Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Faki Kronik Day 1 - Hayali

I'm sitting on the roof of the former medical factory Medika, watching the everyday life pass by on ground level of the Westin hotel next door, and listening to the sound of friendly Croatian chatter bubble away in the kitchen behind me. A stream of artists, visitors, and residents passes in and out of the room like birds in a tree, drawing from its communal resources before flitting away to their various labours. There's a nice feeling of everyone knowing their role, that comes from the greatest manifestations of social anarchy and is also common to art production - a kind of extreme organisation, serving as a counterpoint to the outbursts of human passion, angst, and joy that punctuate more liberated forms of human existence.

Faki festival offers a nice sense of continuity at a time of great turbulence, and part of that is definitely about labour. In a life in which labour is increasingly precariourised - we don't really know what we are called on to do at the next moment, let alone tomorrow - there's a particular comfort, I admit, in following patterns and behaviours which remain unquestioned, even if these are loaded with problematic politics.

There are many different forms of labour here, from more traditionally defined types such as cooking or cleaning*, to more abstract ones, such as socialising, sharing ideas, or viewing art. My role is to write the festival - or at the people at Cultural Center Attack! call it, 'to narrate'. I call it criticism. Regardless, it's undoubtedly a form of labour - and one that is almost always undervalued, if it is valued at all. As a critic, you are the one with a beef - the one not quite good enough to make it as an artist,  the one whose frustrations spill out onto the page.

That's not the case for me, any more than someone living at Cultural Center Attack! is living there only because they can't afford the Westin Hotel. As tourists cruising the Rhine River will find, comfort - at least the form drawn from an individual and compartmentalised life - is fundamentally not artistic, anti-pedagogical, and not alive.

Having said that, the next few days are likely to be my most comfortable ever at Faki. Following a year of high drama, and the previous year in which I tried to write on 22 shows over 5 days, this year there are just seven different offerings - that's almost one a day, and nearly a level manageable for me. No doubt I will find a  way to make it harder. Still, in theory I could even take a walk in the hills above Zagreb.

Day 1 saw Istanbul's Compagnie du Paon open the festival with their work Hayali - currently on a small tour with the next stop in Porto, followed by new Serbian group Puzzle Pie(s)ces with their premiere Walls. The luxurious timeframe of this year's Faki means I can afford to leave the latter for tomorrow following a second viewing, leaving me with just a lazy one review to write today.


Hayali is described as 'a moving story of a man and a woman' - a description that does it absolute justice, and at the same time does not begin to encapsulate it. There's certainly movement, of the emotional and physical variety, and there's certainly a representation of two genders. This in a way describes the nuts and bolts of the piece. But it does not begin to describe its emotional and representational or psychological depth.

Hayali opens with a highly gendered depiction of labour, with the man (played by co-choreographer Emre Yildizlar) sanding down a wooden box, whilst  a woman (Gülnara Golovina) seems to deliver an emotional, silent, and frustrated cry addressed to the audience. This initial image opens a conversation about gender roles that's repeated throughout the play, as well as one about anguish or loss. The opening proceeds silently through several streams of dependency and tenderness, with both figures connecting and disconnecting with each other like doves at play. This play transforms across play, hatred, struggle, and sex, each becoming interchangeable with the other, with the  phase broken by a non-sequitur in which the performers transition into chickens. (It somehow fits, and re-emerges later with a kiss taking the form of what's known as a 'peck').

The play proceeds through the symbolic death of the man,  creating a marked psychological turn for the women, who parades her dead husband around as if delusionally willing him back to life. This works - for a time - but only to return to the reality of co-dependency. This is symbolic of the creation of a relatively bleak world for the women - even as the soundtrack changes from its choral to a more rockin' rhythm, it only ushers in an image of man as tormentor. A strange game of tennis gives way to a repetitive set of mirrored movements that point to a kind of purgatory for her, one born of either loneliness or phantasm. Finally, the rock music gives way to choral again for the finale - a series of gestures involving soil, indicative, once again, of death.

The four boxes on stage - the only props - provide the indicators of space, which itself transforms from stand, to prison cell,  and eventually to coffin. And it's the connotations of death that really bring the piece to life, and realise the proposal of the title ('Hayali' means 'imaginary' in Turkish). They also frame this as the story of the women figure, who is the one trapped, struggled with, imprisoned and, at times, liberated.

The performers survive a typical Faki opening (half the audience outside having cigarettes when the performance begins, only to pack out the room by the performance's end) to deliver a delicate and precise journey that, even as it is embedded in conventional gender roles, breaks out of these restraints into the psychological implications of oppression on our spiritual and existential selves. I was surprised to learn that Golovina is not usually performing this role (normally filled by co-choreographer Mélissa Guex), as her presence is so powerful as to set fire to the piece with emotionality and a type of possession.

But how much is it really a woman's story? The tormented and violent psychological reality created for the woman are at times born of Gothic horror, their dwelling on gender roles somewhat nostalgic, even while attempting to articulate a powerful trauma. But that seems like a moot point in an investigation that draws a contemplative energy from these gender roles, while teaasing out the psychological implications.


Performed by
Gülnara Golovina, Emre Yildizlar

Mélissa Guex, Emre Yildizlar

Julien Mégevand

Outside Eye
Ermanno Pangitore

Photograph: Ivan Marenić / FAKI21

*Cooking and cleaning remain, of course, hugely undervalued forms of labour within capitalist societies, both when classified as 'domestic labour' and when they are monetised. But anyway.

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