With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern-bloc Europeans were free to trade one form of shabbiness for another: the bureaucratic gray of Communism for the tinsel-bright surfaces of market-forced capitalism. In this stunning moral victory, Romanians can now read Tom Clancy unmolested, Czechs can "Enjoy Coke" and the latest N'Sync racket, and Bulgarians can totally abandon nutriment and simply swallow McDonalds. As further proof that the Land of Canaan has been achieved, Eastern European governments have slashed arts funding severely, forcing the closure of vital theater companies that were developing reputations and followings abroad.
Yet before despairing that Lloyd-Webber's culture-snatching pod spectacles are colonizing Ukraine, it's worth noting that important work still radiates from Eastern Europe and, more importantly, is having an impact on the West. It's apparent that there is a component often missing in Western work that the East has yet to abandon: a depth of understanding of the human condition. And the West can't get enough.
Thanks to PIPFest, Portlanders (at least those conscious few not currently killing their time in lines for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) are better placed than most to study the theater from Eastern Europe. For the past 10 years the festival has lured a number of representative
artists from that part of the world to introduce us to their techniques innovations. This year, for one weekend, local audiences will get a chance to view two pieces by the critically acclaimed Hungarian company the Shamans.
Founded in 1994 by performer and choreographer Eva Magyar, the Shamans have created a powerful hybrid of dance, drama, music and imagery. Though the troupe's pieces are primarily inspired by folklore and history, its work is wordless, performed in the more universal (and ancient) language of gesture and movement. To verbalize is to intellectualize. The Shamans want to explore the deeply intimate, ineffable qualities that we all share as humans.
For the first piece, Amine, the dynamic Magyar and Csaba Horvath perform a stark and profound dance on the various emotions let loose in love. From solitary positions, the two discover each other, then fall into a wildly vertiginous, sometimes heart-rending pas de deux. As their bond sours, they're doomed to repeat phases of their dance, desperate to find the point where it all went wrong. It is love and pain and the whole damn thing, rawly exposed and as disturbing as truth.
The second work, House of Deer, turns an old Romanian supernatural folktale into flesh. First performed as a site-specific piece in a Budapest gallery, the work delves into the theme of transformation and rootlessness. Here, Magyar plays a woman who is turned into a deer and discovers a new level of understanding. But by entering this other realm, her psyche is forever marked by the discoveries she makes, and she must thereafter be an exile in her own world.
This latter piece, especially, seems a fitting parable for both the East and the West.
PIPFest at Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University, 1620 SW Park Ave., 725-3307.
: 7 pm Thursday, 8 pm Friday, July 12-13.
: 8 pm Saturday, 7 pm Sunday, July 14-15. $14-$18.