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Postat pe 04.27.2017
Mihaela Panainte: “I am strangely attracted to the absurd, which for me is the most concrete expression of reality“


Mihaela Panainte are o solidă formație muzicală. La Liceul „Dinu Lippati”“ din București a studiat canto clasic timp în care, spune regizoarea, „mă trezeam în fiecare zi la patru dimineaţa ca să studiez la pian, repetam solfegii câteva ore pe zi, îmi exersam vocea pe fiecare sunet. Uneori, stăteam săptămâni întregi pe un singur sunet“. Este absolventă a secției de canto și regie de operă a Conservatorului „Gheorghe Dima“ din Cluj. În 2006 montează opera Vocea Umană de Francis Poulenc la Casa Tranzit din Cluj, iar în 2007, ca lucrare de diplomă, opera Cavalleria Rusticana de Pietro Mascagni la Opera Maghiară de Stat. Primul text pe care l-a abordat a fost Delir în doi, în trei... în câţi vreţi de Eugène Ionesco, în 2007, în teatrul ei independent Uthopia Theater de la Fabrica de Pensule din Cluj, spațiu în care regizoarea și-a desfășurat activitatea timp de cinci ani. Au urmat, tot de Ionesco, Scaunele, în 2010, Iona de Marin Sorescu, la Salina Turda în 2013, performance-ul lui Marian Ilea și Mircea Bochiș, Medio Monte la Colonia de Pictură de la Baia Mare și Noul locatar de Ionesco la Teatrul Municipal Baia Mare, în 2014, Cartea bătrânilor după poemul lui Domokos Szilágyi, în 2016, la Teatrul Maghiar de Stat din Cluj.

Iat-o acum, pentru prima oară la Naționalul clujean, în postura de a descifra un text prin excelență încriptat, Procesul de Franz Kafka, pretext pentru a-i pune câteva întrebări despre lucrul la acest spectacol și nu numai.

You studied canto at the Conservatory in Cluj. Where does your passion for directing come from?

I left Bacău to study canto at the the "Dinu Lippati" High-School from Bucharest. I wanted to become an opera singer. I came to Cluj and also studied canto at the "Gheorghe Dima" Conservatory. This made me very careful and able to work on the actors' vocals, help them improve their vocalization and breathing. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to deal with this. After graduating canto, I thought about studying opera production, which happened after all. I needed time to analyze things. I wanted to be outside of it, not inside, on the stage. I also graduated opera direction and obtained my diploma at the Hungarian State Opera, with Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. I wanted to experiment with the actor's place within the opera. The problem is actually that the actor lacks from the opera production. Then I turned towards theatre. And I had a great opportunity. I read in the papers Silviu Purcărete was going to direct Gianni Schicchi at the Hungarian State Theatre. I decided to ask him to take me as a stage assistant. We met, I told him that I studied opera direction and that I intended to work in theatre, once I find a director I could start learning from. He agreed. It was then that I also met art director Helmut Stürmer. This production made me realize I wanted to work in theatre, to explore this inner human space that only theatre can provide access to. In 2008 I set my own theatre company, the Little Hall Theatre from the Paintbrush Factory. So I started looking for texts interesting for me: Eugène Ionesco's Chairs was produced with the help of the chair factory Antares and of two hundred workers; to this added Ionesco's Frenzy for two, Beckett. Here I was, in an independent space, doing productions that dealt with existential topics. I never cared for topics concerning social or political ideologies. I find it more compelling to understand what is happening to us, people, what is happening to me. This is why I choose these existential themes, like the famed director David Esrig also does. To reflect upon existential topics means to reflect upon the living. And I try indeed to reflect upon my living. When I met actor Florin Vidamski, who works on David Esrig's method,  I realized I knew nothing about the opening of the text, which was a meaningful realization, because, as a director, you need to have proper instruments. There aren't many people who can teach you that. I read Florin's book, The Way to Performance through David Esrig's method. For an Existential Theatre. It made me realize I had to take things from the start. After having already worked in theatre for ten years. I had been doing things much too generally. Then I understood that decomposing in detail the production sequences and action units helps you clarify the way in which you envision the performance and helps the actors build their inner perspective. The action units are, in fact, the thoughts behind the line. The actors tell the line, but they should also think what is behind it. This is my big problem when I work with actors. They think they tell only what they read. Once I familiarized with this method, I realized things are much more complicated and complex, and that I have to understand the phenomenon in detail, otherwise I would still be working in  general.


How did you get to The Trial? Why The Trial?


I passed through several stages until Kafka. First of all, I was long preoccupied with Eugène Ionesco. Then with Beckett. Actually, I was interested in poetic and absurd worlds. I am strangely attracted to the absurd, which for me is the most concrete expression of reality. I don't find it absurd at all. If you pay attention to reality, you notice things are in contrast. And this contrast leads to absurd. I had the opportunity to work for an entire year at a production at the Paintbrush Factory. It was an period of research which helped me dig deep in those topics. Not only to make a production in a month, then sell it, show it to the public. When I worked with Florin Vidamski at our project for Marin Sorescu's Iona, we spent three months at the Turda Salt Mine, on a 2-by-2-metre raft. We rehearsed and built the production. It was a moment that changed my life, helped me see things clearer, understand what I want to make of myself, if I wanted to pursue theatre.

