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Our pick of the Biennale, Venice’s boundary-pushing performance festival

A scene from Jakob Von Gunten
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Breaking down barriers between actors and performers is the key theme of this year’s multi-arts event, writes Briony Cartmell

At the 46th International Theatre Festival, part of the Venice Biennale, there is theatre on offer for those with abstract leanings. The 2017 edition made a point of showcasing an all-female line-up of established European directors. This year, the spotlight moves to question disciplinary boundaries in performing arts.

The theme for the current programme is ‘Actor/Performer’, as director Antonio Latella breaks down the silos between theatre and dance, and even puppetry and mime. The result is an eclectic array of works that forms a conversation with the conceptual art on display.

Gisele Vienne kicks off with Crowd, a performance piece that merges puppetry and dance in the context of a party, unfurling individual characters’ stories to a techno beat. The 40-year-old Austrian director likens the people interacting on stage as mixing music in post production. In the more meditative Allege, French choreographer Clement Layes has perfected the art of multitasking through balancing objects that each carry conceptual meanings, as his method of portraying frustration at the financial crisis of 2008.

How Did I Die by Davy Pieter

One performance that chooses to play with narrative by toying with convention is How Did I Die by Dutch director Davy Pieters. The play is a homicide, staged backwards, as though watching video reels of evidence. Pieters was inspired in her observation of the Amsterdam Police Department to put the audience in the role of detective, and urges them to consider the very nature of truth.

Vincent Thomasset relies heavily on puns with his show Medail Decor, where the central focus is on doubles and dubbing. For the Italian premiere of this piece, a narrator dictates a story, while a performer acts out instructions or listens along. Meanwhile, Simone Aughterlony investigates architecture in a Beckettian way through Everything Fits in the Room, with a set constructed of a free-standing wall, a roaming kitchen island and incongruously decaying bodies.

Everything Fits in the Room

The horror film genre is re-imagined for the stage in Swedish mime artist Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror. Be prepared for state-of-the-art visual tricks to accompany the protagonist’s journey through childhood trauma.

One of the most engaging works at the festival is by Giuseppe Stellato, who imagines a dystopian train station in a cross between art installation and performance. A vending machine becomes conscious, recording passers-by before spitting out objects that they’ll need to survive.

The winners of the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award are Antonio Rezza and Flavia Mastrella, whose shows create a danse macabre with ropes, netting and fabric.

Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror
Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror

For those interested in classic adaptations, the Anagoor group takes on the Oresteia, Ibsen’s Ghosts is re-imagined by Leonardo Lidi and Fabio Condemi takes inspiration from Robert Walser’s 1909 novel in the world premiere of Jakob Von Gunten.

This year, choosing the most engaging pieces from the Biennale’s varied theatre offerings may be made more difficult by its theme but, for the dedicated, there is certainly entertainment worth pursuing.

Biennale Teatro 2018 runs from July 20 to August 5

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