New Conquistadors, New Lingua Franca: Spanish!
Funny, Poignant, and Creative
The Unfinished Exploits of
Pedro de Valdiva (London);
André and Dorine (New York)
As with the Spanish novel, I believe the great breakthroughs and innovations in Spanish theatre are coming mainly from Latin America these days. The last show in this year’s festival of Latin American plays in London on 15 and 16 September this year was from Chile and was called The Unfinished Exploits of Pedro de Valdivia. Three actor musicians/mimes/puppeteers in their thirties (Tryo Teatro Banda) told the story of the Conquistadors, how and why they arrived in Chile, the exploited masses, the battles, the creation of cities in 75 minutes of uninterrupted physical theatre that was witty, ironic, hilarious, moving – and a great history lesson. The music was terrific too.
The play was based on the letters that Chile’s first royal governor, Pedro de Valdivia, wrote to King Charles V of Spain and the men did it all, playing about 12 instruments between them (including bandoneon, 17th-century open horn, violin, drums, trumpet, clarinet), singing, dancing, acting many characters, miming and using imaginative puppetry. When they had to stage an epic battle they poured sand on a table, formed it into the mountains, poured sugar on top to remind one of the snow and give a sense of the height, poured out blue crystals to represent the Pacific and the rivers to be crossed, used flags to represent moving armies and rebellious natives, and convinced the audience to partake imaginatively in the building and destruction of various cities. I found the language and movement were so creative (even not understanding much Spanish and having to rely on the surtitles) that I never lost concentration and did notice that the children in the audience were completely captivated.
The audience was varied in age but about one-half Spanish-speaking. Pedro de Valdiva won the Critic’s Award for Best Play of 2010 at home and was shown at Chile’s National theatre. Tryo Teatro Banda also did a brilliant play about Jemmy Button, according to people I met in the bar before and after the show; and there was much praise for the other offerings of this 10-day festival of award-winning theatre from Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. This was the fifth festival of its kind in London and another is promised for next year, so watch out for it. Meantime, you can catch the Tryo Teatro Banda in Chile!
Tryo Teatro Banda: Chile. Web site
Pedro de Valdivia, La Gesta Inconclusa
(The Unfinished Exploits of Pedro de Valdivia)
Written by Francisco Sánchez and Company. Directed by Sebastián Vila.
Performed by Francisco Sánchez, Pablo Obreque & César Espinoza
André and Dorine (New York)
Kulunka Theatre Company
The Kulunka Theatre Company from the Basque region of Spain touched down all too briefly in New York recently at the YMCA’s Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater. What a triumph! With only expressive soft masks made of fabric and expressive body language, Kulunka tells the story of André and Dorine, their son, and a host of supporting characters―all played by three actors using gesture, movement and fierce theatrical intelligence.
The script follows the life of André and Dorine from the present (their late middle age) back to their youth in the swinging sixties and forward to the heartbreaking progression of Dorine’s Alzheimer’s, Andre’s coping strategies, and the trajectory of their son and his own family. It’s a love story in which the performances are straight from, and to, the soul. When they are funny, it’s like a sudden beacon from the unshaded light bulb that André keeps changing; when they are caught up in the inevitable turns of the tale, the beacon goes dark. But never for long. André‘s skill as a proudly-published writer, and Dorine’s as a cellist are brilliantly integrated into the story which, because of Kulunka’s minute observations of the human condition and their ability to transform them into a powerful theatrical experience, is a journey we willingly take with them. They will steal your heart, and keep it.
While anyone can understand the atavistic appeal of masks and mime, Kulunka’s outstanding brilliance and lapidary art are truly universal–equal parts of love and genius. The actors (Jose Dault, Garbiñe Insausti, Edu Carcamo) and their inspired director (Iñaki Rikarte) have been on the road with this and other plays in their repertoire for years; make sure to keep track of them for the future (www.kulunkateatro.com). They are sure to be back, and were presented as part of an ongoing program by Spain Culture in New York-Consulate General of Spain (spainculture.us/city/newyork/)―an excellent source of cultural attractions throughout the United States and throughout the year.