Zeno at 4 a.m

Duration : 1 :20
Language : En
Subtitles : Fr & En

For 2002, William Kentridge is currently working with Jane Taylor on an adaptation of La Coscienza di Zeno (1923) by Italo Svevo (1861-1928). However, for 2001 they have decided to dwell on The Death of My Father, a chapter in this wonderful novel, with the help of the Handspring Puppet Company and composer Kevin Volans. Zeno at 4 a.m. has become a separate oratorio – lying in bed, Zeno, now an old man, is bombarded by his memories. His head is an arena invaded by strange, shadowy figures, making an assault on his lack of tranquillity. An actor speaks for Zeno, a bass singer provides the voice of the father and The Duke Quartet supply the musical tones to his perturbed wakefulness. The first part of the evening contains Shadow procession, a film by William Kentridge that inspired Zeno’s visual universe, followed by a musical offering, Hunting:Gathering, a piece for string instruments by Kevin Volans and performed by The Duke Quartet.

Shadow Procession

Réalisation, animation, photographie/Regie, animatie, fotografie/Direction, animation, photography: William Kentridge

Musique/Muziek/Music: Alfred Makgalemele

Montage/Montage/Editing: Catherine Meyburgh

Création sonore/Klankontwerp/Sound design: Wilbert Schübel

String Quartet No.2 Hunting: Gathering

Compositeur/Componist/Composer: Kevin Volans

Interprétation de la musique/Muzikale uitvoering/Music interpretation: The Duke Quartet

Zeno at 4 a.m.

D'après/Naar/Based on: Italo Svevo, La Conscienza di Zeno (La Morte di mio Padre)

Musique/Muziek/Music: Kevin Volans

Interprétation de la musique/Muzikale uitvoering/Music interpretation: The Duke Quartet

Mise en scène/Regie/Direction: William Kentridge

Marionnettes, Figures d'ombre, Design/Poppen, Schaduwfiguren, Ontwerp/Puppets, Shadow figures, Design: Adrian Kohler

Livret/Libretto: Jane Taylor

Acteur/Actor: David Minnaar (Zeno)

Basse/Bas/Bass: Otto Maidi (Father)

Manipulateurs et acteurs/Manipulatoren en acteurs/Manipulators-performers: Busi Zokufa, Tau Qwelane, Adrian Kohler, Basil Jones, Fourie Nyamande

Directeur de la compagnie/Dagelijkse leiding van het gezelschap/Company manager: Wesley France

Régisseur de scène/Toneelmeester/Stage Manager: Leigh Colombick

Son/Klank/Sound: Simon Mahoney

Producteur/Producent/Producer: Basil Jones

Production/Productie/Production: Handspring Puppet Company (Johannesburg), The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), The Walker Art Museum (Minneapolis), The Lincoln Center (New York), Art Bureau (München)

Présentation/Presentatie/Presentation: Kaaitheater, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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“When I first read Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno, some twenty years ago, I was struck by the similarity between the rather desperate atmosphere in this little provincial city on the edge of an empire, Trieste, and that of my own city, Johannesburg, in the 1970s. This feeling has persisted, but in subsequent years other elements of the book have come to engage me as well. Zeno’s perfect self-knowledge, but at the same time his absolute ineffectiveness, felt familiar. This dichotomy between what we know and what we do also mirrors the artist’s job, where he is constantly mediating between what he sees and what he knows intimately, tirelessly looking for ways of making visible any insight, intuition or half-grasped connections.”

William Kentridge is striving to reproduce this novel about a life, Italo Svevo’s life, for the stage.

Zeno, his alter ego, embarks on an impressive self-analysis addressed to his most unbearable enemy, Doctor S., himself. It was Svevo’s last confession, for he died five years later in 1928, at the age of 67. It is a masterly and pointillist confession, with the old man as a hopelessly incorrigible, albeit entertained and sorrowful, spectator of events in his own life. Self-satisfied and permanently dissatisfied, Zeno is a prisoner of his own intelligence. In an offhand way, this intelligence mocks him, showing up every one of his inabilities, starting with his repeated decision to stop smoking, his “U.S. Ultima Sigaretta” or resolution, always being entered in his notebooks.

