LADYFROMTHESEA (2003) is a site-specific, multidisciplinary installation/performance event. Inspired by Ibsen’s 1888 drama, this project addresses mankind's estrangement from nature, as well as our role in its devastation. The humanity’s efforts to interfere with nature have come close to reaching an impasse, and this piece’s issues of responsibility and choice in personal relationships resonate in the humanity’s relationship to its environment and its origins. Ibsen’s work plays on this ambiguity and several of its characters are clearly drawn as allegorical figures. The main protagonist, Ellida, is a woman who is seen as a beached mermaid, struggling between the stifling confines of dry land and her unfathomable attraction towards the infinity of the open sea. Ellida is a quasi-mythological creature and so is her former fiancé – a nameless man who is only referred to as The Stranger – who has an uncanny power over her, and returns after years of absence, ageless and unchanged, to reclaim her. The Stranger can be easily construed as a living embodiment of the sea, a force of nature. These characters are in sharp contrast to Ellida’s husband Wangel – a controlling doctor/scientist, the stereotypical embodiment of extremes of rational thinking and the alienation from nature. Ibsen’s play verges on Ellida’s choice – she demands that her husband grant her the freedom so that she can decide whether to stay with him or yield to Stranger’s summons. On a broader scale, Ellida’s plight deeply resonates with the dilemma that the present-day industrialized society faces in relationship to the environmental warning signs – to choose either artifice or nature.
In the preface to his adaptation of Ibsen’s last play, When We Dead Awaken, American scholar Robert Brustein claims that, contrary to the literary establishment’s view of Ibsen as a social realist, he was, rather, a suppressed poet who spent an entire oeuvre trying to synthesize a literary style akin to the writings of the Symbolists, who proliferated in fin-de-siècle Europe. Lady From The Sea is the play in which Ibsen’s ambivalence towards his poetic inclinations is stronger that in any other work written to date, and it could be argued that its flaw is that its symbolism is never fulfilled. Still, the images of transcendental beauty that Ibsen conjured in this work constituted the departure point for our creative process. From a dramaturgical standpoint, WaxFactory’s LADYFROMTHESEA explodes Ibsen’s under-the-surface symbolism and counterpoints the coldness of scientific perspective with the unrestrained poetic yearning in order to portray its protagonists’ consuming quest for ultimate freedom.
Underneath the guise of a fable-like symbolism lurks a central metaphor for humanity's attempt to challenge and dominate the forces of nature, only to come to terms, time and time again, with the universal law which uncompromisingly dictates that the force that gave us life will eventually come back to reclaim it. Or, to quote Jason Noble's poem (one of the literary sources referenced in our piece,) "the ocean keeps reminding me that its voice is one thousand times louder than mine."
The impetus to create this new work emerged from an initial exploratory workshop that took place in 2000-2001, under the auspices of a year-long multidisciplinary residency at BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange and presented in collaboration with XO Projects Inc. During four consecutive weekend-long working sessions, an artistic ensemble (comprised of performers, lighting designers, sound and video artists, musicians, photographers and clothing designers) collaboratively investigated elements of movement, text, imagery and sound conjured by a close exploration of the themes in the original play. This work yielded kernels of possible “scenes”, each for a specific location in and around the six buildings of the 130,000 sq ft Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. The fire escapes, rooftops, corridors, loading docks, freight elevator, submerged cellar, courtyard and other areas were chosen based on how the dialogue between the architecture, the performers and the design elements informed the single theme or idea explored within each locale. These fragments were then formatted into a site-specific installation/performance which took an invited audience on a self-directed walk through the building. Two showings took place, in November 2000 and in June 2001. LADYFROMTHESEA was mentioned in Ballet-Tanz International magazine’s 2001 worldwide performance survey as “the most innovative production of the year”, and was consequently commissioned to be restaged for the Triennial International Ibsen Conference, in June 2003.
Based of possible departure points which emerged from the workshop, the director Ivan Talijancic drew on a wide variety of sources -- theoretical, philosophical and literary -- to create a non-linear structure for the installation. The development process for LADYFROMTHESEA fuses Ibsen’s structural framework with research of the ocean-based mythologies, Hans Christian Andersen's dark fairy tales, environmental reports on melting glaciers in the polar regions and the pollution of the oceans, the architecture of Santiago Calatrava rooted in the morphology of marine species, medical journal essays about the chemistry of human memory / emotions and about the physiology of drowning, traditional Chinese ghost stories, and Charles Darwin, among others.
a WaxFactory project
presented by | XO projects inc.
in association with | the Ibsen Society of America / Tenth International Ibsen Conference and the Long Island University
Installation design and direction | Ivan Talijancic
Leah Abel, Ivana Catanese, Dion Doulis, James Garver, Erika Latta, Mariangela Lopez, Erika Rundle, Jill Samuels, Damen Scranton, Inez Somellera and Kameron Steele and Megan Wyler [performers]
Vilma Marè [costumes]
Robert Henderson [lighting]
Paul Hudson [original lighting design]
Mikolaj Szoska [installation director]
Caroline Glemann [jewelry]
Justine Cooper, Dion Doulis [video]
Rima Fand and o.blaat/Keiko Uenishi [sound]
Cirque Boom [aerial work]
Tasja Keetman [photography]
Andrew Perret [technical director]
Kiebpoli Calnek [production associate / stage manager]
Matt Littlejohn [sound technician]
John Mitchell [sound associate]
Jonathan Gabel [video technician]
artists who contributed in the earlier phases of project development |
Eric Dean Scott, Chandler Vinton, Rene Millàn, Celine Bacquè, Jennifer Knipe (performers), Aaron Brown (video), Eric Shim (sound), Laura de Jong (installation), Guiomar Giraldo, Edina Sziga (costumes,) Amy Laura Cahn and Tyler Micoleau (lights)