The Barcelona-based theatre collective El Conde de Torrefiel (Tanya Beyeler and Pablo Gisbert) is shaking European stages with their highly influential theatrical language. It is renewing theatrical codes, providing their own answer to the question about the end of drama: Yes, drama, playwriting, as we knew them in the 19th and 20th centuries may not be working anymore, yet Word and Narrative may still be present on stage. Thus, the Spanish group is experimenting with new ways of producing ‘textuality’, attempting connections between text, visual arts and choreography: A chorus of citizens, amateurs, doc theatre, fiction, site-specific, collective dramaturgy, polyphony, mixed arts, myth and ritual, pulsating bodies on stage. Simultaneously, in constructing fictions for the present, they invite us into a poetic and collective rethinking of it.
It started in 2010 with the wok La historia del rey vencido por el aburrimiento [The story of the king defeated by boredom]. Ever since, El Conde de Torrefiel has been presenting work in cities and festivals across Spain and the world: Festival d’Automne (Paris), Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels), Théâtre de Vidy-Lausanne (Lausanne) Alkantara Festival (Lisbon). In Greece, we were introduced to them by Christiana Galanopoulou and the MIR Festival, which hosted their work Guerilla (2016), a show about a Europe is changing in our absentia. In 2018, the Athens-Epidaurus Festival hosted their work La Plaza, a show about time-space, boundaries and violence. The duet’s more recent works are focusing exclusively on the 21st century and the current relationship between the personal and the political.
In March 2021, El Conde de Torrefiel wrote a brand new text responding the call by Barbara Dukas, Artistic Director of the Municipal & Regional Theatre of Corfu1Internet discussion ‘Vice versa: The Desire for a new ecumenical Identity’ (21/03/2021), on the occasion of the bicentennial anniversary of the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, following its course and footprint within Greece and abroad on artists from abroad. Varvara Douka, the Artistic Director of the Municipal & Regional Theatre of Corfu, held a discussion with important performing arts professionals (Milo Rau, Howard Barker, El Conde de Torrefiel, Massimo Furlan, Abou Lagraa, Darko Lukic) that have contributed with their work to matters of national identity and to the discussion about Greece, Europe and Humanitarianism. More at: shorturl.at/msJRU, and Angeliki Poulou (a member of Medea Electronique and a scientific supervisor of the event) to delineate their perspective on the questions: IDEAL STATE/IDEAL SENTIMENT/IDEAL PLACE/IDEAL DEATH/IDEAL HOMELAND. ACT II is proud to be exclusively publishing the text, translated into Greek by the poet Ifigenia Ntoumi and into English by Stathis Paraskevopoulos.
A letter to Pablo Gisbert
Just 21 years from the beginning of the 21st century, we are all sensing the same thing: a sense of being half blood and half digital. Our digital aspect connects us with the idea of virtuality, globalization, pre-planned news, the speed of stimuli, trivial images, fragmented discussions across the globe. But our other aspect, the one which is still made of blood, possibly frightened, annoyed and puzzled by the savage advancement of the digital sphere, wants to rediscover its identity by any means. For the time being, half of the population soothes its ‘blood part’ with diazepam. The desire of certain peoples to return to the idea of identity, whatever form it may take, is not only peculiar to Greece within the context of an anniversary, but a desire that unfolds in every country that once lived, as Warhol had said, its ‘15 minutes of fame’
Already at 38, I realize that some trends always return, from bell-bottoms to totalitarian regimes, thus composing a kind of eternal and turbulent retrofuturism, that neither the hell of cookies nor the smartest meme can stop because, as my friend Juan mentioned the other day, today there is more hatred than joy. I notice that in the face of economic turmoil, the political bipolarity and the poor spirituality we are experiencing, too many European soldiers, each in their own country, unfold, trying to construct an identity, ‘pinching bits’ from here and there, based on traditions and cultures that the media and entertainment platforms speculate on. They think: It does not matter to know who we were, what is important is to imagine who we want to be.
The current state of things makes me ask various questions: Did I decide when I was born what colour my skin would be? Did I decide when I was born which century I would live in? Did I decide when I was born the year I would be born on? Did I decide when I was born the language I would be taught? Did I decide when I was born if I would be a man or a woman or if I would belong to the third sex? Did I decide when I was born how much money my parents would have? Did I decide when I was born how many square metres my home would be? Did I decide when I was born whether I would have siblings or not? Did I decide when I was born how strong my body would be? Did I decide when I was born which gender would define me? Did I decide which city I would be born in? Did I decide on my citizenship when I was born? Did I decide when I was born what currency I would carry in my pockets? Did I decide when I was born the primary religion of my country?
All these random circumstances, therefore, which no one ever chooses, determine a person’s identity until their death, and even after that.
All these random circumstances, therefore, which no one ever chooses, determine a person’s identity until their death, and even after that. And in conjunction with the identity of the individual, they also determine the identity of a country and the era of that country. And so, based on a completely random and coincidental set of concepts, which no one ever chooses, and which are automatically imposed at birth, the individual will organize the time and energy of his/her/their whole life, paradoxically ignoring that all their critical decisions can be more decisive, even those taken at random. And all this party of irrational identity has always been the driving force of the world, the cause for camaraderie but also the defining moment of many massacres. Is this an indication of immense irresponsibility? Finally, I wonder, can someone be accused of defending their religion, their language, their country, if this is all they have? Or have they been driven by others to conclude that this is all they have? Were they ever capable of taking a decision or were they made to believe that they could not take any?
I just wrote something that looks like a poem, not sure if it is relevant, but it goes something like this:
People are built
from the emotional debris of other people.
Squares are built
from the ruins of other squares
Cities are built
from the ruins of other cities.
Borders are created
from the surplus of other borders.
