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Beyond Words

Psst! Are you listening, “New York Times” Letters page? Playwright Nathalie Béasse wins “Beyond Words Values” award. It’s a big deal [by Tracy Danison]

1. Alone© C. Raynaud de Lage
In a key of turbulence. "Ceux qui vont contre le vent", cie Nathalie Béasse. Photo © C. Raynaud de Lage

There are things that really should appear on the New York Times Letters page.

When a letter gets in the Times Letters page, why, it gets read by Letters page readers, those guys and girls who linger a bit over morning coffee before making the world.  

I once wrote a letter to the Letters page. I criticized Singapore’s then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yu’s hare-brained “Asian Values” campaign. The Times Letters page folks have the noos to know when a should-publish looks ‘em straight in the eye; events proved that my writing to them was the right thing.

Ye shall know them by their works, sayeth the prophet.

Stung by my words, the faux philosophe of Singapore thundered an unseemly and intemperate reply to the Times, also dispatching a copy of it to my student address at the University of Buffalo.

Are you listening, Times Letters page?

Here’s another should-publish.

Angers, France, -based playwright Nathalie Béasse has won the “Beyond Words Values” award “for cultivating insight into the dynamics of human perception and un-story in theater performance”. The “Beyond Words Values” award means that Nathalie Béasse is in the vanguard in shaping up a theatrical lineage to go along with a less Word-centered world.

It’s a big deal.

As a poet, I’ve always been suspicious of the Word – it is hard to work with, not accurate as to actual experience and is dangerously hypnotic for user and hearer alike. For instance, the flattening urban space in and outside of Kharkov, Ukraine, certainly suggests that material destruction and living misery go well beyond what can be said of them – the dangerous hypnotism that preceded it goes without saying. And, if nothing else, those burnt out Russian tanks from the sixth Battle of Kharkov show that humanity has got itself tangled into a pretty desperate story loop this past century and more.  

I welcome any creative endeavor that diminishes the power of the Word. It is not for nothing that Hell is described as the kingdom of noise: turning down the volume makes for instant relief.  Anything that even slightly lowers the buzz and pop of the Word exponentially increases the power of sympathy, sensibility and imagination.

Béasse’s approach to theater does that, vitiates the hectoring Word, increases the power of sympathy, sensibility and imagination. For me, her approach has a lot in common with “capital D” Dance: stressing feeling over narrative, mutual experience over moralizing or exegesis, respecting the physics of perception over imposing dramatics.


3.Togethertoo © Jérôme Blin
In a social key. "Ceux qui vont contre le vent", cie Nathalie Béasse. Photo © Jérôme Blin

So, as she might shape plastics and metals to open spectator perceptions onto the color, shade and texture of a thing, Béasse, who began her creative career as a visual/material artist, in her plays shapes relations among human beings into positions of entry onto an “un-story” (that is, into a visualized flow of feeling, emotion and mood) that she massages into a stage chronology (that simulates diverse logics among events and perceptions).

Laughter seems the most expressed audience reaction to Béasse’s theater; folks laugh as they first recognize and then identify into situations, then join themselves to the sensibilities stimulated and projected by the performers, then “participate” in the feeling, emotion and mood that is the un-story.

2.Together © Jérôme Blin - copie
In a key of together. "Ceux qui vont contre le vent", cie Nathalie Béasse. Photo © Jérôme Blin

For instance, in Béasse’s most recent work, Ceux qui vont contre le vent (something like, “Moving against the wind”), stage chronology rolls out as, approximately, moving in a group, group sloshing around a table, person declaring, persons & groups evolving and settling into. These “ings”– moving, sloshing, declaring, evolving, settling into, call them “visualized riffs” – sound to me like, and works on the spectators like, the conceptual barebones of a choreography, pointing the shapes of feeling, emotion and mood within, acting as indicators of a wider, mutual experience of ‘moving against the wind’.

People laugh as the “ings” roll into focus and take their place in the chronology.

They become more sober as performers introduce different “keys” of relational tension within the ings. Rather than happen on a high-low scale, the keys range all over a flat map of spectator perception of the ings: the relational tensions of “win the lottery” is as possible, as “win at solitaire”, as “go to bed”, as “come out” or “lose an argument” or “learn product not in stock” or as “divorce”. The result is enriched spectator perception.

The accumulation of ings and, within them, the accumulation of a slew of possible keys of relational tensions shape into a concerto of personalizing experience: spectators become participants. Participants in the process become (as far as the physics of perception allow) experiencers. “Experiencers”, I mean, as in those engaged by Capital D Dance, as opposed to, say, audience members making a (an interior) commentary on,         or a (renewed or recreated or extension of) narrative about, or   having catharsis from, or observing the denouement of, or silently pointing towards a story.

An Experiencer in Béasse’s theater, is, as for the experiencer in Capital D Dance, the story, is what I call the un-story. To be the un-story, even for a second, is to be oneself the power to Imagine or not a new story or no story at all, the state where a person can snatch something new from the universal ether. In other words, in a state of un-story, you can get out of Kharkov narrative loop once and for all… or at least start recognizing that it could be different.

… Anyhow, Nathalie Béasse does a fascinating, entirely different kind of theater. Times Letter page readers should treat themselves to a live performance. Once they've done, they will come to dig, admire and imitate Béasse’s “Beyond Words Values” as I do.  

That's a big deal.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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