Robert Lepage

Artist in Focus: Robert Lepage

For the second time now, we are dedicating the focus of the current edition of FIND to a key figure in international theatre. This year, it is the writer, theatre director, actor, set designer and filmmaker Robert Lepage. We are delighted to be presenting two productions and a supporting programme in honour of a theatre maker whose productions have shaped several genera­ tions of international auteur theatre.

In Lepage’s work, the passion for telling stories is combined with humour, tragedy and skilful dramaturgical constructions. With tremendous visual imagination, Lepage develops a narrative drive and pulls his audience along with him into his invented stories and worlds. Memory often plays a central role, with autobiograph­ical memories reflected in the larger historical context, the history of Québec and that of the 20th century with its great catastro­phes and upheavals. The Western theatre canon forms another sounding board, from Shakespeare’s heroes Hamlet, Coriolanus and Macbeth to classical characters like Oedipus. In addition, scientific phenomena, art, science, the everyday and the banal can be found, all of which combine in Lepage’s work to form a unique narrative universe. Very early on, he demonstrated his virtuosity as he experimented on stage with video and new tech­nologies which, in his work, never appeared as pure technical gimmicks, but instead created their own narrative magic. He connects the means of expression of European and North Ameri­can theatre with Japanese theatrical forms such as Noh and Kabuki as well as Chinese opera and Vietnamese puppet theatre.

Robert Lepage was born in Québec City in 1957 and grew up in a bilingual working­class family. He was initially interested in geography but at the age of 17 he enrolled at the Conserva­toire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec. After graduating in 1978, he went to Paris to continue his education in the French capital at the theatre school of the Swiss director Alain Knapp. Back in his homeland, he joined the Théâtre Repère in Québec. From 1989 to 1993, he was the artistic director of the Théâtre français at Canada’s National Arts Centre in Ottawa and began touring with his own projects, including »Needles and Opium«, a play about Miles Davis and Jean Cocteau. In 1992, his production of Shakespeare’s »A Midsummer Night’s Dream« became the first play at London’s Royal National Theatre to be directed by
a North American. He has also made an international name for himself as an opera director, including with all four parts of Richard Wagner’s
»Ring des Nibelungen« at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. In 1994, Lepage founded his company Ex Machina in Québec and created large­scale and now legendary productions for it such as »The Seven Streams of the River Ōta« as well as solo pieces including »The Far Side of the Moon«.

At FIND in Berlin, Lepage is now presenting the German premiere of one of his most recent and intimate works, the mono­ drama »887«: Following a series of spectacular productions such as his Dragons’ Trilogy (»La Trilogie des Dragons«) and his collaboration with the Cirque du Soleil, in 2015 Lepage returned with »887« to the smaller format of the solo show. In this play – named after the number of the house in which he grew up – the Canadian explores the workings of memory in which personal childhood stories intertwine with historical reflections. At the same time, »887« is an ode to the art of drama, a craft for which memory is an essential foundation stone. In addition, we are presenting a new production of one of his best­known and most monumental works for the stage: in »The Seven Streams of the River Ōta«, written between 1994 and 1996 and re­ staged in 2019 with a new cast, Lepage is reviving a masterpiece of his early years for FIND.

In addition to theatre, two successful feature films by the all­ rounder Lepage can be seen at FIND. With the playful and quirky comedy »The Far Side of the Moon« (»La Face cachée de la Lune«, 2003) – the Oscar nominated and multi­awarded cinema version of his play of the same name – we are presenting another artistic facet of Lepage in our programme: that of the film director. Lepage himself plays both main characters: the contrasting brothers Philippe and André who symbolise the competition between the Russians and the Americans – the communist and capitalist worlds. Forty years old and single, Philippe dreams of space travel. After the death of his mother, he has to deal with her goldfish, her flat, a cosmonaut and his arrogant brother André, a successful TV meteorologist. In his film »The Confessional« (1995), Lepage combines a story by Alfred Hitchcock – who shot a key scene of his film »I Confess« in the Catholic Québec of 1952 – with the uncovering of a family tragedy. The death of their father reunites the successful Pierre and his directionless adoptive brother Marc, who has never discovered the identity  of his biological father and feels lost and rootless. Embarking on a search together, the brothers stumble upon a dark family secret connected to a priest who refuses to break his vow of silence, an illegitimate pregnancy, the suicide of a 16­-year­old girl and Alfred Hitchcock’s filming of »I Confess« in Québec in 1952. Lepage masterfully weaves the two time frames, Hitchcock’s film and the myth of Oedipus together into a very personal family story.

»The Confessional« will be screened on 9 April from 12 pm at the cinema Eva Lichtspiele (Blissestraße 18), followed by »La face cachée de la lune« from 3 pm.

The »Artist in Focus: Robert Lepage« program is supported by the Embassy of Canada and the Québec Government Office in Berlin. 

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