And The Conversations just begun – in the German papers and blogs (see a list of linked reviews below, nachtkritik.de naturally
provides a nice press summary – all in German, of course) and, hopefully, later in Korea, as the ensemble is planning a revival.
For those who missed the performance in Braunschweig, there is a full recording of an earlier version performed in Korea available on Youtube, albeit without the German supertitles and additional props that were used in Braunschweig. Those were based on my German translation of The Conversations, which is how I got in touch with Creative VaQi to begin with.
I had the chance to meet the performers, the director, and Ae Soon Lee (이애순), an elderly woman who is the main theme and protagonist of the piece, on the occasion of their final rehearsal before leaving for Germany. That day, I conducted a short interview and plan to ask for their experiences with the audience in Braunschweig once they return to Korea. As time allows, I will post these impresions and thoughts here, sooner or later.
Let’s have a look at some reactions for now:
The German press was generally positive, about The Conversations and the festival in general. Katrin Bettina Müller, for example, in her review for the tageszeitung (June 15, 2016), notes the intense intimacy the play suggests with regard to Ae Soon Lee:
Some movies tell the story of a life in close range, but for the theatre this “portrait”-style production is unusual. It combines a familiar proximity with critical distance. Filme erzählen manchmal aus so großer Nähe die Geschichte eines Lebens, aber für die Bühne ist ein solches Porträtformat ungewöhnlich. Es verbindet eine vertrauensvolle Nähe mit einer kritischen Distanz.
The blog “Textures”, the (English) online platform for Interweaving Performance Cultures (hosted by the eponimous theatre research center at Free University Berlin, they also have a Facebook-page!), presents some other impressions about the research atelier “Our Common Futures” (see the full program) which was held at Theaterformen:
Thilo Grawe (student at the University of Hildesheim), in a post from June 12, quotes Kyung Sung Lee who spokemin a panel discussion:
“We judge each other so quickly by one’s political opinion and we hate each other so quickly, so I wanted to kind of try to delay this process of judging each other by creating this space for conversations.”
Grawe then comments:
Yes, there are conflicts and there are different opinions and political views and there is a lot of judgment in the first place, but what it really needs is communication and a dialogue instead. Creating a space for those conversations through performing arts is the kind of intervention that makes me wanting to be a part of the arts and of our common future – “being apart, but together”.
That is actually a great description of the play: Ae Soon Lee, in her seventies, and the actors of VaQi, half her age, do not seem to find a common demoninator in their conversations, except for the shared dinner in the final scene. I believe that The Conversations is not so much about a rational debate of the past – although that is attempted, too –, but rather about the possibility of emotional connections beyond ideological gaps.
But what happens when things get to “feel good”?
In a post from June 16, after seeing the performance, director-playwright Kaori Nishio asks how we can deal with the charm of a grandmother:
In this production [The Conversations] the life story of an old lady is performed by three young actors and the old lady herself. She is not a professional actor but [director] Kyung Sung Lee’s former nanny, and really charming. The problem is exactly this. She is so charming that her impression has been outshining the whole production.
Complete submission to Ae Soon Lee’s charms and life achievements – I had a similar reaction when I first saw Ae Soon Lee at the rehearsal after having read and written about her for weeks. Not sure how to deal with this tension yet…
Kaori Nishio concludes that the first part of the performance, where the actors are alone and “the distance between two generations is shown through South Korean historical incidents in the old lady’s memory performed by the young actors”, should be strengthened.
I’m not sure if I can agree. For me, personally sympathizing mostly with the diverging and critical opinions of the actors, Ae Soon Lee’s presence on stage seemed like a necessary balancing-mechanism. While the first part presents her thoughts and opinions for vast lengths in “verbatim” (albeit through the mouths of actors who remain more or less neutral about the words they utter), without her stage presence the play would be more of a critical assessment of the ideas prevalent in the older generation. The second part, where Ae Soon Lee’s presence and her acts (in particularly the long scrubbing scene) dominate both the stage and the actors, is, in fact, not so much a real dialogue but an attempt to approach each other, however awkward and problematic.
By highlighting the distance but not accepting it, and without offering any hope for reconciliation, the performance ends in harmony but leaves the audience with many questions to discuss – among themselves and, in the case of the festival, probably without the actors and Ae Soon Lee.
So The Conversations are definitely not over! Not yet, maybe never? Let’s keep them alive! (to end this post also on a “happy” note…)
– 12 & 13 June 2016 (日 & 月)
Links to German press reviews
- Alexander Kohlmann, “Mythen ohne Grenzen”, nachtkritik.de, 2016–06–14 (Link).
- Peter Laudenbach, “Zehntausend Tiger”, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2016–06–14 (Link, paywall).
- Katrin Bettina Müller, Der Tanz der Geister, tageszeitung, 2016–06–15 (Link).
- Patrick Wildermann, “Tiger und Verlierer”, Tagesspiegel, 2016–06–16 (Link).
- Kornelius Friz , “Die Toten kehren auf Samtpfoten zurück”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2016–06–16 (not online yet).