There is no sound more fascinating than the human heartbeat.
It plays like a soundtrack to our lives, beating thunderously right before we confess our love (in a romantic moment) or almost coming to a stop when we lose someone close. What is a normal heart rate in these situations? That depends. Things can go beyond cardiovascular concerns.
On the subject of heart-tugging human emotions, Spanish-born director Carlos Garcia Estevez is set to give theatregoers something unique with a piece of devised theatre called Pulse at the Damansara International Arts Festival (DIAF) 2018.
Pulse, which runs from July 5-8, is part of the DIAF programme to be held at DPac in Petaling Jaya.
“What we would like to propose with Pulse is to see what is the ordinary life,” says Estevez, 42, an actor, stage director and theatre researcher.
“What is the beat of daily situations? How does our pulse change? How does our heart beat when we are about to miss the train or declare love? These are ordinary situations that happen to all of us around the world, not only in Malaysia,” he adds.
Body and space
Estevez, the artistic director of Manifesto Poetico, wants to advance a form of theatre-making where space and body are the base of storytelling and emotional communication.
“The main elements that we use to create those languages are based on the body of the human being, and the impact of that body on the space, and the influence of this interaction with the society of today,” he says.
Estevez’s Manifesto Poetico (theatre research) project didn’t happen overnight. It comes from the 20 years of research and productions done internationally. He explains that the research work has led to three different settings (in theatre).
“First, there is performing – the art of the actor in a contemporary time. Then, there is a pedagogic formulation, where we transfer our research material to other artists. Lastly, there is our TransPoetico projects – what we call our collaborative-creation stage direction or devised shows.”
In 1998, Estevez taught at L’Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris in the Laboratory for the Study of Movement.
“This research was provoked by a teacher of mine called Jacques Lecoq at his school in Paris. The main subject was La Commedia dell’Arte – a traditional Italian theatre where one of the main characteristics is the use of masks. He asked me to search for the tragic depth that exists in the Commedia dell’Arte .. and in all comedy,” recalls Estevez.
“I was also searching for the tragic dimension that human beings carry along with them in life. This research is not only into the subjects or scenarios that we should propose – which should have a tragic dimension, but also the way the actor proposes themselves on the stage with his character and comportment. The actor needs to carry a tragic acting level.”
Estevez spent more than 10 years researching this subject.
“While I was travelling and researching in many different countries, I found I did not agree with the many ways that people approached theatre. I didn’t like what they were proposing ... I believe in order (for Commedia) to work, the mask has to touch the inside of the audience.”
New language in theatre
To cut a long story short, Estevez developed his own way to see the mask and new methods to train the actors with the mask.
This is the background of Manifesto Poetico.
“Manifesto Poetico started basically after years of (Commedia and mask) research. I realised, in a very painful way, that it was not really a type of theatre that the audience was demanding. We just don’t see mask performances now. In that moment, Manifesto Poetico became my platform to research many different styles of theatre. It became a platform not only for actors, but a place open to all kinds of artists and disciplines.”
Estevez has performed and directed in over 20 different countries, including Colombia, Senegal, United States and the Netherlands. Back in 2013, he helmed the Kakiseni Arts Exchange 2013 programme themed Nama Kamu Atas Perahu.
Right now, he is busy rehearsing the Pulse show with a group of local performers, each one absorbing the Manifesto Poetico ideals.
The Pulse ensemble features Jo Kukathas, Ling Tang, Kathy Tan, Ng Siu Yee, Leong Kah Miu, Yeo Lyle, Lim Pei Ern, Alfred Loh and Mat Din.
It is the main theatre performance at DIAF, which also includes music, dance shows and a puppet festival.
Estevez is glad to be back in Malaysia, working with a solid cast of actors.
“The local artists that we are working with here are all extremely talented, each of them are specialists in disciplines like dance, music, acting, and composing. With all of these skills, plus the language that Manifesto Poetico would like to share, we would like to put on stage all the invisible aspects of these ordinary situations to give another perspective, another point of view to our audience about reality.”
A devised work such as Pulse is something different from what many Malaysians are used to watching on stage, but Estevez is unfazed. The Pulse production, in using the body, the space and the language of the streets, is capable of exposing a range of human emotions.
"Pulse reflects a day in the life of the city. Its heartbeat. Its ordinary stories. But of course our ordinary lives in KL are deeply political. The extraordinary in Malaysia is ordinary," says Kukathas.
"So we have stories of protest, of corrupt business people, of activists fighting logging companies, of scam artists and tricksters, of human rights lawyers. Mixed with this are stories of the daily grind," she adds.
Both Loh and Kukathas agree that the rehearsal process has been quite demanding, citing the fact that the performers have to learn a new acting vocabulary.
"We have to quickly learn not just the poetics of space but also the physical vocabulary of commedia dell'arte. Both of these anchor Carlos' approach to theatre," says Kukathas.
Loh adds: "It's challenging as we tackle this new style and form everyday and infuse the body with a stronger physical aspect, which is what Carlos wants."
To the director, the show is about observing people, their life, their behaviour, their interests, things that are worrying them, their problems and their joys.
“We put on the stage, characters and situations that an audience of ordinary people can feel they belong to. They can identify and recognise these stories and characters. Hopefully, they will connect with the story, and enjoy the journey.”
Pulse is on at DPAC, Empire Damansara, Damansara Perdana in Petaling Jaya in Selangor from July 5-8. Showtimes are 3pm (July 7-8) and 8pm (July 5-7) Tickets are priced at RM68. More info: www.dpac.com.my. Call: 03-4065 0001.