Co-director Valentina Carrasco introduces the staging ofLe Grand Macabre. Published in the ENO programme 2009.
A body thinks it is dying. Its limbs are paralyzed by fear.
Le Grand Macabre falsely informs us that the world is about to end, and we begin to tremble. But we don’t experience this trembling at the conscious, intellectual level: instead it goes straight to our guts, churning them up and sending them dizzy. Our stomachs go into spasm and spew out our fear, while our blood rushes to our heads like a flock of panic-stricken sheep, hurrying to get nowhere and making our brains explode.
When we think of death, it hovers over our minds like a shadow; but when the end really is nigh, it is our body that takes over: the fear of death affects every living cell, because it is not our soul that thinks it is dying, but our body. Death is a rare privilege of the body, not of the mind.
Taking into account this animal, atavistic and instinctive character of the fear of death, we decided to transpose the setting of Le Grand Macabre to a body. The action takes place in a huge human body which, like Ghelderode’s creatures, feels threatened by a ridiculous, non-existent death. This feeling sets off a profound anxiety in the body, and it starts to disintegrate.
The characters of Le Grand Macabre, seeing the end approach, behave in an increasingly absurd way, with all the pathos of a hypochondriac who thinks he is close to death. We could view Nekrotzar as an illness that believes itself to be fatal, but turns out to be harmless. He presents himself as being as painful and terrifying as cancer, but in the end is just a damp squib, like a bout of flatulence.
When the curtain rises, we can just make out the silhouette of a huge hand, behind which Piet appears. As he sings, we realize that this hand is not alone: the lighting gradually comes up to reveal part of an arm, the end of a huge foot and another hand which leads to a vast, dark cavern, out of which the lovers emerge. Nekrotzar’s voice resonates throughout the whole space, but where is it coming from? Suddenly we see a gigantic head hanging in the air. Inside the mouth, open as if to sigh, we can make out a slightly sinister character. Then we realize that we are looking at a vast human body slumped on the ground. Gradually we make out the rounded stomach, the slightly saggy breasts, the vast thighs. This body is not at its peak: it is showing signs of decline, a sickly decay.
So our space is a body inside which Ghelderode’s creatures develop. This is a body that thinks itself besieged by sickness: is it in a hospital, or is it simply sleeping? Our vast creature (which is in fact only a symbol of ourselves) lets the characters of the piece walk all over it, manipulate it and inhabit it, and the (hypothetical?) illness that affects it is at the same time the cataclysm that threatens their existence. Our ‘Grande Malade’ is having an anxiety attack at the possibility of death, and the expression on its face is a twisted cry of pain, or call for help.
Over the course of the piece there is a change in the geography of the body, and because of its hyper-realist quality, we experience its hovering between life and death. It splits apart, and gradually decomposes. The leg and foot roll to the side and separate from the torso, forming grottoes and cavities where the characters can appear from or hide in. The buttocks part, showing the bowels and a fragment of bone, the head veers to the side at unnatural angles with the neck; a skinned leg reveals the structure of veins and tendons that form a corridor for the minor characters to walk along. Manipulated by the extras who make it move and live, this body becomes a living nightmare à la Bosch, or to be more exact, a dream vision of Breughelland.
Le Grand Macabre at Ultima 2013
Venue: Norwegian Opera & Ballet
7., 10. and 14. 9, Main stage: Performances
7.9 at 5pm, Formidlingssenter: Premiere-talk with Prof. Richard Steinitz
10.9 at 1 pm: Backstage with set designer Alfons Flores. More here.
10.9 at 2pm, Formidlingssenteret: Highlighting Ligeti with Peter Edwards, Valentina Carrasco, Erling E. Guldbrandsen, Alfons Flores, musicians and singers from the cast. More here.
14.9 at 4.30pm, Foyer: Ultima Remake 2013 - Mediastudents from Bjørnholt Upper Secondaey School present an audiovisual installation based on Le Grand Macabre. Read more in the project´s blog.