Essays on criticism - Theatre Performances
      Ardis II

Rodolfo Sacchettini, Ada and Van, incestuous insects


Ada and Van, incestuous insects
      Rodolfo Sacchettini, Lo Straniero, July 2004

Fanny & Alexander continue with their ambitious project on Ada, a family chronicle, Vladimir Nabokov’s huge novel. Ardis II made its début at the Kunsten Festival des Arts in Brussels, thus confirming the catastrophic situation of Italian theatre policy, which forces many Italian groups – often the best ones – to seek contacts abroad to produce and spread their shows around.

Ardis II represents the fourth episode of a more extended project which will consist of seven 'chapters', staged either as traditional shows or as performance/installations. Anyway, this is not a mere staging of Nabokov’s novel, because Ada is not simply a text, but seems to be one of the most intimate and recurrent obsessions and passions of Ravenna’s group. Indeed, “Ardis Hall”, the name of the old mansion serving as the setting of Ada and Van’s love, was chosen as the name of Fanny & Alexander’s office in Ravenna.

Together with Carroll’s Alice and Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, Ada comes to be one of those creatures that used to and still populate the imagery of Luigi De Angelis and Chiara Lagani’s group. All these creatures are a sort of macro characters living between childhood and adolescence, coming into contact with Eros and Death, Pornography and Game, the Monstrous and the Fairy. Vibrant and lasting presences, they represent the invisible bond that connects the last works in different ways, from Requiem (2001) and Alice > years old not admitted (2003) to Ardis I (2003) and Ardis II (2004).

The story tells about Ada and Van, whose love is like two creeping roses interlacing. But there is no rose without a thorn. Van and Ada are brother and sister; he is fourteen and she is twelve. They are overwhelmed by an unbridled passion, a very physical and exclusive love which, anyway, is not safe from jealousy and betrayal. Ardis II clearly echoes Ardis I, as they both represent the first part of the novel in some way. Watching them one after the other during the Colline Torinesi Festival at the Cavallerizze di Torino is certainly a good occasion for comparing the two works and for observing them as a diptych. Or better, as a mirror, because Ardis II appears to be almost the reflection of Ardis I, but in a shattered, black painted mirror.

Ardis I takes place in a small room. Van sits on a small chair observing and 'listening to' a 'motionless' wall; the scene is gathered, bidimensional; from some of the openings, which look like rips in a painting, parts of the human body appear: mouths and ears, tongues and eyes. Alice > years old not admitted had a restricted room as a setting as well, though in a black and white, chilling scene. In Requiem, an immense, infernal red wall made the story sink into a mythical, afterlife dimension. Ardis II becomes somehow tridimensional, and the price of it seems to be the intrusion of an oppressive void. The scene is organized on three focal points where some cartons are stacked on top of each other. The wall is not there anymore, it is as if it collapsed. The front side of the cartons are painted and create a small, artificial setting in the void. It is thus possible to see some stairs, a door, a lamp, a bath, but also some parts of the human body, an ear, an eye, a navel.

In the middle, two videos – produced by A. Zapruder filmmakersgroup – show some rebuses and palindromes – created in collaboration with Stefano Bartezzaghi – which are gradually solved by the voices of the actors, who articulate words and sentences slowly, letter by letter. The videos show excessive and strident images where the weaving of a hand and the twisting of a trunk are so accelerated and repeated that they acquire a mechanical, troubling energy. The bodies are often naked, pornographic, partial, always frigid. The actors are inside the cartons. It is as if the scene herself swallowed the characters. A hand, a leg, then a trunk come out from a box. Once again, only some parts of a shattered whole are shown, always parts of a partial body. The cartons slide on the carpet and evoke different images by moving the one towards the other. Like language, space seems to divide into real linguistic units, being forced – almost physically – to mend a torn cloth, a torn text. Like space itself, language appears dismantled, split into letters and syllables. Solving the rebuses and palindromes means trying to decipher the enigma, thus establishing a “new” language on stage, a language made of oneiric and intuitive associations. But what is the real enigma? Perhaps solving the rebuses does not disclose any secret at all. None of the solutions is able to reassure or to clarify anything: “la vita davanti” (“life ahead”), “ingrata donna trapasserotti il cuore” (“ungrateful woman, I will pierce your heart”), “è vano ad amor ardente negarsi” (“it is vain to deny a passionate love”), “lucette intermittenti” (“intermittent lights”). Hence, the actors swallowed by the boxes, as well as the space disappearing in the void, correspond to the sinking of language in the rebus. Decoding the enigma does not lead to any consolation, but rather complicates language by extending the boundaries of meaning in a cruel, violent way.

