical gesture, one must stand upright and look afar. It is a way of seeing, and an attempt to go beyond boundaries. “Exclusion”, a key word that gives birth to Odin Teatret. Barba, an Italian immigrant in Norway tried to set up his own theatre company but was cold-shouldered by the circle. He then wrote to the people who were rejected by the local drama school, inviting them to join his company. The concern about exclusion as a human condition has been at the core of the company ever since.
What defines the aesthetics of Odin Teatret is perhaps a “ritual of disorder”. Barba once recalled his father’s funeral when he was a child. In his family house, invaded by relatives and friends sending condolences, there were endless feasts and household chores; people emerged to grieve, drink, scream, pray, or bare one’s breast to feed a baby… The young Barba realised that in all the bustle he was an outsider wandering around, exposed to the enigma between chaos and order. Barba wrote: “It was like a performance of Odin Teatret.”
The dramaturgy of Odin is both “a succession and a simultaneity of events”. In their narrative world without any definite order, “characters” build not only the psychological but also actions, voices, and imagery. For example, in Odin’s early work, Come! And the Day will be Ours (1976), the characters have no names but are indicated by the objects in their hands – a book, a musical instrument, or an outfit – to build multiple stories which are at times dramatic and at times implicit. “Even I don’t understand it I believe it will be interesting to follow what’s going on.” A labyrinth-like experience is what Barba wants to build for the audience, inviting them to find interest in moving on along the intertwining passages of stories.
A typical Odin performance is often seen between two banks of spectators facing each other. The ebb and flow of imagery continues in a corridor-like space. Barba says it is a river. However, no one could ever capture a panoramic view of this river. “Their attention sails on a tide of actions which their gaze can’t fully encompass.” When one looks to the left, he or she will miss what is happening on the right. It is the director’s intention to hand over the power of constructing a narrative to the hands of the audience, from arranging the events to endowing significance to those events. It is the audience who makes their own montage to create a uniquely personal domain of contemplation.
It is a ritual of disorder in the first place, and it turns out to be an empty ritual whose many possible contents are left unfilled. What is to be told is not one story, but multiple, possible destinies that have travelled through time and are happening right now. These destinies from Chechnya, Peru, Poland, Chile, and even Hong Kong, are to be connected through empathy, imagination and memory. To Odin Teatret, theatre by its nature is foreign because “it contradicts the limitations and the hierarchies which maintain the order in society, discriminated and despised” – an otherworld which is sometimes called, an island of freedom.
Studio Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
31.10-2.11 (THU-SAT) 8PM3.11 (SUN) 3PM
$420 (Free Seating)*
*Wheelchair seats may have restricted view
Approx 1 hr 10 mins with no interval