Living the theatre by Cristina Cilli, essay on Ecce Homo (1989)

 In order to understand the work of Marcello Sambati one should arrive at the Furio Camillo Theatre in the sultry Roman summer heat that takes the breath away and turns bodies into inert masses to be dragged around; when the deserted streets are occupied by armies of sweating tourists, bewildered by the museums with their reduced opening times and the monuments perennially hidden beneath scaffoding that bears signs saying "Restoration in progress".

Oe should arrive at the theatre and watch Marcello Sambati and some of his young apprentices artists as they construct their stage space, plank upon plank amid the cement dust and electrical wiring. The revolutionising of an environment – the necessry premise of a stage space that must be continually adapded and modified in response to the sccession of new ideas and new works to be produced.

And in this unespected oasis of resistance to the liquefaction of the temporal one would have the rare peivilege of witnessing the Art born of purposeful activity. One would also discover that the performance event Sambati presents to an audience always negated is only part of a narrative of an existence for the theatre and inside the theatre.

It would suddenly become dazzlingly clear why all his performances have to take place in almost total darkness, privileging silence over speech, putting elementary materials to work in the service of an "artistic writing" that is both conflictual and stripped naked. 

In Ecce Homo one enters a theatre in semi-darkness, accompanied by the hieratic rhythm – monastic but not solemn – of a Requiem recited by a male voice. A vast central architecture imposes itself on the gaze of a spectator like the frontispiece of a temple, telling us that a space has been defined and that it is the space of Theatre and not of the spectacle.

The dark, the deep tones of the voice, a recitation that plays on the edge of a speech that would escape, if it could, a linguistic system rendered banal by imprecise and distracted use: all bring to mind another great monk officiating at the scene of the Italian avantgarde, Leo de Berardinis.

From among these suggestions and in this space is born a theatre made of progressive eliminations and fragmentary transformations, that pursues those minimum ritual elements which mark the process of self-constitution of the human and of the condition of artistic existence of  the theatre.

The sense of Ecce Homo comes together through the choice of stage materials. String, jute, white sheets, cords, red-dyed woollen threads, steel wire that envelops, wood: all determine the creation of a performance of perfect solitude, of radical difference, of stubborn resistence and of painful existence.

And here, nailing us to the floor of the thatre, pushing himself to the extreme limits o his strenght, Marcello Sambati tells of the Absolute Theatre as an act of love and of implacable condemnation.

Exactly like the simple linear furrows left by the plough as it prepares the earth for the event that is always the same in its gestures and always different in its results, of sewing seeds and leaving them to find nourishment; seeds that then germinate, grow and die; so in Ecce Homo do the chosen ritual signs combine and interweave with one another ina  ceaseless transformation of the theatrical site itself. It is in this living the theatre that Marcello Sambati performs his act of extreme love.

It is in the indifference to the audience, in the stripping-down process that can at times come to seem excessive – amost to the point of a renunciation of the theatrical signs themselves – that the condemnation is expressed. A condemnation that continually renews and renders urgent the problem of metamorphosis and transformation, of that which is apparently immobile but in reality in ceaseless movement.

To see the theatre, to restore it to the sacred circle in which the destiny of the rite and human destiny confront one another involves questions about origins, about how we are continually being born and about what constitute the minimum elements of living; and not questions about the origin as originating principle that always fade into a desire for certitudes.

It is on this double polarity of the questions of sense and of truth, a human and artistic polarity, that the birth of the act of vision is based. In fact the birth of vision passes through a double mask: first the human and then the artistic; and it must never be forgotten that Tiresius, soothsayer and seer, was blind.

And then there are the animality, solitude, hunger, insomnia – all decisive thresholds of existence for the formation of the conceptual categories of thought and of the human being as human.

Minimum ritual elements, thresholds of tough and linguistic signs: one need only turn to the reflections of Michael Foucault to understand how the "alimentary interior" comes over time to constitute an internal necessity and therefore an "interiority". An alimentary interior that in bending from the inside towards the outside determines an erotic possibility of knowledge and estabilishes a nexus with language.

Doesn’t Marcello Sambati say at a certain point in the performance: " I eat you because I love you"? The other question, of why and to what extent it is obligatory to exist, of how and to what extent the subject is obliged to exist traversing an inesorable presence, finds its answer in the reflections of the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinàs on insomnia. What is that we experience when the night watches over us, when intellectual lucidity and the ferocity of eyes that will not close dissolve the brain into the millions of cells that compose it and that project thair incessant functoinning onto the dark walls around us?

The subject is born in the exploration of its relation to the wounds of existence and the theatre of Marcellon Sambati organizes its energies and forces by means of a solitary exercise of experimentation of the stage, in which theatre comes to life through fine lines of resistance that construct the body, and found a "desertificated" language that exposes the truth of art as dramatic conflict.

A conflict which only just quietens on the light cane wings of dragonfly that takes flight on the breath of hope, of transparency and of pure espressivity.

The gaze, solitude, animality, hunger and insomnia: states necessary to the being that is born, minimum elements of a theatrical language made of hard and precious stone.

Of hard stone, because it is cruel with the body of the actor, who deprives himself of the possibilities of representation, and iniquitous with the spectator, who is condemned to a mode of looking that in order to see must be able to renounce to spectacle.

Of precious stone, because it addresses itself to those whom Friedrich Nietzsche called the "posthumous men", to those women and men suited only to the day after tomorrow, because they are women and men who prefer the force of those problems that no-one today any longer has the courage to face; who require the experience of the seven solitudes; who want to create new ears for new music and new eyes for what is most distant; a new consciousness and new heights of the soul for thruths reduced to silence.

Cistina Cilli

(written for the leaflet issued for the performance of Ecce Homo at La Mama E.T.C., New York ,13-15 June, 1989)



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