It is perhaps for this reason that Ardis II really appears as the representation of a suicide. While the scene, though dismantled and disassembled, is still able to help the spectator find his way through the story, the language causes meaning to collapse. A rebus is a wordplay. In this case, however, rebuses have nothing to do with amusement and playfulness; on the contrary, they are terribly perverse, like the incestuous love between Ada and Van. Represented, sensed, repeated, the rebuses and palindromes characterise the language of the scene and thwart any kind of communication. Rebuses are a new, distorted language appealing to a tremendous intelligence, which is associative, pedantic and incredibly intuitive at the same time. This is sometimes an autistic intelligence as well.

If language circumnavigates meaning without being able to grasp it, the eyes and glances on the stage violently draw new curves of meaning where subject and object merge, as they continuously split and reflect each other. Ardis I and Ardis II are like eyes that watch and are watched. In addition, both works are marked by Van’s thoughtful and autistic look; like the audience, he sits motionless at one side of the scene and observes the whole performance.

In Ardis I some shutters are opened and show the actors’ eyes watching the public. Ardis I is like a troubling tapestry made of living eyes. There are particular insects with a large number of eyes, but some of these eyes are not real. Nature created them as a defence, because being watched by so many eyes is really frightening. In Ardis I, Ada is like a multi-eyed insect; some of these eyes are real, while others are not. As suggested in a video, insect is the anagram of incest and Ada has a visceral passion for grubs. In Ardis II, Ada’s eyes are represented by two wide eyes painted on the cartons 'worn' by two actors. They are like two living eyes moving on the stage, like two bodies with an enormous painted eye as their head. The scene seems to come out from a second-rate film of science fiction. But the impact is very strong. It really works. The eyes are ferocious and their look hurts.

In Ardis II the spectators’ eyes are hit by a blinding light twice. It is an obsessively repeated flash, like the flashing light of an ambulance. The impact is incredibly violent, so that it is impossible to watch; this dazzling light, however, does nothing but increase the effort to keep on watching. Sometimes, it seems that the performance refuses to be watched. This excessive light is reminiscent of the burst of light that marked the end of Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Tragedia Endogonidia performed in Rome, where a flash of light alternated with a mechanical voice repeating “Don’t watch”. This voice reminds of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, where the sadistic protagonist screams “Don’t watch” at his masochist girlfriend. Here, the point of view is once again that of an adolescent, as the story is narrated from his perspective, between reality and imagination.

In conclusion, it could be said that Fanny & Alexander’s last work is as ferocious as disquieting. It is like falling into an abyss without any chance to survive. By sinking into the contradictions and monstrosities of language, the audience is completely excluded. What is left is nothing but the echo of an obsessive, autistic spiral, which forces and distorts the limits of comprehension. The theme of death and terror is certainly recurrent in Fanny & Alexander’s works, but if in the hyperbaroque Requiem death still generated some archetypes and images, in Ardis II death seems to be sterile. In its obsessive theme, as in its fragmented, amputated bodies, neither hope nor consolation can be found. Perhaps, the sole meaning of this death is the death of intelligence. It is a funeral oration for a language that is deprived of any substantial fertility and is not able to escape from his cryptic dimension. A dual and exclusive language expressed through the use of secret codes and invented by Ada and Van for their correspondence; a language that Fanny & Alexander want to recreate on the stage.

(translation by Serena Agnoletto and Elisa Veronesi)


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Grey Speech | WEST | NORTH | SOUTH | Kansas | AMORE (2 atti) | HIM | Dorothy | Heliogabalus | Vaniada | Aqua Marina | Ardis I


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