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Saint Genet to Premiere New Work at Donaufestival

Saint Genet to Premiere New  Work at Donaufestival

: Courtesy of Saint Genet. Photo by Courtesy of Saint Genet.

Cornish-Connected at every level, performance group Saint Genet premieres its new creation, Paradisiacal Rites, on the international stage at the Donaufestival in Austria.

Saint Genet, a Seattle-based experimental performance group with many Cornish ties, is premiering its new work Paradisiacal Rites at the prestigious Donaufestival in Lower Austria on April 25. The production will play through May 04, 2013. It has achieved a reputation that has taken it all over the world, and the Donaufest is just another stop. Saint Genet’s director, ringleader and intellectual center is Cornish grad Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell (TH ‘04). Mitchell who was featured in City Arts recently in its Futures list of 11 people to watch as “The Provocateur.”

The works of Saint Genet are at once theater, dance, drama and performance art. “Paradisiacal Rites, our newest and most ambitious show yet,” reads their copy, “transforms elements of ballet, symphony, opera, installation, and body-based performance art into holistic and hypnotic, virtuosic and visceral performances.” Reading press on Saint Genet reveals how thought-provoking their work is, and provoking, pure and simple. The critics seem to feel the need to carry on at length and to define themselves as part of the experience: part guilt-ridden, part angry, part awestruck.

Saint Genet describes itself as “30 dèclassès ranging from choreographers, photographers, visual artists, actors, and ballerinas to carpenters, bike messengers, doom metal impresarios, master composers, singers, dramaturgs, and archers.” The application of these forces in performance create an evening that might include almost anything, from gold-leafed bodies, to leeching, to dance, threats of violence and … more.

The work of the group is, looked at one way, an act of nostalgia for a period of theater — the 1930s through the ‘60s — that produced seminal thinking on the nature of theater and ground-breaking drama that became known as the “avant-garde,” the “shock troops” of the new. The very name of the group “Saint Genet” seems to recognize this harking back to the past, even if it is also referencing Jean-Paul Sartre’s book of that name on criminal/artist Jean Genet. Sainthood is usually granted to historical figures, after all.

Looked at another way, however, Saint Genet is a throwback to a way of looking at theater and performance and thought that deserves delving into deeply once again. If they are not avant-garde, they are surely “arrière-garde” which is, militarily speaking, a rear-guard fighting to slow the enemy’s advance. The enemy seems the same as that named by Peter Brook in The Empty Space: the “Deadly Theater.” The battle they are taking up against the commonplaces of the art seems well worth the effort.

The over-arching theme of the work is as old as the 20th century, that the art world is corrupt and its works pap for the bourgeois masses. Marcel Duchamp had taken a run at piercing the “art-making-and-consuming” mentality with Mona-Lisa-mocking L.H.O.O.Q., urinal-on-a-pedestal La Fontaine and other pieces. The Surrealists and Dadaists tried the same thing. The torch has been kept lit by generations of performance artists in particular, and Saint Genet is certainly heir to this work.

For the theater, this theme was best embodied by Antonin Artaud in his 1938 masterwork, Le Théâtre et son Double, and his antidote was “Theater of Cruelty,” works that cruelly stripped away the comfortable facades of the spectators.  Seminal dramatists of the last century who were the inheritors of his are still performed, such as Samuel Beckett and, of course, Jean Genet. Throughout the ‘40s, 50s and ‘60s, these concepts, accelerated by thinkers such as Brook, Jerzy Grotowski and Jan Kott, were central to dramatic thinking. In the ‘70s, however, this challenging, intense theater was decisively blasted away by massive, crowd-pleasing spectacles such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and, more recently, Les Miserables.

Of the 22 named members of Saint Genet, 14 are Cornish graduates, including Mitchell. Cornish grads include Lily Nguyen (PP ‘05), Associate Director; Casey Curran (AR ‘06), Set Design; Melissa Henry (TH ‘08), Dramaturg; Mallery Avidon (TH ‘03), Dramaturg; Robinick Fernandez (DE), Costume Designer; Brian Lawlor (MU ‘02), Composer/Musician; Jessie Smith (DA ‘12), Choreographer/Dancer Jim Kent (DA ‘05), Dancer; Calie Swedberg (DA ‘10), Dancer; Matt Drews (DA ‘13), Dancer; Darren Dewse (TH ‘04), Actor; Kate Ryan (TH ‘05), Actor/Director of Communications; and Carl Lawrence (TH), Actor/Company Manager. Also in the company are NKO Rey, Art Direction; Sara Edwards, Production Manager and Stage Manager; Anna Conn, Associate Costume Designer; Daniel Salo, Musician; Garek Druss, Musician; Tom Chapel, Actor; Alan Sutherland, Actor; and Douglas Ridings, Actor.

After the Donaufestival, Saint Genet returns home to Seattle to perform the U.S. premiere of Paradisiacal Rites May 16 - 19 at On the Boards in Seattle. After the US debut, the company will tour to the Luminato Festival in Toronto for a Canadian premiere in 2014.

IMAGE: Saint Genet performs Paradisiacal Rites. Courtesy of Saint Genet.


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