Essays on criticism - Theatre Performances

Enrico Fiore, Love, incest and memory’s shakes

Gianni Manzella, Claustrophobic enigmas from Nabokov

Franco Cordelli, Fanny & Alexander, Nabokov’s Fan

Franco Quadri, Fanny & Alexander, ambiguity is a game

    Love, incest and memory’s shakes
      Enrico Fiore, Il Mattino, 5 March 2006

It’s very rare to find out such a significant title – that is to say for what concerns the structure, beyond the content of a mere word – as the one (“Vaniada”) given to the play of Fanny & Alexander Theatre Company, which is now on at the Galleria Toledo. The play is about the latest part of the research on Nabokov’s novel “Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle”, whose beginning was “Ardis I (Les enfants maudits)” a staging rightly awarded with the “Premio Ubu 2005”. The title of the play refers to the novel’s passage in which Lucette, Ada’s younger sister, creates the word “Vaniada” (Van and Ada); later the same girl finds out another word-play anagramming “Vaniada”, the result is “divano”, Italian word for “sofa”. Soon after the creation of that anagram and exactly on the sofa, Ada and Van hug each other, an event that signs the beginning of their own incestuous love.

In a few words, Luigi de Angelis and Chiara Lagani, authors of the play not by chance called Vaniada, have sharply focused on the Nabokov’s most important theme: the relationship between letters’ arrangement and reality. This relationship also concerns another fundamental issue: the theme of language and time, since the Russian writer considers the act of writing as a way to cultivate both grace and desperation; it is an attempt to stop the progressive fading away of life by imprisoning it within a shape. For this reason Nabokov has systematically recourse to the anagram which can be clearly linked to the subject of the narration (nicest/incest), but it can also be an element of revelation of the subtle plot’s motivations (Van’s Book = Nabokov).

As a result, in Fanny and Alexander’s play all these things become a continuous and shooting interlacement of technique and poetry. It’s indeed not a chance, for instance, that at the end of Ada and Van’s life instead of the anagram, or the reassembling of one word’s letters, it is the charade, or the cut of the word into two or more parts, that takes systematically over. So, in the complete darkness of the narrow and bounded space where the audience (fifty persons per night) sits, the sense of the play shifts incessantly and this determines others astonishing openings of mind and senses towards the wideness and the freedom of what is “outside”: feelings, memory’s shakes, in short Proust’s “heart’s intermittence”.

I will make an example in order to explain the concept I have already stated. While the charade “persona recondita” (“discreet person”) – “per/sonare/con/dita” (“to play with fingers”) is projected on a wall, on another wall it is projected a video that shows two hands (Van’s hands, of course) touching, as if it is a piano, a naked feminine back, Ada’s back. It is now unnecessary to waste too many words on the great ability showed by the interpreters: Luigi de Angelis and Chiara Lagani, assisted by Marco Cavalcoli and Sara Masotti, in the functional outlines of Luigi de Angelis’ direction (musics and lights too are set up by de Angelis).

And so, at the very end, something happens: a hand comes out from one of the holes in the walls, offering you a sweet smelling rose. And you must be watchful and take it quickly: because that is life, it hurts you with unbending losses and, in exchange for it, it gives you little, but precious, moments of delight. These moments are almost always unexpected and so fast that you don’t even notice them.

(translation by Deborah Babini)


Back to top   Claustrophobic enigmas from Nabokov
      Gianni Manzella, Il Manifesto, 10 July 2005

The charade reveals its last, intimate meaning at the very end: la-sciarAda (to leave Ada). Hence, the long journey through Ada or ardor set out by Fanny & Alexander is going to end. It is time to leave the two almost ultracentenarian protagonists of Nabokov’s novel, Van and Ada, whose names are symbolically united in this play (Van-i-Ada) by the Russian conjunction (i). As if they have almost become one single entity, it is a sort of mystic wedding, celebrated at the entrance of the theatre with sugared almonds.

Vaniada (this evening still on at Santarcangelo’s theatre, after the debut at Ravenna festival) goes deep into time and memory. It is a summing up of the story of the characters and it gives a report of the whole creative process. “Brother” and “Sister”, this is what is written on the two slabs laying  close to each other on the floor, like commemorative plaques or gravestones, but the incestuous love, desired by the two protagonists, is even more far away. Just like the previous stage of the complex project created by Chiara Lagani and Luigi de Angelis, that is Ardis II and its cubistic mobile stage, it is the wordplay – particularly the charade with its double meanings - that outlines the structure of show. In this play the enigma is seen as an extreme stage of the word, as a crossroad of possibilities offered by language. But the emotional atmosphere is now changed. The chamber of wonders where bloomed the worries of the young Ada and Van does not exist anymore, neither the ironical simulacra of their erotic memory. Everyone sits in a claustrophobic space, a sort of black funnel that squashes each member of the audience against the walls, the only way out is the huge fan on the ceiling. In the opposite side, in front of the audience, there is a wide wall that is the screen where are projected retro images (created by Zapruder’s artists), a black and white style, mute and misty too, it is the naked back of the passionate Ada that dominates the scene. Other little holes in wall of the stage get opened, from time to time, to let you see a hand or to show fragments of bodies otherwise invisible. The staging space is constantly dipped in darkness, from time to time some vague shadows appear. Two lovers wearing masks of their own faces. While a bright screen shows over and over again a series of revealing charades: “la fine signora” (“the refine lady”) tells us that “la fine s’ignora” (“the end is ignored”). The darkness of the stage fills more and more with sounds, with voices that come from remote points, notes of a piano reechoing Morton Feldman’s music – the tail of the instrument played by Matteo Ramon Arevalos comes out of a wall, like a survivor of a tempest. You can gradually perceive that the action of memory involves different senses, starting with the smell, the perfume of a rose or the smell of a cigar, of which you can see the shining burning tip.

