From Avignon to Sevilla

I am now at the biennial Spanish number-theory conference, which, this time around, is taking place in Sevilla. It is my first time in the south of Spain. On the way here, I was in Avignon for the first day of the theatre festival.

The following are just brief impressions; they should not be taken for serious criticism. I found every spectacle I attended very worthwhile.


The characters in Le mot « progrès » dans la bouche de ma mère sonnait terriblement faux (Matei Visniec) come across as (deliberate) caricatures, except for the Mother and the Father, who wear the masks of a ghost and a skull, and perhaps the Son, who is, for the most part, dead. The play takes place in the former Yugoslavia. While I generally do not think along such lines, I could not help wondering what somebody from that place would think about such a play – dramatically potent, but sometimes arguably verging on the exploitative, and, perhaps slightly relevant in this context, written by a non-Yugoslav author and played by non-Yugoslav actors.

Le tigre bleu de l’Euphrate (Laurent Gaudé, adapted to the stage by Gilles Chavassieux) is a beautifully written monologue; the actor playing the dying Alexander the Great and the percussionist both performed admirably. The only lukewarm thing I can say is that, if you know your history, then you already know not just the plot (including Bessus’s betrayal of Darius) but the general tone (a young man in search of the unattainable, fatally frustrated by the voice of common sense on the verge of crossing the Indus). By the way, ladies: one of the friends with whom I coincided at the festival also remarked that the actor is rather handsome. (I thought him of about the right age to be a credible thirty-three-year-old Alexander.)

Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne was played as, well, what I expect by now from Gombrowicz. Some day I will accept that his cruel variants on the absurd and the grotesque are really not my thing. However, I must say that the mise-en-scene was remarkable (particularly the costumes, inspired by Nô theatre, as I read somewhere).

Now for the play in the In festival. (All of the above was in the Off, which was just getting underway.) This is the third Festival in which I am a spectator, and I can now confirm a pattern: at least in the evenings, a play in the In is something (a) performed by an absolutely top-notch company, (b) going deeply into the territory of existential despair. Here (b) may be a specialisation resulting from having large, stark courtyards as the scene. A few years ago, I saw La vie de Galilée and La mort de Danton, played in the Cour du Lycée Saint-Joseph by the Théâtre national de la Bretagne. Both lent themselves very well to this treatment (something not à priori obvious in Brecht’s case). Last year’s La mouette was wilfully à rebours. This time, Angélica Liddell‘s Todo el cielo sobre la tierra (El síndrome de Wendy) was again a natural fit.

I would not have thought beforehand that Utoya, Peter Pan, ballroom dancing in China (cue in a live orchestra on a raised stage) and certain other things would be a wise mixture, but it all came across as sincere, touching and rather effective. I suppose it makes some sense to conjecture that Wendy Darling would have grown into a teacher/camp counsellor with strong ephebophilic tendencies.

One thing, though – I thought “if the author were Spanish, then Wendy’s monologues would be not at all impressive” – it’s not just that their anti-conventionalism is, in context, rather conventional, but that this sort of rhetoric is, in my perception, very common – and I’d add: facile – in Spanish literature of the last generation or so. Looking at the program notes, I saw that Liddell is, in fact, one of those confusing españoles y latinoamericanos con nombres no hispanicos. Siempre cayéndonos por sorpresa!

(It turns out this is a stage name. I vaguely suspected that.)

Well, I am in Sevilla now. By the way, do people want more Spanish in this blog?

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About valuevar

I am a number theorist with side interests in combinatorics and group theory.
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