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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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La Caserne set for "Zulu Time"

Robert Lepage first performs The Far Side of the Moon, which focuses, even more clearly than his previous work, on the moment of interactivity, of shared process in performance. He has defined what he seeks as a theatre that "happens in a spontaneous, interactive, three-dimensional way", contrasting it against a filmed, screened, mediated style of performance. A theatre that is spontaneous is dynamic, able to accept new elements and reject ones no longer useful, becoming a kind of theatre of mutable collage. (Hence Lepage's frequent last-minute interventions to change important element of pacing, order, or staging, which renders his shows perpetual works-in-progress). As one review of The Far Side of the Moon, in which the door into a laundry machine becomes everything from the porthole in a spaceship to a flickering CAT scan, remarked: "Transformation is key to Lepage's theatrical language. Like other journeys down rabbit holes or through mirrors, this washing machine door is a passage into another reality."

In perpetually reworking his performances, Lepage infuses his work with a sense of traveling, of journeying. Combined with his love of technology and his nomadic, international touring schedule, this creates a sense of displacement which Lepage uses in his works, calling it "décalage". This décalage was first manifest in Vinci in 1985 where our blind narrator informs his audience that: "Leonardo da Vinci wrote from ze right hand to ze left, like in a mirror. Zis leaves the reader reeling with a strange feeling of décalage ... Leonardo da Vinci could not bear ze human suffering, and yet he invented war machines. Zis leaves the reader reeling with a strange feeling of décalage, a feeling of décalage."

Décalage, this "feeling of disassociation", is necessarily fragmented, resonating with juxtaposed symbols, icons, and metaphors, peppered with disarming technological intrusions. It is a theatre that subverts subversion; commonly referring to global time differences and the ensuing "jet lag" of worldwide travel - which he addresses directly in Zulu Time (2002) - Lepage expands the definition to refer to a larger "spiritual" nausea, the discomfort and psychic distress of being an individual facing the sheer size of the global community.

For Lepage, the world is a global one; his language is often banal, refusing to create dramatic conflict or tension through words, in effect serving more as sign of cultural plurality than as source of plot. His works simultaneously emphasize multilingual dramatic voices, without translation, seemingly at odds with his actual Quebecois origins. Despite his use of multiple languages, the verbal is de-emphasized within his performances (the script for La trilogie des dragons is six pages long for a performance with a running time of over six hours in three languages), opening up the realm of stage potential for an imagistic mise en scene. Lepage argues that television and cinema emancipate theatre, so that it: "Should no longer be realistic or naturalistic. It has reached the stage where it should be free to be cubist or impressionist or surrealist, or all of that. It should be an experimental form to change our perspective, to see how we can view things in a different way, to make us wonder."

A sense of duality pervades the work of Robert Lepage, his "metaphor for Canada" (artificially divided, set into opposition, antagonistic) appearing in Trilogie (1985), Les Plaques Tectoniques (1988), and The Far Side of the Moon (2000). Having decidedly based himself and his work within the province of Quebec, Lepage then proceeded to move beyond what he saw as the petty politics of Canada. Although decidedly in support of Quebec as a distinct society, in his mind there are larger dualities confronting us, sharper dichotomies needing exploration. Tectonic Plates, for example, represented a huge challenge to identity politics in Quebec. Rather than promulgate the paradigm within Quebec of a collection of identities both discrete and stable governing the ideological landscape, Tectonic Plates presents, through a technologically-mediated performance, a shifting, ephemeral world where cultures are fragmented and free-floating.

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