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Theatre innovators in the museum: a journey through the minds of Ivo van Hove and Jan Versweyveld

Theatre and film have close ties. Many classic plays have been filmed. One of the merits of Ivo van Hove and Jan Versweyveld is that they have reversed that relationship. Film as the starting point for their performances. Their radically innovative work is the starting point for the exhibitions - designed by themselves - about theatre about film about theatre.

In 13 rooms, we walk through van Hove and Versweyveld's oeuvre. They show the performances based on films. Or rather: on the scenarios of films and their memories. Van Hove refuses to see the films again, preferring to rely on his memory, and his solid film knowledge. A good child of the 1970s, he has an encyclopaedia of European auteur cinema in his brain, from which he filters scenarios that add something to all existing theatrical texts. Visconti's Rocco e i suoi fratelli is one of them. In this film, poverty and class inequality become clear in an instant when a car door proves to be an insurmountable obstacle. Cars where in 1950s rural Italy thus only for the elite, the poor literally did not know how such a thing works.

Translation

How do you bring such a strong image to the theatre? By not trying to make a literal translation, but by capturing the emotional essence. Jan Versweyveld has stripped Visconti's rich world down to a few playing surfaces that can serve as a boxing ring or a dining table. There is nothing too much on stage, making everything essential. Or, as heard elsewhere: theatre is actors, text and spectators. Nothing more. (after Ingmar Bergman's After the Rehearsel) The essence of poverty and migration remains and has lost none of its relevance.

all about theatere about film. photo: hans Wilschut

For theatrical adaptations, the problem is that in film there is no unity of time and space. That is a translation Jan Versweyveld makes. In doing so, he too does not fall back on film, but starts from his own viewing experience. The two artists have spent a lot of time in film houses since their student days. Yet they do not watch with the aim of perhaps making an adaptation of it. Many of the films they work with they saw in the 1970s and 1980s and only adopted decades later. Both their professions do determine how they remember films, be it the characters and lyrics or the space and cinematic aspects.

Van Hove sets the parameters, we get to fill in

The walk through the halls is an experience that is both theatrical, cinematic and museum-like. You can set your own pace (there is footage to see for more than a day and a half), but not your own route. The parameters are set, within them there is freedom, just as van Hove works with his actors. Because of your position in the rooms, you hear the sound of one or more screens. You can sit or stand in the designated place and watch 1 screen. You can also wander around the room and take in all the film clips and performance recordings.

All rooms have their own atmosphere. Versweyveld created customised wall coverings for each room, based on the performances. There are also props, models and costumes on display. In some rooms, there is even something to smell. But truly unique is the lighting. Versweyveld is a master in the use of light and all the rooms are lit with extreme precision in a form that suits the performance and the film. He sets the tone and you almost feel the effect physically. Some rooms seem warmer than others.

Dramatic build-up

The walk through spaces has a beginning, middle and end in which it goes to a dramatic crux. The prologue is India Song by Marguerite Duras. Old Betamax tapes have become gritty, the colour yellow dominates but the actors are vague shapes. In a strange way, then, it fits the show, in which the actors playback pre-recorded lyrics. The beginning is calm and alienating. The tone is set.

We go from Antonioni to Pasolini. The ferocity increases, so does the volume of the actors. The emotional climax is - how could it be otherwise - by Ingmar Bergman. His Cries and Whispers, about how to deal with death, is gripping. Van Hove created two endings for it: the dreamed death, calm and between loved ones and the dreaded death: lonely and scared. An artist transforming her own fear of death into art, using Yves Klein blue paint to capture her death struggle. And so it exposes the heart of theatre: theatre as a dream, about lost paradises and desired utopias. How nice to be able to walk through the dream.

Good to know Good to know

All about theatre about film can be seen from 3 October to 9 January at Eye Film Museum. All the films on which Ivo van Hove and Jan Versweyveld's screenings are based will be shown, along with a selection of films that were essential to their oeuvre.

 

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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