themes. he focuses first on the small. the localised. the individual. ‘We’re still a very small company even though we’ve been playing the circuit for a long time.’ says Lepage. closing the window of his Montreal apartment as a summer storm breaks outside. ‘Our grants are still very low compared to European theatres and even the big national companies here. I find it very strange to end tip on the same circuit as Peter Stein and people like that. because it is a really different scale. But the way we’ve been used to working in a work-in- progress kind of way brings a certain flexibility and allows us to take the same project to huge festivals and smaller events. It’s like a

little hologram supposedly when you take a little part of a hologram it will have all of the hologram in it.’

For a while. says Lepage. he would accept virtually any work he was offered if it allowed him to subsidise his own company. These days. however. he has earned the reputation to let him do what he wants on his own terms. ‘You can make a lot of money. but you can lose a lot of energy.’ he says. ‘Now I’m more structured in my work.’ He is far from resentful of things he has done in the past. however. regarding his operatic debut last year. for example the visually beguiling Bluebeard's Castle and

[L‘m'artung double-bill as an important learning experience. More than that, the

Canadian Opera Company production provided him with a new actor. Rebecca Blankenship. who after singing the solo in Erwarttmg was so impressed with the director that she has temporarily suspended her opera career to work with him.

‘Moving towards the 21st century. people are more and more aware that the performing arts are going to take quite a turn in the next decade,’ says Lepage to explain how he is working with such a diverse range of people who. as well as Blankenship. include dancers and Japanese bunraku puppeteers. ‘We have to reinvent ways of collaborating to see where our performing arts are going. whether it’s theatre or dance or opera. The barrier between these disciplines is

I [1:41; '4‘. 57’. 4:2“! 2 ‘y

Robert Lepage: a creator of rlch, complex and visually liegolllog theatre

‘lhe Seven Streams ot the River Uta: trom teudal Chloe to Marguerite [lures

going to start to fall. In the theatre world I can feel how theatre is being more and more ‘sung’ or ‘danced’ or ‘transposed’ as opposed to the good old American way of doing theatre the realistic, urban tragedy. If you look at the work of a lot of directors who happen to perform in places like Edinburgh. it is more and more operatic. There is something very operatic about Robert Wilson’s work. for example.’

To break free of traditional pigeon-holes. however, does risk revealing that a first-rate practitioner of one form is a second-rate ingénue of another. Much fuss was made. for example. about the way Lepage set the stage awash with mud for his National Theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Rather less fuss was made, however, about the standard of the diction. ‘There’s been a certain evolution since I’ve been working on the Shakespeare plays,’ admits Lepage. who after The Dream went on to produce highly—rated Quebecois French versions of Coriolanus, Macbeth and The Tempest. ‘The question of language changed. because in my own language it was a way for me to deal with that exact problem. If you want to do good Shakespeare. get actors who are trained to do Shakespeare; if you want to put music in your shows, you’d better get professional people. There’s a lot of puppetry in Seven Streams and instead ofjust doing our own thing like actors usually do. we get specialists in Japanese puppetry. We can afford it more than we used to and it’s a question of being aware that we are no longer in that time when actors could do absolutely everything.’

Seven Streams of the River 0m is the first production to be mounted by Lepage’s new company Ex Machina. Visually. as befits its subject. it draws on both traditional Japanese theatre forms and high-technology. ‘Very soon it’s going to be the end of the 20th century and if you pinpoint the event of the century. I think it would be the bombing of Hiroshima.’ says Lepage. who has recently completed filming Confessional, a sequel to The Dragons Trilogy that will be released next spring. ‘We don’t talk about the bomb that much. strangely it’s a story about sexuality and relationships! It’s not an optimistic show necessarily. but it is very sensual and very full of life. People may be shocked by how we treat the subject because we’re not showing victims for seven hours. Of course, we talk about the bomb and we show the damage, but it’s not only about that, it’s about the idea of Hiroshima in many different ways. “Hiroshima” is a word that is usually associated with death. but it was once associated with life.’ C]

The Seven Streams of the River 0ta (Festival) Ex Machina, Meadowbank Sports Centre, 225 5756, Mon I5—Sun 21 Aug, 7.30pm, £18 (£8)

The List 12—18 August 1994 9