Fanny and Alexander celebrate in this way their regained time at the climax of their journey around the enigmatic novel that now deserves an unabridged performance.

(translation by Deborah Babini)

Back to top   Fanny & Alexander, Nabokov’s Fan
      Franco Cordelli , Il Corriere della Sera, 2 July 2005

After “Ridono i sassi ancor della città” a play by Nevio Spadoni, from the Ravenna Festival and from Elena Bucci, with a show dedicated to the relationship between Byron and the Ravenna native Teresa Guiccioli, character performed (with a measured passionate and romantic burst) by Chiara Muti, here it comes Fanny & Alexander, a theatre company founded in 1992 by Luigi de Angelis and Chiara Lagani. The two founders are working hard since many years, their project is not based simply on the author, Vladimir Nabokov, but on one of his novels “Ada or Ardor”. Nevertheless, let’s say, Ada is a very massive novel, so huge that it actually deserves such a great devotion.

All this faith should be caused by the fact of being a researcher or a fan: researchers achieve an eye-opening answer while fans are always blind because of their desire. But some times, researchers lose the focus of their attention and they can’t see it anymore. While fans, in the loving darkness where they live, achieve the light (of love) with their passion, so that they become something more: they themselves become authors of a new work. It is a sort of miracle of alchemy, of mingle of bodies, of their mutation; everything starts with those special bodies, the words, that define objects or people. Words are part of a person, of his body, a part that can change and leave or that can be inseparable.

Words. It is one of the themes of Nabokov’s novel and it is the theme deeply analyzed by de Angelis/Lagani, the two fans. Besides, the word fan it is a variant of Van, first part of the title of the new play, Vaniada. Vaniada, that is to say Van i Ada, i in Russian means and. But in the charades and words play of Nabokov and Fanny & Alexander, this i can have whether a meaning of joining together as well as barricade, as division. The key word of the play, which refers to the conceptual section of the text chosen by de Angelis/Lagani, is the word “sciarada” (charade), a word that contains (in the Italian version of the play) a connotation of impediment. “La sciarada” (The charade) can be “lasciar-Ada” (leaving Ada). At the end of their lives, of their long, affectionate, tormenting love, will Van Veen and Ada Veen have to leave each other? How is that possible?

I watched the play Vaniada at Fanny & Alexander’s “home”, in the industrial suburbs of Ravenna. Ravenna is a metaphysical town for its history and for its present days: ancient, sumptuous, immutable, Byzantine, blue and golden; and then modern, dreary, fleeting, Italian. These are some features of this town where Antonioni’s desert and red are still living together, just like Ada and Van, brothers and lovers, destined to travel separated from each other, time will separate them like it does with every corpse. The warehouse where is set the play become a dark tunnel, a dark wedge, one by one the audience enters this restricted space, only a few, very few people, sixteen women on a side and four men on the other. As if it was planned, one to four what does it correspond to? To the proportion of the theatre audience or to the strength of the feminine factor compared to the masculine weakness in the novel itself, which is entitled to Ada not to Van? Here it is narrated the end of their love, or the ending prophecy, or its wait, or its inevitability. How can one be prepared to it?

There is no answer. It is like sink into darkness, feeling breathless, then some little lights turn on, some pictures of a remote childhood are blinking somewhere, the exhausting smell of the theatre is all around, some holes in the walls get open and you hear the sweet voice of Ada and the ever-snobbish voice of Van. They utter exorcisms of farewell, while the last, plain, dissolving, exhausting notes of a piano echo in the silence.

(translation by Deborah Babini)

Back to top   Fanny & Alexander, ambiguity is a game
      Franco Quadri, la Repubblica, 20 June 2005

With three other works, all independent and self sufficient at the same time, Fanny & Alexander theatre company has finished at the Festival delle Colline Torinesi the cycle dedicated to the novel Ada, A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov, a complex work born at the borders of the love between Van and Ada, brother and sister in the middle of an outrageous adventure.

After a leaf of hall cinema and a passage through enigmatography, now the set is the beginning of Aqua Marina, in this first part two sisters are in love with the same guy, Demon, and they compete against each other for a child. In the next chapter, Villa Venus, which is a staging with two video and live Martenot’s waves, at the end of the story the two incestuous brothers recall their betrayals that have spiced up their lives. The very ending is Vaniada, Van and Ada, the Russian conjunction i unites the names of these two incestuous lovers who are going to celebrate their own wedding at one step from the end.

The gist of the whole work is the allusive spirit that goes beyond the necessity of showing what happens in order to stimulate the imagination of a formal reality based on decaying situations, these situations become instant images immediately erased or they become wordplays. So, on the scene,  the action is played in secret, beyond heavy curtains or transparent drapes; so that you can hear dialogues, screams, moans that must be connected to the interrupted images you will glimpse, among these, Francesca Mazza has add a delirious Ophelia. The video consists in two screens, on each screen there is one picture: the portrait of Ada (Chiara Lagani) and the portrait of Van (Marco Cavalcoli), sometimes the pictures change, giving space to other images, often erotic, of which the wriggling protagonist is Luigi de Angelis. The grand finale is set in complete darkness, the protagonists are among the audience, they throw flowers, they scream, some shining strips come out from the wall. The kermess ends well so as it has started well. There is the seal of style in the victory of this amused intelligence, so surprisingly good at playing with the ambiguity of classical literature, measuring itself with what is unexpressed. For all the guys of Fanny and Alexander this is the most important proof of a story already rich in achievements.

(translation by Deborah Babini)


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