Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Theater Fix

I'm still hyperventilating with the Cohen New Works Festival, the biennial theater festival held by UT's department of Theater and Dance to showcase new plays, many by the department's graduate students. This year, it was held between March 30th and April 4th.

The peak of the cultural calendar in my native city of Porto Alegre is with no doubt
Porto Alegre em Cena, our own annual theater festival that always presents some fifty or sixty plays, including local, national and international acts. The first performances to sell out are always the international ones, which over the years have included household names such as Peter Brook, Philip Glass, Pina Bausch, Stephen Berkoff, Laurie Anderson, Sascha Walts, La La La Human Steps, La Fura Dels Baus, Goran Bregovich, Sankai Juku and many others. It's a great opportunity to see bold, innovative works from around the globe. For a bargain, too: because the festival is funded by the City Hall and big corporate sponsors,
tickets for individual plays cost less than ten dollars.

I haven't missed a single edition of
Porto Alegre Em Cena since 1999 -- except for last year, because I was in Austin. It's really a shame I couldn't do both, but all is well that ends well: the Cohen New Works Festival filled that gap for me. While it did not include the impressive roster of worldwide artists and or as many plays (a total of 30), this year's NWF owed nothing to the degree of sophistication, innovation and variety that we are used to seeing during Em Cena. Many of the plays had a very ambitious experimental focus -- and I don't mean that in the sense of brainy, self-indulgent intellectual snoozefests for the sole enjoyment of the artists themselves: the plays I saw were fun. Exciting. Captivating. Just like the best theater always is.

Legendary Japanese dance-performance group Sankai Juku performed at Em Cena in 2007

(Ok, not all of them. But that's a good thing. Both festivals have had their share of hits and misses, but that's a good thing too: it shows that people are taking risks, instead of playing it safe with proven formulas. Personally, I don't mind bad plays, films, songs, fiction or any other work of art. They help you put the good ones in perspective.)

NWF highlights included The Psyche Project, a modern reading of the story of Eros and Psyche where Eros upgraded his bow and arrows into an automatic pistol and Hell is a shopping mall; Funky Snowman, a short play for children where a girl who cannot succed in her ballet classes learns the groove of pop mus
ic from a talking snowman; The Edge of Peace, a dramatic reading of Susan Zeder's last installment in her award-winning "Taste" trilogy; and, last but not least, the tongue-in-cheek examination of women's magazines in the collaborative, comically-titled 101 Ways To Get The Perfect Look, Have Hotter Sex, Love Your Body, Dress A Whole Lot Cooler, Make Your Boobs Pop, Be More Adventurous, Be More Cautious, Smell Better, Feel Less Guilty, Read His Mind, Make Him Notice You, Make Yourself Over, Spend Money Better, Get Smarter By Tomorrow, Connect With Your Kids, Be A Hipper Dancer, Have More Fun, Share Your Deepest Darkest Secrets, Recycle!, Find Your Inner Self And Do Anything Better.

Rounding up the roster of bold, intriguing performances was a selection of short films from UT's RTF students with a variety of styles, tones and even languages.

I'll eventually go back home and enjoy Porto Alegre Em Cena again. But now I'm gonna miss the Cohen New Works Festival, too. Perhaps I can get some discounted air tickets for non-profit drama events or something.

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