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by Angela Forti

All the elements take their own form in the theater. Not necessarily visible, tangible: it can be a dramaturgical, scenographic form or entrusted to the less material components of the scene. Water, in the theater, perhaps more than other elements, has an ancient and complex status that perhaps depends on the difficulty of actually having this material within a scenography: a coveted but difficult element, to contain and manage.
Without a doubt, wondering what role water plays in theater cannot ignore the value and influence it has always had on the human imagination and conception of life, also thanks to the physical and chemical properties it enjoys. . Water is, in itself, synonymous with life: what life is born from, what nourishes and composes life. But it, in its power, also has a catastrophic character, a force "of life that remains" in spite of everything and all things, and even to their detriment. Water demonstrates a highly archetypal property, which can be declined in different contexts and with different meanings.
Perhaps one of the most frequent associations is that with time. Water flows, just like time. The association often works, however, also by opposition: time passes, but the water remains.


faber1893 Getty Images - Curon Venosta - The bell tower that emerges from the waters of Lake Resia.

The show Curon / Graun by the OHT Office for a Human Theater company focuses on the story of the South Tyrolean village of Curon ( Graun in German), which, despite the protests and riots of the inhabitants, was completely submerged in 1950 to allow the construction of the dam that in Val Venosta unified Lake Resia and Lake Mezzo.

The director Andreatta chooses for this operation the codes of musical theater and hybridization with audiovisual language.

On stage the only actors are the musicians and the faithful reproduction of the Curon bell tower which still emerges today, as a warning, from the waters.

Water is a central element of this show: we certainly see it in the images projected on the screen, in the submerged valley. However, its habitat here is not the image, but the music.

The entire show is based on the compositions of the contemporary Arvo Pärt: in addition to having inherited and reworked musical traditions such as that of the Finnish Jean Sibelius (in whose work the aquatic element is absolutely recurring), Pärt is the inventor of the Tintinnabuli technique, a two-part structure in which, in a generally minimalist musical environment, the arpeggio of a tonic triad and a gradual diatonic movement intertwine.

Tintinnabuli construction , Arvo Pärt

Then comes The Tempest. In William Shakespeare's will, water is an essential component. An island, lost in the waves of the oceans. The spell of a magician, who controls the waves and the rains to protect and preserve his little kingdom, and his love.

The Tempest - and its water - have found numerous and different interpretations over time. If Strehler made large animated fabrics that encompass the audience of spectators, directors such as Roberto Andò choose even more eloquent versions: in his Tempest, a critically controversial show, a thunderous water curtain introduces us to a completely, truly flooded where abundant sketches follow each step of the characters - in galoches.

A memorandum, that water that here becomes the condition of the soul: time has stopped on the magical island of Prospero, and with it the water that stagnates in the swampy.

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La tempesta, regia di Giorgio Strehler

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The Tempest, directed by Roberto Andò

Even in association with the religious and spiritual context, water undoubtedly plays a leading role: to exemplify the dual nature of this element, it is sufficient to recall the Christian traditions of baptismal water, capable of purifying from sin, and of the universal flood. , the divine punishment par excellence.
A universal deluge in miniature is what tells, for example, the incredible text by the Australian Andrew Bovell, When the rain stops falling , staged in Italy under the direction of Lisa Ferlazzo Natoli.

In this case, water is what remains, incessantly, while time passes.

Different generations follow one another and exchange in Bovell's text, under a rain that does not seem to have any intention of stopping; a rain on the contrary, which unites the cycle of the waters and gives the characters an unusual enigma: a fish, which has fallen on the table of a broken family. In the direction of Natoli, faithful to the original staging, there is no material trace of water.

The characters' umbrellas and raincoats make us think of the incessant rain. Here, water is a fundamentally textual component and the pivot of an effective dramaturgical dynamic: the rain does not stop until the error stops perpetrating itself, from one generation to the next.

Rain is a bad habit to be abandoned, a mechanism to be broken. Fish, a gift to be interpreted.

Water has a character strongly linked to the concept of the sacred even in the work of authors such as Romeo Castellucci: in Paradise water becomes the place of God, a calm tide where the word of the sacred floats and resounds.

In Bros the bodies glide on the wet stage, which slips, on a score for a solitary hydraulic organ.

Here the water represents an instrument of torture and, at the same time, the attempt to erase the evidence.

But in vain. This last metaphor is recurrent in theatrical literature, in many forms: from the water with which Lady Macbeth tries in vain to wash the blood of King Duncan; at the shows by Tadeusz Kantor where a character is always in charge of washing not only the bodies; to the dirty water with which Marina Abramovih obsessively rubs the bones of the skeleton.

Cleaning the mirror,  Marina Abramovic

Up to the show table A little more , by the young Barnabeu / Covello duo, who relentlessly collects the dripping of the love relationship, drop by drop that cascades and floods. Up to those places of the theater - such as Beckett's arid and desolate lands - where there is no water, and in this absence, in the hallucination of a carafe hanging from above, it makes one feel all its absence.

There are many and varied forms that water can take in the magical space of the theater. Obviously, the excursus just made cannot and does not want to be exhaustive, but we have tried to analyze some of the most frequent methodologies of staging water, in very different and distant shows, but united by the attempt to enclose the power of this strange, fascinating element in the signs of the theater.

Justus Willberg plays the Hydraulis
Tráiler de la obra teatral 'Bros', de Romeo Castellucci.

Miscellaneous of videos of shows mentioned in the column.

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