Theatre is a necessary and obscure mirror image of the arena for political struggle

Democracy in America
(La Democrazia in America)

Romeo Castellucci, Socìetas

Freely inspired by the book by Alexis De Tocqueville

One of the most influential and controversial theatre directors in Europe is back at the Holland Festival. Romeo Castellucci is known for his radical visual language and his performances’ grand decors. Democracy in America is inspired by Alexis de Tocqueville's treatise (1835), in which the French philosopher examined America's vibrant young democracy. Castellucci places his work in the time that precedes politics. He traces the origin of a forgotten rite, of theatre’s primary function: to be the necessary and obscure mirror image of the arena for political struggle, and reflect all layers and forms of society. A performance that is not intended to be political, but polemic.

Programme book

Focus: democracy

This year several festival artists are looking at the problems faced by Western democracies. The French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville admired democracy for its social equality. He saw its dangers too. Director Romeo Castellucci is making Democracy in America, based on De Tocqueville’s eponymous book 

(1835). In The Gabriels director Richard Nelson reflects on the recent American election year through the eyes of an ordinary family. Other artists focus on controversies in democracies, such as the issue of refugees in directors Dieudonné Niangouna and Thomas Bellinck’s performances. Others address the threat of violence (Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed), tyranny (Octavia), or shaping activism (The Tempest Society). In Manifesto the film director Julian Rosefeldt examines the relation between art and society. 

We are presenting two national theatre production companies, each with its own state of the nation: My Country by the National Theatre in London, and The Nation by the Dutch National Theatre in The Hague. Both performances show divided countries in which no one, from politicians to citizens, seems to dare to take responsibility. We also believe that it is important to explore democracy of form. Members of the audience can get actively involved as a passer-by, participant, or activist, if they so wish. Our artists encourage you to question the old hierarchy between the audience and the artists.

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Background information

Democracy in America is a new production by the Italian theatre maker Romeo Castellucci. It was inspired by the influential essay Democracy in America (1835), by the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). De Tocqueville is seen as the inventor of 

modern political liberalism. In his two-part treatise, De Tocqueville looks on in awe at the young democratic society that blossomed out of a radical-evangelical ideal of equality following American Independence. At the same time, he had already warned against the dark sides to democracy that can lead to violence, such as the tyranny of the majority, populist rhetoric that threatens individual freedom, the danger of blind conformism and the tension between community interests and individual ambitions. Even in the New World there was the risk that democracy could undo itself.

With Democracy in America, Castellucci looks at the moment when a political system has run its course and a new form of representation needs to be found. According to Castellucci, his production is not a reflection on contemporary politics. Instead, it focuses on the failure of politics at a time when mankind is forced to change.
Castellucci is known around the world as a creator of a special form of intense theatre. In the subtle and complex theatre created by his ensemble Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, music, lighting, projections, sculptures, machines, paintings and architecture dominate. Castellucci's ideas are based on ‘the poetry of cruelty’ whereby – in the spirit of Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) – indescribable horror is used as a transforming power. In addition, he focuses on the classical Greek tragedies.

‘In classical Greece, the tragedy and theatre served as an alter-ego and shadow of Athenian democracy,’ Castellucci explains. ‘In Ancient Greece, theatre offered the audience the chance to remove themselves from the limits of democracy during the production and to listen time and again to the disharmony of life: the lamentations of those who were sacrificed and could not be saved by politics.’

Democracy in America is the fifth production by Castellucci to be performed at the Holland Festival, following his Shakespeare adaptation Giulio Cesare (1998), the family play Genesi, from the museum of sleep (1999), based on the book of Genesis from the Bible, the musical theatre piece Il combattimento (2000), and On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God (2011), theatre based on Renaissance painting.

