7, 8/05 – 20:30
9/05 – 15:00 + 20:30
1h 10min

In a villa in the nice part of Rio, a well-to-do young white woman seduces a black servant, an act that marks the start of a psychological drama about power and inequality. In her adaptation of Miss Julie (1888), Christiane Jatahy relocates August Strindberg’s classic chamber drama from 19th century Sweden to the very mixed society of present-day Brazil with astonishing ease. As a film-maker and stage director, for around ten years Jatahy has been developing productions where theatre and cinema interact to create a remarkable narrative tension. Performed by two wonderful actors, her Julia blends pre-filmed images and scenes captured live by the camera. Plunged into this ambiguous space, the audience is drawn into a story about the pressing issue of the clash between class, race and gender. With this acclaimed new production, the Kunstenfestivaldesarts is introducing a new voice of theatre in Brazil to European audiences. A must see!

Adaptation & direction
Christiane Jatahy

Julia Bernat, Rodrigo dos Santos, Tatiana Tiburcio (on video), Alice Gastal & Lucas Banhos, Gerson de Souza

Set design
Marcelo Lipiani & Christiane jatahy

Set construction
Marcelo Lipiani

Live camera
David Pacheco

Lighting design
Paulo Correia

Rodrigo Marçal

Angele Fróes

Research collaborator
Dani Lima

Paulo Ricardo Nunes & Denilson Lopes

Assistant director
Fernanda Bond

Video engineer
Felipe Norkus

Thiago Katona

Production manager
João Braune, Fomenta Produções

Director of photography
Davi Pacheco

Art director
Marcelo Lipiani

Executive producer
Claudia Marques

Manuela Duque

Christiane Jatahy, Sergio Mekler & Mari Becker

Production designer
Marina Lage

Paulo Ricardo Nunes

Denílson Campos

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre Varia

Axis Produções Artísticas (Rio de Janeiro) 

Supported by
Fundação Nacional de Artes FUNARTE (Brazil)

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Julia and the aesthetics of boundaries

Julia is a performance directed by Christiane Jatahy, freely inspired by the late 19th century text Fröken Julie by Swedish playwright August Strindberg. In Strindberg's original script, all the action takes place in the house of a count, on just one night. The daughter of the count, Julie, has a relationship with Jean, one of the family's servants. Fröken Julie is a play about love, or better still, about the impossibility of love. An impossibility that is not fed by external taboos - although those are symbolized by the father figure and his heralded arrival - but by the boundaries that the two characters themselves impose and interiorize. Boundaries that ensure that the love between them cannot flourish and that they both remain in ruins. In the text, a class struggle as well as a struggle between the sexes is fought out.

In her treatment of the text, Christiane Jatahy transposes the story to the Rio de Janeiro of today. Julie becomes Julia, a white girl from the wealthy south of the city who gets courted by Jelson, the family's personal chauffeur. Her treatment of the story is therefore a transgression from Strindberg's original score. As such, the belief in the uniqueness of the classical text is demystified and the idea that the intrinsic truth lies in a single correct interpretation is done away with. In Jatahy's reading, the text is freely handled. It is, as it were, desecrated; as per Agambem's definition: "that which has long been frozen in an atmosphere outside of human time and space, is again touched by the profane and ends up straight back in the world of the dynamic and the liquid." Jatahy's treatment refuses to accept the traditional limitations of the text and calls on all meanings, scenes and characters to explode once again.

Christiane Jatahy remains faithful to the difficult task of evoking the essence of what is happening in Fröken Julie. Her own impressions and personal interpretation are not thereby avoided. Julia is, in two different ways, political theatre. Jatahy knows to identify in the European text from 1888, a form of oppression that remains latent in Brazil today: the relationship between master and slave, between boss and servant. By having the character of Jean played by a black person, Jatahy strikes a chord in Brazil; namely, the racial relations of domination and discrimination that still prevail in Brazilian society. The hierarchical social relations that descended from its recent past of slavery are still sharply delineated. Blacks still live in families as domestic servants. In these kinds of naturalized domestic structures, all relationships remain shadows of what they could be. There are assignations and feelings at play that often scarcely materialize. A form of oppression disguised in emotional relationships.

In Julia the relationship between the characters is emblematic of such impossibility. Social and racial barriers prevent any relationship whatsoever between Julia and Jelson. Due to circumstances, both are caught up in a form of historical alienation. Although they feel trapped in unfair social relations, it appears a near-impossible task to remedy the situation. Julia and Jelson therefore succumb under the predisposition of their fate.

More than in other pieces with video projection or filmed theatre, this performance creates a hybrid reality, a third zone, where cinema and theatre entangle themselves in a single form of artistic expression. Strindberg's text is shown as a mix of theatre, film and live cinema, in a complex and original composition of art and media.

Besides theatre and cinema in the proper sense, a third theatrical dimension is toyed with, namely that of the film process itself. On stage, cinematography offers a perspective that usually escapes the eye of the moviegoer. The clear presence of the film set, the cameraman who regularly calls out 'cut' or asks for a scene to be done over again; this gives rise to an extra layer of meaning during the performance. Are the actors now playing in a movie? Or is it, in fact, a theatre piece? Due to this dimension, a quality is added that is in no other way conceivable: the risk that cinema, just like theatre, changes from day to day. A form of cinema that no longer possesses the clarity and tranquillity of a film in which everything is definitively fixed. In no way does this have anything to do with filmed improvisations. The scenes that are filmed during the show are indeed fixed and final. Yet the scenes do not strip that fixedness from its incessant flirting with the 'moment'. A flirtation that is so characteristic of life and theatre. Cinema, in its traditional form, is not in a position to generate the experience of this intimacy 'in the moment'.

