Guillermo Calderón brings ‘Return of the Dragon’ to REDCAT

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For Chilean playwright and director Guillermo Calderón, political theater is as a lot an investigation right into a trigger as it’s an exploration right into a mode of working. Inventive questions are inseparable from the societal conflicts and conundrums that give rise to them, as anybody who has seen “Neva,” “Diciembre,” “Villa” or one other of his conceptually austere, theatrically playful works can attest.

The ethic is admirable: With out artistic self-scrutiny, with out inspecting how theatrical varieties and collaborative strategies may unwittingly shore up the established order, there will be no progress or liberation.

In “The Return of the Dragon,” a short but potent video essay produced by Santiago’s Fundación Teatro a Mil, Calderón meditates on the connection between politics and humanities, the efficacy of political theater, and the function of the artist in occasions of social upheaval. The topic of the movie, streaming this weekend in a co-presentation by REDCAT (Calderón’s important Los Angeles house) and ArtsEmerson, is “Dragón,” his most up-to-date play, which premiered in Santiago in June 2019 and was alleged to tour this yr within the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic scotched these plans, however Calderón has used this pause in worldwide touring to replicate additional on a bit of activist theater that intersected with historical past in an uncanny approach. Written after “Mateluna” (which got here to REDCAT in 2017), “Dragon” was haunted by that earlier present’s failure to impact real-world change.

Accused of financial institution theft, Jorge Mateluna, a former guerrilla who assisted on the event of Calderón’s play “Escuela,” remained in jail after the play bearing his identify introduced worldwide consideration to his plight. Because the group launched into “Dragón,” there was a pointy consciousness {that a} former colleague was nonetheless disadvantaged of his freedom. Chastened, the group nonetheless took inspiration in the best way their play about Mateluna incited others to take up his trigger.

The expertise of political theater shifting from the stage to the streets provoked new considering in artistic activism. “Dragón,” which was knowledgeable by each the rising immigration disaster in Chile and the rise of “institutional fascism” in Brazil, includes a gaggle of artists discussing these issues at a restaurant in Plaza Italia, which turned floor zero for the social rebellion that occurred in fall 2019.

A revolution, born out of pupil protests, introduced forth the prospect of profound governmental reform. (Daniel Alarcón’s report final yr within the New Yorker, “Chile on the Barricades,” gives invaluable context.) Plaza Italia, which in “Dragón” is the positioning the place the immigrants mentioned within the play are “abused and bloodied,” was just some months later the scene of violent battle between protesters and the police. (The sq. is now known as Plaza Dignidad, or Dignity Plaza.)

One of many narrators of “The Return of the Dragon” expresses the matter with quiet astonishment: “The fiction within the play turned the truth of the revolution.” The movie cuts forwards and backwards between photographs from “Dragón” and pictures from the mass demonstrations in opposition to the neoliberal insurance policies of President Sebastián Piñera. It’s not at all times simple to inform them aside.

If this was life imitating artwork, nobody may declare to be accountable for the plot. The pandemic, which imposed a distinct form of curfew on the inhabitants, leaves the legacy of the revolution unsure. The lengthy, darkish, dictatorial shadow of Gen. Augusto Pinochet hovers because the previous battle between justice and order intensifies within the concatenation of crises.

The colourful sights and galvanizing rhythms of the protests, as captured in “The Return of the Dragon,” are as stirring to witness because the intercultural parallels. The immigrants portrayed in “Dragón” have been disproportionately damage by the pandemic in a lot the identical approach as economically susceptible communities have been bearing the brunt within the U.S. And simply as nobody is aware of in regards to the post-pandemic sturdiness of the adjustments set in movement by the Black Lives Matter protests final summer time, the prospect of sweeping constitutional transformation in Chile is tenuous at greatest.

Calderón and his ensemble look ahead to reengaging “Dragón” after the theaters reopen. However they know there’s no going again.

“We don’t need to return to the normalcy that existed earlier than the revolution,” a narrator intones on the finish. “We need to return to the normalcy of the revolution.”

‘The Return of the Dragon’

The place: Streaming through REDCAT

When: 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, Ends Sunday. Screenings will probably be adopted by Zoom conversations with Calderón and College of Pennsylvania Latin American and Latinx Research scholar Jennifer Thompson.

Tickets: $15

Information: redcat.org

Working time: 23 minutes, not together with post-show Zoom dialog.

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