Artist Latifa Medjdoub took portraits of the friends, colleagues and family members who helped her to build a large scale soft sculpture for the performance of Princess Ivona.
A selection of the portraits come together in the video below, capturing what it is that holds this community together. There is a common thread that is revealed as the faces stream by. Yet, it isn’t each person’s likeness to the next that holds the group together. Rather, there is a mysterious tension that pulses throughout the video and acts as the bond. One can’t always distinguish between what a group of people has in common and what sets each individual apart. This mystery is captured in the video through the use of human expression, sound, and timing --and it rings beautifully.
Join us at the Performance Art Institute and see how this community brings life to the brilliant “Princess Ivona,” directed by Michael Hunter.
blog post by Amy Munz, stage manager for Princess Ivona
One of the essential aspects of this process has been our collaboration with Latifa Medjdoub, whose gorgeous textile work has helped to bridge between our conceptual thinking about Gombrowicz's play, the overall aesthetic for the show, and our costume choices for Ivona and the Court. Over the course of her fascinating career as an artist, Latifa's work has encompassed theatre design (working with some of the most visually interesting directors in France), fashion (creating exquisite woven garments under her own label), and most recently, textile pieces which reference the body and wearability, but also exist independently of the body -- as installation objects, incitements to meditate on our fundamental human relation to fabrics.
These images give a glimpse into the world Latifa has imagined for PrincessIvona. Most of these pieces -- which here range from ink on paper, to felt and wool soft sculptures, to versatile one-of-a-kind garments -- were created before we began work on the play, though some of them have not yet been displayed or activated.
The soft sculptures shown here have, in Latifa's words, "previously existed in a number of conceptual and performative situations." Recalling and resembling living forms -- sea creatures, mythical worms, imaginary combinations of vertebrate and invertebrate -- these sculptures seems as if they were born under the logic of Ivona's rich and hermetic imagination; yet as physical extensions of her character, they are also creating (together with Tonyanna Borkovi's layered performance) the evidence of that imagination for the audience.
We are working with numerous ways we can use a broad range of Latifa's pieces to convey the story of Ivona's past, her exclusion from the sartorial rules of the Court, and finally how her strange presence begins to infect and fill the Court. As Renu mentioned in her last blog post, we are beginning to find our work pushing towards assertions of female agency which the script itself did not initially suggest. Because of the ways in which Latifa's work translates an almost promethean abstraction into not only solid form, but also form that envelops and extends human bodies, it is contributing to our production's emerging argument that Ivona is filled with a remarkable but un-communicated (which is not the same as incommunicable) inner life.
Latifa's pieces can be imagined as physical excretions of Ivona's psyche, as shards of her soul, or as the matter of her archetype: the terms are different, but the fundamental theatricality of Latifa's vision means that Ivona's character extends beyond Gombrowicz's text, or even Tonyanna's performance, through the surreal objects and textures that surround and emanate from her, and ultimately into the rooms and other bodies that comprise Gombrowicz's fictional Court of Burgundia.
As we become more and more familiar with the text of Princess Ivona, I've been struck by the several (plural, contingent, dynamic) philosophical questions that it sets aloft, about personality, about freedom, about love, about fear, about how broader social contexts shape and then beguile the infrastructure of personality: family, status and class, proximity to powerful agents, proximity to radically different versions of power...these relationships are the "stuff" of the play, even as they are made restless and anxious by the appearance of the "sluggish" Princess Ivona (in part it's her non-participation in all of that, which seems to make everyone else's neuroses sparkle and pop). But, on first gloss, it would seem that the play's fascinating explorations into profound internal terrains remains the privilege and the agony of those characters who already have a certain access to complex personhood: as if identity crises are the privilege of the privileged. Certainly there is a significant historical tendency toward this...it was, after all, Simone de Beauvoir's starting contention when she wrote The Second Sex, precisely to interrogate how it is that women are never the subjects of such philosophical fissures, and are instead the objects or catalysts of them. Sure enough, Princess Ivona offers that familiar set-up too: a young woman passively inspires a Prince to make a noble claim for a certain kind of freedom, but he makes his claim by instrumentalizing her, and he begins to feel increasingly caged-in; this young woman, simply by declining to appease the powerful people around her, prompts the King to confront the limits of his own power, which reminds him that he is rather scared of its limitlessness... She herself could remain, for the entire production, a solid figure, acting upon others quite by accident, and seemingly impervious to the potential of others to un-make her own self-perceptions. Like an uncanny photograph, or a disturbing piece of furniture, or a dark alley, she is the occasion for others' transformations. It could be that way; and we have given that possibility its space in our rehearsals, as well. However, a less predictable arc insistently comes through in our work with this text... In large part, I would say, it's the cast that makes something rather different happen... While I would not say that Ivona, or the Queen, or Isobel (the three main female characters) are given "equal time" as the men in which to theatricalize their identity-ruptures, I do say that the fact that this is a play---which is to say, that it requires imaginative, additive work on the dramatic text---has shown me that the women in the cast, as they "grow" their characters, become much more dimensional than I knew to expect. There is so much silence written into this play...written into it...it can look like little on the page, and then in "play" it becomes a concert, a cacophony, an underwater gurgling of possibility...
As the cast explores the muscularity of Princess Ivona---the play's language, its cruelty, its humor, its cutting insights as well as its complex humanity---the multiple ways that gender and sex are vectors for power bubbles to the surface...
We had our first reading of Princess Ivona with the cast last week at Franconia. I'm so thrilled! -- it took us longer than we expected to assemble the cast, but every single performer is perfect for their role, and the group dynamic is already electric.
I edited together a short video of some moments from the reading -- excuse the poor video quality, my Flip Cam isn't so happy in evening mood lighting...