The director is known for playing with the different layers of staging and acting. The actors are at once themselves and the characters they play. In Julia the actors give themselves an additional challenge by playing both on stage and in front of the camera, and coping with the transitions between the two media. If the actors play to the camera, their actions and intentions are recorded down to the smallest detail. Simultaneously, each player at times cracks from the explosive energy inherent in theatre actors. The camera is interrupted. The actors leave far behind the boundaries of the cinema, the frame, the scenario, the set, even including the characters' boundaries and Strindberg's text.

More than simply updating the text and bending the language into a contemporary form of speech, the director wanted the actors to make the words completely their own. Instead of a mere rereading, the bar was set by the actors themselves to achieve a theatrical reality. This theatrical reality plays a central role in Jatahy's work. She examines, as it were, the boundary of the representable. In dialogue with the logic of the performance arts, Jatahy emphasizes the experience of the performer and the complexity of the relationship between the artists and the audience. The idea of 'relation' plays an important role in the director's work. The strength of the acting by Julia Bernat and Rodrigo dos Santos is in direct relation to what they get back from the audience from day to day.

In addition to the reworking of the text itself, the performance relies on a dissociation between movement and text. This creates unexpected and original actions that lend the text an innovative and surprising meaning - such as in the sex scene between the characters that is interspersed with one of the most important dialogues of the piece, or when the characters speak with one another in a pre-filmed sequence while sitting by the pool or swimming. Text and action are so opposed to each other that they enforce a new way of looking at the characters and the scene.

The piece redefines the perspective and the gaze of the spectator by creating a doubling of the projected and actual image. The viewer also looks through the eyes of the camera and is therefore able to zoom-in, to see a close-up view of a hand on a thigh, or the furious gaze of the actress. Unlike traditional theatre, where the spectator develops a relatively constant spatial relationship with the actor and the character, here the spectator is drawn out of his familiar position and the relationship with the scene is transformed, due to the theatre image being doubled and displayed via two large mobile screens. The viewer chooses where he watches. The view is mobile. Positions multiply in time and space. The director developed the impressive structure of the moving projections in collaboration with her companion and colleague, Marcelo Lipiani. Thanks to their scenographic elements, the idea of different viewing angles is made concrete. The screens veil and reveal parts of the stage and create a duplicity of the image, betwixt which the transitions between different artistic idioms move.

The trajectory that Christiane Jatahy develops in Julia and in her previous performances, attests to genuine research. Her work is infused with the discussion on how you relate the real and the fictional in theatre. About how you bend the real into the fictional. About how you find truth in that fiction. In her pieces, you discover that it is impossible to separate theatre from what lies outside it. As if every actor is wrapped in layers of various different characters. The final and pure truth, the origin, remains inaccessible. The idea of a character, in the strict sense of the word, ceases to exist. What remains is how the actor sees that character. The character originates in the hybrid zone, the border between the actor and the character itself.

Christiane Jatahy's research causes a profane wind to blow through existing constraints and conventions. Her research focuses on boundaries. Or better put, her research calls boundaries into question, exceeds them, plays with the limits. The boundary between actor and character, between text and theatre, between stage and public, between scene and reality, between theatre and cinema, and in the case of Julia, between classic and contemporary. Jatahy's theatrical quest springs from an aesthetics of boundaries, an aesthetics in which the relationships between the various elements are stronger than the elements themselves.

Julia is a profound and visceral submersion that, simultaneously light and agile, allows you to navigate through various language registers and elements. All aspects of Jatahy's research and work are summoned, strengthened, and deepened. The piece is a final destination, the synthesis of a long journey, the present that follows a history of resentments and conquests. Take a deep breath and jump into this cinematic immersion, dive into this sea of ideas and imagination, until your eyes drown and the piece takes your breath away. Enjoy the performance!

Fernanda Bond is a researcher and is currently working on a PhD in the performing arts at the Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro and Columbia University, New York

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Christiane Jatahy (b. 1968) focuses her work on exploring new theatrical territories. She initially staged plays in unconventional spaces that offered new forms of interaction between the audience and the stage, but from 2003 her investigations grew more extreme, with productions crossing the subtle dividing lines between reality and fiction, between the actor and the character and between the here-and-now and the rehearsed scene. The aim is always to create a living, dynamic relationship with the audience. Recently her work has fully embraced audiovisual languages in plays such as Conjugado (The studio apartment) which integrated video and live performance and Corte Seco (Cut) in which surveillance cameras reveal the surroundings and behind-the-scenes of live theatre. In 2012, she directed A falta que nos move (The lack that moves us), shot non-stop in 13 hours with no cuts using three handheld cameras. The edited footage became a film that has been screened in cinemas and at film festivals, but which was also shown on three theatre-size screens at a 13-hour cinematic performance starting at 5pm – exactly the same time that the shooting had begun – and ending at 6am.

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