Borders are erased
using the blood of yet another people.
And at every one of these borders there is a signpost that states:
‘The slaughter has been permitted up to this specific point.’
In Bosnia, Mexico or Palestine.
And although an effort is being made to decorate the cities
with parks, boulevards, theatres and bars,
although an attempt is made to hide everything under concrete slabs,
there is the blood buried and the age of those who lived before,
those who never thought of us,
and yet we are so dependent on them.
I still insist on discovering who we decided to be the beacons of life, what kind of narrative makes us think that some of us are, and of what is this huge wall born that stands between people, transforming the world into a board of multifaceted, invisible apartheids. I think that there are commonly accepted realities, made up of small, fundamental human instincts and that these small, fundamental instincts acquired a new meaning to choreograph reality. For example:
- From the love for our parents ‒initially instinctive and related to survival‒ the narrative of love for the homeland was legitimized.
- From the anguished and melancholy vertigo that a person suffers from when they feel the passage of time, the need for nostalgia for the historical past of a nation was constructed on a national scale.
- Just as out of fear of not knowing what our consciousness will become after death, religions emerge, composing global fears and industrializing them, creating both economic power and benefits.
- Just as there is a basic need for communication between people, there are mechanisms ‒like WhatsApp‒ that articulate this need (making a lot of money).
- Or, finally, from the innate sexual predisposition of a living body, Tinder satisfies this human impulse with relative immediacy (again, making a lot of money).
And thus, the homeland and Christianity and Tinder industrialize and economically transform the primitive and inherent feelings of human existence.
As I write this, additional questions spring to my mind: What words do I remember saying the last time I made love? What words do I remember saying when I found out recently that a good friend of mine had died? What words do I remember saying when I first left my country? What words do I remember saying when I saw the Twin Towers fall? What words do I remember saying on my first day at school? What words do I remember saying when I stood in front of Picasso’s Guernica? What words do I remember saying the last time I felt turbulence on the plane? What words do I remember saying yesterday, other than ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘good morning’?
I do not remember any word, even though I consider myself a rational being and I spend my life talking. And, of course, I do not remember complete and specific reasons. But, really, do I not remember anything? Without knowing you at all –you, who is reading this text– I am sure that, like me, you have experienced all or almost all of these moments. And I’m pretty sure you do not remember a single word or a single specific phrase. I only have flashes, a lot of emotions, sounds, some colour maybe. Only unrelated images that do their job, as if life is scrolling through Instagram – a bit of text and a lot of photography.
And this is why this application has triumphed, a mirror of the disintegration and of the visual whole of ourselves. All memory is anchored and consolidated in abstract compositions and these narratives define the lives of millions of people.
I feel that access to the centre of the brain is not possible through logic, but through caves of seduction, temptation and love tunnels, decorated with plastic compositions, with elegant forms, and lots of music… as the necessary incessant conversation with a baby. I think that we humans are deep oceans of emotions and that with the boat of logic it is possible to navigate the surface of our brain. But, on the contrary, diving into the depths of the ocean of the brain can only be achieved through artistic tools and other decisions, perhaps global, common to all mankind, can be observed there. The ocean metaphor is rather simplistic, but it fits its purpose. That is why art is both so important and dangerous at the same time, because when one possesses it, perception changes. It constructs the world and the notion of reality. So now, in the year 2021, when we are more lost than a group of vegans at an Argentine diner, we cling to random ideas in order to acquire an identity that will make us feel the joy we do not possess.
That is why art is both so important and dangerous at the same time, because when one possesses it, perception changes.
Even in the Bible, one of the most influential books on the planet for 3,500 years, it states, ‘In the beginning was the word.’ I, who was baptized and have lived Christianity from within, have always been impressed by this phrase. Because, according to the Bible, before the creation of water, land and air, before the appearance of animals, plants, humans, of any reproductive organ, before everything appeared the word. And the fact that the Bible says that the first thing was the word seems funny to me because it suggests that from the beginning there was the ability to story-tell, the ability of invention and with it the ability of manipulation and power.
Because depending on the word chosen, one path or another is followed, as everyone knows. And a bad choice of word can spark a divorce or war. We all also know that the word constructs the world or rather, invents reality. Therefore, if one does not have the firewall of one’s attention activated, it is easy to plant any reality within it.
I notice that all of Europe is contemplating the ghosts of its past, and at this big ‘table’ it has decided to define specific dates in European historiography, dates that are reminiscent of moments of power or victory. And thus to rid itself of other dates that are of no interest and to delete whole centuries of the past. In a poetic explanation, if the whole planet decided to summon the ghosts lost in time, if, I say, we really went backwards and decided to anchor in a common earlier time, we would all stop at the ocean. And even though we knew that three-quarters of the world is water and three-quarters of our body is also water, we decided to direct all our attention to that small part that belongs to us: the earth and the body, that which defines the differences between people. It is very difficult to catch a liquid with your hands; it scatters everywhere. The same is true of the idea we have of ourselves. Who are we? Who do we think we are? I think it is normal to have all these contradictions that we have, constantly wanting to identify with others. When the human gaze should be global and all-encompassing.
As transsexuality helped extend the concept of man and woman beyond what is defined by two simple reproductive organs, as Barack Obama helped extend the idea of what the president of North America should be like in the 21st century, and women like Simone Weil or Malala helped spread ideas to their own religions, as the discovery of thousands of planets living in the galaxy extended the notion of life, in the same way, I say, identity should be extended and not focus on some old, trivial, repetitive and outdated concepts, such as language, colour and nation. Identity should be understood as solidarity. And solidarity among the inhabitants of the planet, beyond random dogmas as I have explained previously, should focus on global aspects, such as the former will to create the ‘often violated’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Can you give me a glass of water, please?