Het theater van de zintuigen

Begin juni is Teatro de los Sentidos uit Barcelona te gast in Destelheide. Dit gezelschap rond regisseur Enrique Vargas geeft bij ons een masterclass van 7 tot 14 juni aan een twintigtal kunstenaars en docenten en we organiseren ook een congres op 14 juni rond het theater van de zintuigen.


De Belgische theatermaker en docent Sofie Saller werkte de afgelopen jaren regelmatig samen met Teatro de los Sentidos. Zij had een dubbelgesprek met Enrique Vargas over zijn unieke theatertaal, die zich ook uitstekend leent om toe te passen in een educatieve context. Deze tekst vormt een onderdeel van een publicatie rond Enrique Vargas waar Sofie Saller momenteel aan werkt. Omdat de masterclass en het congres in het Engels doorgaan, publiceren we dit interview ook in het Engels.

Hi Enrique. What in life inspired you to make your kind of theatre?

Enrique Vargas Gutierrez: “For sure the games I played when I was a child and the mysteries I sensed when I was young. I made labyrinths under covered trees in the woods, I created little territories with pillows and blankets under my friend Alvaro’s bed and table... I always wanted to find that same amazement again later on, also in my theatre work. I think our job as theatre makers is to construct games. We have a toy shop. In our kind of theatre we open up for the questions that arise in these games.”

You have a special relationship with objects. Can you tell me more about it?

“I try to treat an object like a subject. For example: how to listen to a teaspoon or to a little stone on the ground? If I am able to listen to objects and realize that they are also subjects, then perhaps I am also able to listen to myself. The only way to listen to music, for instance, is being aware that the sound is also listening to you. When you touch a tree, the tree is also touching you. The same happens when you look at a painting, it is surely looking back at you. One can say I try to animate the world with a soul.”

You often use the words ‘poetics of distance’. What exactly do you mean by it?

“For me, ‘poetics of distance’ is about not illustrating or demonstrating something. The more you show, the less room there is for imagination. For the same reason, I don’t like overacting. When you see a TV show with bad acting, you’ll end up tired. But when you see a piece of great acting, you’ll end up full of spirit and life. In the end, the imagination begins where our senses end. The point where you can’t illustrate something visually, that’s where the ambiguity starts and you begin to imagine.”

“I bet the question is also: what is a good actor? Or a good artist? In fact, theatre schools should be places to develop your own poetics. If you have the passion to search for that poetic connection, you will surely invent the methods and the techniques for it. That’s what theatre schools should teach, otherwise they will be teaching robots, just cannon fodder. Fame or success as a motivation for an actor is the worst thing that could happen. Because that means: how could you become a cerebral object, an object with a fancy wardrobe? That’s disgrace and might be very unlucky in the end.”

Is the name Teatro de los Sentidos still the name that you would give to your company today?

“Yes. ‘Sentido’ in Spanish means two things: it’s what you sense with your senses and it’s what you sense with your soul. You say: ‘Esto tiene sentido para mi’, which means ‘This makes sense to me’. But you can also say: ‘¿Este tren va en el sentido correcto?, which means ‘Is this train going in the right direction?’. Because, if the train is going the right way, it makes sense to me, ‘tiene sentido para mi’. Do you understand?”

Talking about ‘sentido’ and questions, I remember you often saying: ‘If you have a good question and you don’t know the answer yet, a good thing to do is to sit under a tree and wait. And then the answer will come to you’. What do you do when you don’t have an answer yet to questions concerning your work?

“I don’t force it. You just have to let your body work. You don’t have to be so arrogant to think that your eyes or brain are the smartest parts of the body. You are also your legs and your arms. And perhaps the question is in your belly button, and the answer in your shoulder. Or in the little finger of your left hand. The main thing is to realize that it’s not so much about what you know that you know, because that’s mechanical thinking. It’s much more about what you don’t know that you know. The work of the artist is to look for a resonance in that direction and to share that resonance.”

A very remarkable fact that I have experienced often while working with you and the company is the amount of involvement. Everyone knows the cleaning staff by name, the technicians are also very good actors and the actors would become a good supporting team for the technical work to be done. What’s the secret of the company?

“It has to do with many things: the ‘poetics of curiosity’, the joy of meeting people... It’s also about not being a thing and not treating other people like objects. I remember a guy from Naples, Julio Bosche, saying about our work: ‘People come to your shows not so much to listen to the show but to be listened to.’”

I have noted down a lot of times while working with you and Teatro de los Sentidos that it is important in theatre to start from what you do not see and to find a way to make the actor disappear...

“Yes! Once the poet or the actor is sharing imagery, once he is sharing a symbol that enables you to go from one place to another place, once he is able to pull you away from your world of literal things, the audience forgets about who they are in daily life and notices another subject appear. We have to take the game seriously.”

“With Teatro de los Sentidos we do not see the audience as spectators, but as ‘imaginants’. That’s what we are anyway in the end: ‘imaginants’. Then many other questions become clearer. For instance: What is ‘language’? Is language ‘words’? Sometimes words have nothing to do with language. When you are listening to the speech of a politician on TV, you are able to read it with your own intuition, based on the way he stands, the way he talks, the way he is dressed...”

My last question is a very popular one in Belgium at this moment: can art save the world?

“In a certain way you could say: ‘quien salva la vida, salva el mundo’, which means ‘who can save a life, can save the world’. But then I have another question: how not to become a saviour? That’s dangerous, you know.”

Sofie Saller