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Biography

The Italian artist and director Romeo Castellucci (Cesena, 1960) studied scenography and painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna. In 1981, Castellucci and his wife and fellow theatre maker Chiara Guidi, his sister Claudia and brother Paolo founded the 

Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio ensemble. They named it after the Renaissance painter Raphael. They developed a highly pictorial, layered style of theatre, drenched in symbolism. In the 1990s, Castellucci created various productions based on classic texts such as Gilgamesh (1990) and Oresteia (1997) and the classic Hamlet (1992). He then started work on the three-year monumental theatre cycle Tragedia Endogonidia, of which eleven parts have been performed in ten different European cities. In 2008, Castellucci produced a trilogy based on Dante’s Divine Comedy as an associate artist at the Festival d’Avignon. In 2010, this trilogy was the only theatre production to be included by the French daily newspaper Le Monde in its list of the most important cultural events between 2000 and 2012. Castellucci’s work has been performed in more than fifty countries across the world. In 1996, he received the European Nouvelle Réalité Théâtrale Prize and in 2002 he was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. The Venice Biennial awarded him a Golden Lion in 2013 for his theatrical oeuvre. One year later he received an honorary doctorate from the Alma Mater Studiorum of the University of Bologna as well as a prize for Best Director by the German opera magazine Opernwelt. Castellucci’s previous productions at the Holland Festival include Giulio Cesare (1998) Genesi, from the museum of sleep (1999), Il combattimento (2000) and On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God (2011). 

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Credits

freely inspired on
Alexis de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique
direction, set design, light, costume
Romeo Castellucci
text
Claudia Castellucci, Romeo Castellucci
music
Scott Gibbons
cast
Olivia Corsini, Gloria Dorliguzzo, Evelin Facchini, Giulia Perelli, Stefania Tansini, Sofia Danae Vorvila
and with
Lois Alexander, Sofie Roels, Cecile Lassonde, Michele Even, Libby Ward, Audrey Aspers, Camilla Monga, Jeanne Collin, Elise Moreau, Anna Heuer-Hansen, Viràg Arany, Roberta Ruggiero, Veroa Verbakel
choreography inspired by
the folk traditions of Albania, Greece, Botswana, England, Hungary, Sardinia
choreographic interventions
Evelin Facchini, Gloria Dorliguzzo, Stefania Tansini, Sophia Danae Vorvila
assistant director
Maria Vittoria Bellingeri
rehearsal director
Evelin Facchini
stage sculptures and mechanisms
Istvan Zimmermann, Giovanna Amoroso
costume realisation
Grazia Bagnaresi
stage manager
Pierantonio Bragagnolo
stage-hands
Andrei Benchea, Giuliana Rienzi
lighting board technician
Andrea Sanson
sound board technician
Paolo Cillerai
costumes keeper
Elisabetta Rizzo
photographer
Guido Mencari
technical direction
Eugenio Resta
technical production staff
Carmen Castellucci, Francesca Di Serio, Gionni Gardini, Daniele Magnani
decorator
Silvano Santinelli
production supervisor
Benedetta Briglia
promotion and distribution
Valentina Bertolino, Gilda Biasini
production assistant
Giulia Colla
administration
Michela Medri, Elisa Bruno, Simona Barducci
economic consultant
Massimiliano Coli
production
Socìetas
coproduction
deSingel International Artcampus, Wiener Festwochen, Festival Printemps des Comédiens à Montpellier, National Taichung Theatre in Taichung, Taiwan, Holland Festival Amsterdam, Schaubühne-Berlin, Festival d’Automne à Paris with MC93 Maison de la Culture de Seine-Saint-Denis à Bobigny, Le Manège - Scène nationale de Maubeuge, Teatro Arriaga Antzokia de Bilbao, São Luiz Teatro Municipal, Lisbon, Peak Performances Montclair State University (NJ-USA)
with support by
Socìetas is supported by Ministero Beni e Attività Culturali, Regione Emilia Romagna, Comune di Cesena
with the participation of
Théâtre de Vidy-Lausanne, Athene and Epidaurus Festival
footwear
Collectif d'Anvers

This performance was made possible with support by