La Trilogie des Dragons

Spazio Ansaldo

La Trilogie des Dragons (The dragons’ trilogy), produced in 1987 by the Théâtre Répère and directed by Robert Lepage, is in the midst of a long international tour. First presented as a work in progress and still under constant revision, this complex cooperative venture is both grand theater and a delicate, erudite historical fresco. In three acts that stretch over six hours, La Trilogie des Dragons actually depicts a time span that lasts beyond any of the many private and individual stories it contains. Seventy-five years—from 1910 to 1985—of Canadian history are structured according to a fourfold thematic and conceptual axis consisting of time, geography, language, and symbols.

Three succeeding generations are portrayed against a backdrop of the political and social events that have marked the close of the century. Time is the collective history of wars, great social transformations, emigrations, racial conflicts, but there is also a sentimental history—birth, death, marriage, illness, and passions. Each act of La Trilogie unfolds in a different place: the first period in Quebec City; the second in Toronto; and the third in Vancouver. Looming in the background is China, place of origin of many first, second, third generation Canadians. Performed in French, English, Japanese, and Chinese, to point out the contradictions and also the unrealized potential for a melting pot, La Trilogie plays on the coexistence of cultures at the boundaries of compatibility. The three acts are distinct and characterized by the colors and by the symbols of dragons, in accordance with the game of mah-jongg. The first act is tied to memory, to childhood, and to birth, and it is dominated by the green of the dragon, traditionally associated with water and with beginnings. In the second act, invaded and devastated by grand human passions—war, violence, the fury of love, sexual preoccupations, the chill of separation—the red of the dragon associated with the earth, with fire, with summer, and with the ideas of progress and maturity, prevails. In the third act, where both death and the lightness that heralds the beginning of a new cycle are evoked, it is white that predominates—the white of the dragon that signifies air and that corresponds to autumn, to independence, to the preparation for the end and the rebirth that follows.

The text, the set design (three tons of sand and gravel, a parking-lot attendant’s booth, and a wooden lamppost), the lighting, visual objects, and music play equal roles. The goal of this nonhierarchical use of the theater is to reach the spectator by provoking all the senses, and not just intelligence. Between actor and audience, a sort of short circuit has to occur, through which emotions can filter without intellectual mediation. The emotions are freed from those everyday objects that subjective memory inscribes within the territory of the nightmare or of nostalgia (a bloody sheet, a newborn’s bootie, or a military uniform), and that differentiate the worlds from which they have been extrapolated (men’s and women’s shoes to connote gender differences). And with a musical score that supports the transformation of the characters, the scenes, and the objects—music capable of emphasizing and precisely defining the urgency of rhythms and actions—the emotions become a universal language, which can annul temporal gaps and geographic and linguistic differences.

The narrative development, the dialogues, and the appearance of the stage have a sort of natural fluidity. In Lepage’s spectacle, everything turns into something else, often radically different from its point of origin, and yet not in conflict with it. In this sense, the choice to set the action in a large rectangular sand trap is a beautiful and pertinent one. The sand is transformed bit by bit into a devastated and reassembled landscape, a mute and continually changing territory where minute individual events are inscribed with the desperate casualness of signs traced by the wind. It is the sandy perimeter of a sad circus, inhabited by comical clowns and by a dusty round dance of mirrors. It is a theater of memory and fear, as in Meredith Monk’s Quarry, 1976, as in the best performances of Tadeusz Kantor, or as in Pina Bausch’s Café Müller, 1978, but with an originality, a suppleness, as well as a compactness of discourse all its own.

Maria Nadotti
Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.