• Theatre in Mexico… about the same and about the other…

    JEAN-FREDERIC CHEVALLIER

    Theatre in Mexico… about the same and about the other…Complete translation of the essay Théâtre au Mexique... du même et de l'autre...  

    published in Rue Descartes # 57, Paris, Collège International de Philosophie, 2007. pp. 117-118.

    ISBN: 978-2-13-056223-8

     

     

    Theoretical texts

     

    Mexico is one of the countries where wealth is most unequally distributed. Indeed, the thirteenth economic power in the world[1] occupies the fifty third place in terms of human development. The wealth of the 10% richest part of the population and of the 10% poorest is 45 – as an example for comparison, in France it is 9,1[2]. Due to this strong inequality in the distribution of income, the Mexican society is extremely segmented or, to speak more clearly, divided in compartments. It is within this context that one must think and understand a theatre which, in good and in bad years, is only produced, presented and appreciated by an extremely reduced social group: a small part of the educated middle class, not too conservative, no too progressive.


    In The Death of tragedy, George Steiner supports the idea that “theatre is the supreme practice of altruism”[3]. It is something easy to understand: theatre invites to practice otherness; the personal experiences of each depend necessarily on the other, those of the actor for the spectator, those of the spectators for the actor. But in Mexico, everything seems to tend to erase this question. On the opening, the practitioner receives the “criticisms” of her colleagues. The rest of the season, three quarters of the auditorium remain empty. When the question of the number of spectators is raised, instead of there being a questioning about the price of the entry (which amounts to three times the minimum daily wage) or about the quality of the work that is offered (often theatricalist and without much technical rigor), there is usually a talk – the “poor” being, it is said uneducated by hypothesis – about the need to educate the public, i.e. to transform them in a same.


    For the same cause of sameness, there is an insistence on the constitution of a typically Mexican theatre… Such an attempt seems, to say the least, absurd: the theoretical tools which give it life do not do anything but reproducing European schemas which are thirty years old – one thinks about the semiology of theatre, one speaks today of the anthropology of theatre. The fathers of Mexican would then be Grotowski (a Pole) Boal (a Brasilian) and Barba (an Italian). One could limit the critique to point the non logical relation between a nationalist pretence and the extra-national origin of the references which are used. But, behind this first contradiction, a second one is hidden: the tacit weight of Hegelian philosophy. Indeed, everything being taught or practiced concerning theatre should be thought and perceived in terms of passion, conflicts, destinies and then in terms of the representation of passion, of the conflict produced by passion and of the destiny which is carried by conflict[4]. Here, one will have guessed it, the problem of otherness comes up again. Dialectics imposes the constitution of the other as a slave, i.e. as an infra-self in the service of the self, thus of the same


    Thus, theatre suffers from to illnesses: maintaining social rigidity (which was not always the case, when one thinks of the carpa theatre of the first two thirds of the XXth century) and a self-satisfaction in a certain form of conceptual rigidity. These two points boil down to just one: a terrible, sickly, morbid lack of diversity… and this just when leaflets for tourists, as well as the official discourse, do not tire of insisting on the “cultural diversity” of Mexico: sixty three languages are spoken in a country composed of thirty one states. Because this diversity would put into question the survival of the theatre establishment, the lack of diversity denotes the absence of a desire of diversity, or to say it with other words, the absence of a desire of inventing. Could this weakening of desire be the consequence of the overwhelming dynamics of neo-liberalism, or of the Mexican 68 (a deeply castrating experience) or even of the targeted killings which have been going on since then?[5] Or is it, finally and more generally, the consequence of an uninterrupted series of acts of control aiming to in fine ensure a weakening of the desire of each of us?


    Be what it may, it is a fact that the recent theatre productions which, on the one hand, have manifested a real desire of own invention (Nietzsche would here speak of style) and which, on the other hand, have known how to share this desire in a qualitatively satisfying manner, have been productions by directors who, given their professional trajectory, are structurally outside of the ideological straitjacket described above: Ludwik Margules has polish ascendants, Claudio Valdés Kury is invited to European festivals on a regular basis, Ricardo Díaz has worked in Bosnia, Rubén Ortiz just comes back from Prague, Héctor Bourges was partly educated in Spain, Mauricio García Lozano presents some of his shows in Canada.


    Nevertheless, what is at stake in the opening of theatre to a larger spectrum of the population lies elsewhere. The task would be to open spaces of theatre not so much in order to allow the others to enter the auditorium, but more to let those others get on the stage and, from there, invent other theatres – those kinds of theatre which desire and need.

     (translation from French to English  by Fui Lee Lunk)

       

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    [1] GDP calculated in dollars and adjusted according to purchasing power, World Economic Outlook Database 2005, IMF.

    [2] UNDP, HDR, 2005.

    [3] “Le théâtre est la pratique suprême de l’altruisme”, our translation from Steiner, G., La Mort de la Tragédie, tr. Rose Celli, Paris, Gallimard, 1993, pp. 136-137.

    [4] The simplification is certainly too rough. The pages which Hegel wrote on dramatic poetry would allow for readings richer than the (implicitly) “Hegelian” digest which the students must finally undergo. Cf. Hegel, F., Esthétique, Paris, PUF, 1953, pp. 139-153.

    [5] For instance: the massacre, organized by the federal government and the state of Chiapas, of forty two members of a social organization in the community of Acteal (1997), the murder (disguised as a suicide) of the human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa (2001), the imprisonment of the Cerezo brothers after a faked trial (2001), the assassination of the student and activist for the rights of the indigenous peoples Pavel Gonzalez, presented as the inevitable end of a drug addict homosexual (2004), the kidnapping of the journalist and activist for the rights of women, Lidia Cacho, organized by the governor of the state of Puebla (2005), etc.


     

     


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