There are three things to know about Donka — A Letter to Chekhov (華麗夢境－給契訶夫的一封信), the latest treat from the Taiwan International Festival of Art, at the National Theater this weekend.
The first is: just because something is taking place on a proscenium stage, it does not have to be a rarefied work of serious theater, dance or opera.
Two, Donka — A Letter to Chekhov was written and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, who has created shows for the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Eloize and directed the closing ceremonies for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and the recently completed Sochi Olympics. So he likes spectacles, big or small.
Three, unless you have degree in Russian literature or are a Chekhov fanatic, you will probably miss many of the references to his stories and plays in Donka — and it won’t matter one bit. You do not need to know anything about Anton Chekhov or his works to enjoy the show — but if you do pick up references to The Three Sisters or The Seagull, give yourself a gold star.
Growing up, the 50-year-old Swiss-born Pasca trained as a gymnast before becoming interested in clowns and circuses. In 1983 he founded Teatro Sunil with his brother, Marco, and Maria Bonzanigo in his hometown of Lugano, a company that developed a style integrating clowning, acrobatics, acting and dance with a focus on lightness and silence, a technique that Pasca calls the “theater of the caress.”
In 2009, he and his wife Julie Hamelin (who founded Cirque Eloise) started a new company, Inlevitas, to work on opera, film and acrobatic theater productions. In 2011, he, Hamelin and Bonzanigo, along with Antonio Vergamini, and Hugo Gargiulo founded the Compagnia Finzi Pasca.
WHAT: Donka — A Letter to Chekhov
WHEN: Tonight at 7:30pm, tomorrow at 2:30pm
WHERE: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
ADMISSION: NT$1,200 TO NT$3,200; available at NTCH box offices, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and at 7-Eleven ibon kiosks and other convenience chain store ticketing kiosks
In interviews, Pasca has talked about how he sees himself as the “collector of moments and subtle nuances,” and says that he likes to create a “theater of images that form layers upon layers.”
Pasca wrote Donka on a commission from the Moscow International Chekhov Theatre Festival as part of celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth in 2010. He says he tried to pick out details and nuances from Chekhov’s life, works and private diaries. Pasca has created a surreal show — a “visual poem” — that taps the real and the subconscious from all three sources, but nothing is presented in a linear fashion. There are references to Chekhov’s career as a physician (people in white coats, dissections), to the tuberculosis that claimed both the life of his brother Nikolay and himself (blood drops, coughing), to Chekhov’s love of fishing and to some of the characters and tales he created.
The nine performers are multi-talented, performing as acrobats – including trapeze artists — clowns, dancers, singers, actors, and musicians to a score by Bonzanigo. The show is two hours, including an intermission and will be performed in English and French, with Chinese surtitles on either side of the stage.
There will be a pre-show talk — in Mandarin — beginning a half-hour before show time for performance and a post-performance talk/Q&A with the some of the cast tomorrow. There is a warning that smoke effects are used, which probably means it is best to avoid trying to get seats down front. The cheaper seats for all three shows are already sold out.
If you are wondering where the title comes from, donka is the Russian word for the little bell that can be attached to a fishing pole so that it rings when a fish is caught on the line.