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A multilingual theatre installation: Faust 1&2

Following its highly successful premiere in Munich, Pathos Theater, the Bavarian capital’s largest independent company will bring their experimental Faust performance to CAFe Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival audiences. This international project features German, Greek, Turkish and even two Hungarian artists, both of whom belong to the Pro Progressione Hungarian contemporary performing arts organisation.

Angelika Fink, the leader of Munich’s Pathos Theater and director of Faust 1&2 asked Pro Progressio to collaborate in the performance by delegating artists that would participate in the production as composers. That is how Piroska Móga, who writes and directs, and Máté Czakó who works as a choreographer and also directs, received the call.

“We could use Goethe’s work for inspiration in our joint compositional work,” Máté recalled. “We took from it what was important for us and created the scenes titled “Your Faust” with movement and puppetry, with some performers using their bodies, voices or music. We created etudes at the workshop-formatted rehearsals, which later served as the basis for the performance. According to the director’s intentions, three principles are discussed, Faust, Mephistopheles and Gretchen’s characters, so that we could find what binds their relationships with each other, and what drives them.”

During the several months of rehearsals that took place in workgroups, the director placed a great emphasis on making sure that the performing artists from various ethnic backgrounds would be in tune with one another. Máté initiated a practice whereby they would lead each in the rehearsal space and move together.

What grabbed Piroska the most in Faust’s story was that in his immeasurable quest for knowledge he also commits destruction and cruelty, wanting to make everything his own. “The #metoo movement was launched at that time and naturally this also affected us sensitively, to which we responded,” Piroska said. “This launched us in the direction of focusing more on Gretchen’s tragedy, vulnerability and humiliation. The tipping of the hierarchy in the male-female relationship is also raised, as the more violent person takes control. This is shown in the performance through an improvisational series of scenes. I roll out an orange, begin to play with it, like a kitten, trying to get inside it more and more, ripping it apart with tooth and nail, then leave it there.”

With respect to visual solutions, the Hungarian actors called this special version of Faust poetic, strange, an ironic circle of characters, and a wax museum, all painted with broad strokes. The costumes evoke the circus, its playfulness and the skills of its acrobats, since the characters “travel” from one moment to the next. In the scene with the orange, Piroska wears a plumed headpiece, which associates her with the violent peacock. Máté wears an artist’s basic outfit and in a juggler’s top flies a paper kite and ties a thread between two columns in the shape of a pentagram, symbolising that in his quest for knowledge, Faust is moving his boundaries again and again.

Piroska plays violin and Máté drums in the live music production with associative images that ignites a series of ideas. The sentences quoted from Goethe’s Faust are spoken in the actors’ own languages. Munich saw five performances, and premieres are also planned for Hamburg and Berlin. The Pathos artistic centre was developed to accommodate contemporary dance, theatre and music in a former factory building in the 2000s. From 2010, under the artistic direction of Angelika Fink, it became one of the independent scene’s defining locations. The Pathos Theater’s elegant industrial space provides a unique location for specific performances, into which the set designer Astrid Behrenz has built an elevator shaft, columns, a bar and the upper level as Hell’s “decorations”. The decision to stage the production in Budapest in the Három Holló Café’s basement was by no accident, for it is a space also divided by columns.

This article first appeared in Budapest’s Finest Magazine.