It is easy to understand William Kentridge’s fascination for this summit of literature, this life of sand impossible to grab hold of. He is an artist who animates ephemeral charcoal drawings for the screen which are never definitive in themselves, but constantly transforming themselves through his style of depicting the concrete with the subjective. William Kentridge’s project is to stage Zeno in its entirety under the title of Confessions in the spring of 2002. For May 2001, he has selected one chapter from it: The Death of My Father. He is not experimenting with the premises contained in Confessions, but developing a separate exploration, a specific form. “For all our theatrical projects with the Handspring Puppet Company, our first impulse is to do with form. It reflects our desire to work on the combination of animation on screen and the puppet on stage. First, we have to find new ground to work on together. Once we do this, then we take a grid approach, an environment of references in which to think about the play, a point of entry to the substance of it. Shadow Procession, one of my recent films, guided us towards marking out the path Zeno would take.” Zeno at 4 a.m. would become a theatre of shadows.

There will be no film to animate the stage and its white screen this time, but shadow figures in front of and behind the screen. They ‘embody’ the thoughts parading round Zeno’s head – a space that is neither dream nor reason, but this troubled zone of ‘waking dreams’, where scenes are played in isolation and out of our control, where unsaid words circulate behind what is said. A zone where obsessions materialise before they become thoughts…

Nor will there be any puppeteers either. The Handspring Puppet Company’s manipulators, used to working in full view of the audience, will disappear completely beneath the figures. “We have made two types of puppets from different material – wood, aluminium, nylon webbing and corrugated plastic board,” explains Adrian Kohler. “There will be fifteen rod puppets controlled from below and five other figures that will be extensions of the human body, transforming the body in much the same way as Jérôme Bosch does.”

These figures are very different from their usual puppets carved out of wood. “The rod puppets are made from found objects like workshop tools. Made very quickly, they seem improvised and torn out of paper. The body extensions aren’t really puppets at all. They are body masks, such as can be found made from carved wood in many African traditions. They have human legs and torsos, but then they have either a tree or a telephone or an electricity pylon growing out of them. They parade about like centaurs, the embodiment of Zeno’s obsessive thoughts. Bizarre and fantastical, they occupy his space, which is now a dramatic arena. They establish a world of dreams where strange creatures live quite naturally alongside ordinary people.”

Zeno at 4 a.m. is an oratorio with original music composed by Kevin Volans for basses, sopranos, tenors, altos and string quartet. Jane Taylor, who had already worked with William Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company on Ubu and the Truth Commission, is writing the libretto. “We wanted to preserve the substance of the ambivalent nature of Zeno’s character, deluding himself with a feeling of superiority whilst at the same time denigrating himself, pierced by a feeling of profound failure. The relationship between Zeno and his father comes in the opening section of the book and seemed to crystallise for us all the nuances of this duality.” On stage, David Minnaar (the actor who played Ubu) will express old Zeno’s inner monologues. He is assailed by his father’s memory on the last evening of his father’s lucidity, his suddenly leniency, postponing the intimate confidence until the next day – for ever. His father’s agony comes back to Zeno – his sudden death, Zeno’s guilt for having wanted it, remorse for not having been more loving. Zeno is obsessed by the unspeakable disaster of this death that took away his conviction of being better than his father, the driving force that kindled all his resolutions. “15 April 1890. My father’s death. U.S. Ultima Sigaretta...”

In Zeno’s universe, Otto Maidi, whose bass singing emerges from the depths, plays the failing father. The singers’ voices, recorded, will plague Zeno’s conscience. The eight sections, eight pulsations in the fantastical and dreamlike oratorio, will be accompanied by The Duke Quartet. However, before Zeno’s daytime insomnia and the transient parade of his obsessions, there will be a cinematic prelude with the showing of Shadow Procession, and a musical prelude with Kevin Volans’ piece Hunting:Gathering, performed by The Duke Quartet.

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