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In a surreal universe six performers are dropped from one confusing state of being into another, like phantom bodies. Are they humans or ghosts, actors or characters, dead or alive? After his intriguing production You can speak, you are an animal at the Holland Festival in 2011, which dealt with the ambiguities between human and animal, the Swiss theatre maker Massimo Furlan is back with this moving performance which tries to contact ghosts. In a poetic sequence of carefully stylised, theatrical still lives Furlan explores the porous boundaries between the living and the dead. Going from burlesque to tragedy, from cabaret to performance, he explores the magic moments and the intense emotions where they meet.
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The Swiss theatre maker Massimo Furlan returns to the Holland Festival with Un Jour, a performance about dying, the disappearance of the body and the return as a ghost or spirit. Created in collaboration with his dramaturge and writer Claire Ribaupierre, Furlan deals with the belief in invisible entities, the possible interaction between the worlds of the dead and the living and the strong emotions that can bridge these worlds. The piece addresses the ambiguity of human existence: sometimes the dead continue to play a powerful role in the lives of their families and friends; at the same time, there are people who lead a nigh on invisible, shadowy existence whilst still among the living.The performance stages some recognisable, iconic images of ghosts and spirits, conveyed as skeletons, mysterious shadows and a cartoonish white sheet with holes.
As an artist and a director, Furlan is famous for his visual theatre and minimal use of movement. Staging associative sequences of static scenes, the audience is allowed the time to really take in the images and use their own fantasy. Using these 'long images', as he calls them, to stage instantly recognisable icons from our contemporary culture, Furlan explores the ways in which people give meaning to their lives. The original idea for Un Jour was sparked in 2010 at the Festival of Avignon, when Furlan met the British actress and singer Jane Birkin. The two of them talked extensively about disease, death, parting and grief. Un Jour was born from the idea that the dead live on in letters, drawings, photographs, songs, films and objects, as memories which continue to haunt us.
Subsequently, the content of the performance was given further shape through discussions with various scientific researchers, anthropologists, historians and philosophers about the role and function of shamanic rituals in which the dead are contacted, as well as the way in which death is embraced in various cultures and the dead continue to have an impact on the lives of the living. Death is not only the separation of the deceased from the community of the living, it's also a renewed connection between the two in a completely different form, for instance as ancestor worship. Based on these insights, four themes are pursued in Un Jour: the relationship with the other (dead or alive), the fear of the unknown, the tears of grief and the internalisation of this pain in the heart, and finally the dreams and phantoms.
Without any chronology or causal connections, the characters in Un Jour move from one confusing state of being to another, through different times, places and cultures.
Possessed, trance-like, the six performers (including Furlan himself) are like phantom bodies struggling with the horrific transparency of reality; voices calling without knowing who's calling. Are they humans or ghosts? Their identities remain ambiguous, alternating between the living dead and the dead living, between actors and characters. Grotesque masks and costumes, an unsettling, colourful light design, rear projections, soundscapes, hovering furniture and an enormous white sheet combine with the slow acting to create a visual language of stilled imagery. Blended with influences from tragic burlesque, macabre cabaret and performance art, it constitutes Furlan's trademark theatre.
In 2011, Furlan featured at the Holland Festival with You can speak, you are an animal. Introducing two iconic, paradoxical characters - the bear (frightening, yet cuddly) and the idiot (childlike, yet cruel) – Furlan staged a nightmarish stream of images dealing with the relationship between human and animal, nature and culture, to a soundtrack of Killing Joke's post punk music. Furlan's most recent theatre production, Un Jour, premiered at the Théâtre de Vidy in Lausanne in 2014.