>leitmotiv by les deux mondes

>reviewed by marcus tan

>date: 12 jun 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria theatre
>rating: ****1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


According to the Oxford Dictionary of Music, the German term 'Leitmotiv' refers to a motto theme or a leading motive. It is "a series of notes, or a scrap of melody, harmony or rhythm, embodying a specific idea." This concept is best exemplified in Wagner's operas especially in Der Ring des Nibelungen. Each character has a distinctive 'leitmotif,' as do objects like castles, rings or swords, and abstractions such as destiny, duty or love. These motifs are woven into the musical texture, enriching the meaning with allusion and suggestion at every point. Other art forms have since loaned and incorporated such a concept. In film, images are blurred into one another or recalled to express thematic concepts.

Les Deux Mondes's LETIMOTIV successfully articulates its own 'leitmotif' in a highly experimental musico-dramatic construction about the ravages of war on individuals and the universality of love. Directed and conceived by Michel Robidoux and Daniel Meilleur, this short hour-long production was an emotional ride of high intensity engendered by the constant assault on the visual and aural senses.

LEITMOTIV begins with a recitation of a letter by a daughter whose mother had abandoned her in a time of war. The narrative then flows into a cinematic flashback, presented as live theatrical action, explaining the tragic circumstances of Rosa, the mother, and Pierre, her lover. War not merely tears a country apart but destroys the innocence of youthful love. Pierre is conscripted and is forced to leave Rosa, but later deserts to seek his lost love. Rosa, distressed by the loss of her lover, and devastated by the effects of war on her homeland, joins the resistance. But war takes its toll and shatters their destinies. Pierre is captured and tortured to the point where he walks the edge of sanity and insanity; Rosa is brutally raped. The two lives, torn apart by war, finally reunite only to face a new war in the time of peace, a conflict that stirs within and never sees an end. The play doesn't end with the triumph of love but leaves the audience with a sense of nihilism exemplified in Rosa's repeated chant of post-modern angst - "I don't know, I don't care Ö"

>>'An exhilarating and unforgettable performance which blurred the distinctions between media genres.'

The production demonstrates, in many ways, how narrative demands need not be bound to a verbal text. The musical drama, a term favoured by the producers, employs words only on specific occasions, leaving much of the story to be told by musical and visual action. Unlike conventional drama where music adumbrates and accentuates the narrative action, Lex Deux Mondes explored new avenues by producing a narrative out of a musical score. Robidoux had begun by recording the sound of trains and out of this came a musical score from which the troupe then improvised scenes and find a common theme - war. Author Normand Canac-Marquis tightened these dramatic strands by interweaving a textual narrative. As the programme notes describes, "the result is what the trouble called a 'musical drama' because its impact is derived from an intensity stemming from the contrasting climates and evocative images that are a direct result of the music."

Like Wagner's musical leitmotif, LEITMOTIV utilised music and sound effectively as a recurrent motif to portray particular emotions of the characters. Done via the repetition of musical phrases and often supplemented by thematic variations on recognisable musical strands, the narrative was carried primarily through sound, followed by sight. Much of the musical score bordered on an atonality that denies any harmonic centre. Employing, as 20th Century music often does, tonal clashes and dissonance while infusing 'everyday' noises (such as the sound running trains) that seamlessly blend into the musical setting, what resulted was an extramusical emotion of dark foreboding that haunts the listener. The intensity of the action is often embodied in voice of Mezzo-Soprano NoŽlla Huet (Rosa) whose sustained melody, sung as a series of melismas, conveyed raw emotion - pain, loss, anguish, despair - by pure sound. As Barthes would note, the song performed 'a voix nue' (the naked voice) finds its 'signifiance' in the "grain of the voice."

LEITMOTIV is as much a visual spectacle as it is aural. The ingenious use of tele-digital technology and infusion of video projection and cinematic frames, with excerpts from classics such as "Casablanca," into the performance readily blurred the distinction between filmic and theatrical experience. Seamlessly integrated into all other sign-texts of the performance, the imaginative of curtains and lighting created a 'fourth' wall effect rendered the experience of live theatre as cinema. The performance becomes a cinematic experience as both forms fuse as one. One such example occurs when Pierre, deserting from conscription, hops off from a moving truck, presented as live performance, and 'appears' instantaneously onto a video projection.

Other spectacles included the creative use of lighting which was used not only to form the starry skies but exploited to convey intention and intensity. In what was a moment of sexual passion between the lovers, the lights, as back lighting projections, glowed with red intensity that spread across the fluttering curtains literalising the metaphor of flaming love, of which fire was a leitmotif in the play. The resulting quivering shadows of the lovers toasting and subsequently making love is thus presented as an occurrence of imagination and reality. The interplay of shadow and light, created by and contrasted with the physical bodies on stage, was then perhaps the characterising motif in this play, paraphrasing yet again the dialectics of two-dimensional filmic experience and three-dimensional theatrical performance. These polarities are, however, fused in a new (Hegelian) synthesis.

By fusing all forms of art and visual entertainment including music, LEITMOTIV certainly exemplified Wagner's concept of a total work of art or 'Gesamkuntswerk,' creating an exhilarating and unforgettable performance which blurred the distinctions between media genres.

That said, the unfulfilled potentiality of such a new performance genre disappoints for the production could have dictated larger issues such as the issue of history, its representation and construction. LEITMOTIV could have become itself a leitmotif, via a self-reflexive demonstration of the production's media-ted performance, to exemplify the ways in which History, like all discourses, is always already mediated.