Regarding The Trial. We all have processes of conscience. Process is gradual, it involves self-knowledge and soul-searching, the attempt to find meaning. That's the sense I see in Kafka's The Trial: a man's awakening, his revelation at the age of thirty, which is probably not coincidental. It's a moment of growth, which leads to an inner transformation. Right in that moment, the character is arrested. We witness the existential process of a man who is akin to us, who realizes that he wasn't careful, that he didn't live, that he was not present in his own existence, that things got out of his hand. Hence his great guilt: the guilt of not having lived what life gave him. Of not having noticed the gifts he had been given.

Kafka's Trial is like a dream. Despite the bleak image we tend to give him, Kafka was a dreamer, and his works carry the same substance of dream, from their structure to the strangeness of images, sounds, ideas and emotions they circulate. His workings imitate to the point of ridicule the irrational and frightening madness of this moving night universe we call dream. I am fascinated by poetic worlds built on a logic of dream.


What did this text tell you on first reading?


I felt as if I was lead in a dream. We get some answers, but not necessarily in a direct way. In dream, however, we pass through a sort of subconscious laboratory, which helps us perceive things that have been or are about to come. No matter how hard we try to control ourselves, if we don't accept these are our desires - and not necessarily negative - they only give us lessons and, probably, set us free. But we try to resist them.

So does K. He has the chance to let himself live, although he only tried to control his life, to repress his desires. And all of a sudden he's overwhelmed realizing he hadn't paid attention to life. The lack of living makes him feel "like a dog". At one point, he must accept. He can no longer resist this action that he himself has put into motion. From this perspective, the play resembles a tragedy. Because it tells us from the very beginning what is going to happen. The very first sentence tells us how the story is going to develop. Then we have the tragic guilt the character takes upon himself. In true tragic fashion, he obeys. He has that kind of structure. This is why I resorted to the choir, the collective character that mirrors K. All of them are K. A multiplied K.

This is what's all about. The fact that we, the people, have desires of sex, power, domination, and all of them are revealed in this subconscious and in this dream. What also drew my attention was the inner view of facts stemmed from the subconscious, which are able to turn upside down K.'s conscious life, throwing him within the abyss.


What has drawn you towards Kafka's character? Did you find in him some sort of poetry?


I was drawn by his frailty and lack of consciousness. He is like a blinded man, who is taught, in concentrate shots, the lesson of seeing. It's much too perverse, his attempt to plead with an almost tragic stubbornness for his innocence.


How long did you work on this?


For almost two years I dealt almost exclusively with The Trial. I prepared the production for eight months. It's hard to write such a compressed script from such a novel.


Was it difficult to turn the novel into a performance script? Wasn't this transformation a betrayal of the original text?


I stick to what I already said about the poem The Book of Old Men, produced at the Hungarian State Theatre from Cluj. When you decide to make a theatre production, based on a novel or a poem, you know you face the complex and difficult process of scripting the material. That particular literary text must be turned into a performance script for the actors, and must outline the stage action. I don't see this process as a betrayal of the source material, but as its metamorphosis, meant to adapt the primary text to the language of theatre art. The writer's spiritual world is a given and can provide the creative substance of the whole concept. Existential topics and poetic thinking inspire and influence you, whether consciously or not, in the choices made for a theatre production.


 Has the process of conceiving and working on this production given you an insight into the great mechanism that puts into motion the infernal acts of terror? And if all is just a dream, what would you make of Kafka's character after he wakes up?


The man himself puts into motion this mechanism. The existential theme suggested by the author is that of the Being who lost itself because of its tremendous vanity, who was mined by the complex of its own superiority, who fell prey to an identity and spiritual crisis. In the times we live in, man has lost his connection to the Universe and is hypnotized by his own individuality. An individuality which is eventually weighed down by an exacerbated ego and reduced to the leftovers of a fake, illusory identity.

If he waked up, K could become a vermin. So, his dream would go on.


Does The Trial picture the world we live in?


Yes. It can picture today's world. Man is the only one accountable for having being exiled from his life because he broke his connection to the World. An immediate and painful consequence of this absence is definitely loneliness. However, loneliness only mimics into nothingness the incapacity to truly exist and, at the same time, reflects the refuge from the fright caused by the nature of life. This way, Man lives a parasite, inauthentic and fruitless life.

What challenges did you face during the creative process?


There were many challenges in my work: the script, the space, the music, the lights. But the biggest challenge was working with actors. Because of my musical formation, I need to work in a coherent and consistent manner.

Our own limits are the most compelling. The most important is not to be afraid, not to be overwhelmed by fear, but be able to move on. It's not easy to do that ...


What is the role of music in this production?


I don't think theatre needs music, but rather sounds: I see them as a different kind of score or as an invisible character. This character must communicate with all the others. I am very careful to the sounds from my productions, maybe simply because I studied music at the Conservatory. My perceptions are strongly influenced by sound, sometimes more than by the image, even though, from my point of view, the sound is itself an image.


Who can be the public of this production and what does catharsis mean to you?


When I work on a production, I don't think too much to the public, but as the premiere nears, I start wondering who would want to join that fictitious world built with the actors. I think anybody can see this performance, regardless of his cultural-intellectual level. Anybody can find something in this performance, something to awaken his emotions, anybody can feel something confronted with the topics of the play.

Catharsis is for me a moment of awareness, of awakening. Such as is this Trial.


Then I can only wish you best of luck for the soon-to-be premiere and long life to the challenging production you are preparing along with the actors from the National Theatre.


written by Eugenia Sarvari