Imaginarium: An Astonishing Look At Life On Stage
Imaginarium Life is a complex multi-media performance piece created by the brilliant dark angels at Bistoury Physical Theatre, Alexey Taran and Carla Forte. The performance documents — through dance theater, sound and gorgeous cinematography — the spiraling, chaotic world of an artist whose obsession with himself and his own imaginary world of self-inflicted wounds destroys him and the person he loves. Sounds tragic, yes, but the unregulated, self-centered ego focused only on detachment instead of human connection is a recipe for disaster. This all-too-human failing demands attention. Taran and Forte focus our eyes and egos on this failing in this exquisitely eerie performance. Ruben, the artist, played by Taran, suffers greatly. In fact, he deifies suffering at the cost of his own well-being. But why? He seeks happiness and freedom, which are reasonable goals. We all deserve these things, but he tries to achieve those goals through radical isolation and detachment — an often misunderstood Buddhist notion. What we don’t realize at first is the suffering that his wife, Ana, played by Forte, experiences throughout this piece. As Ruben tries to retreat into his imaginary world to escape the demons on his back (who are always on his back no matter what world he steps into), Ana supplies the structure to keep her husband afloat in la la land. She enables. She encourages. She feeds. She loves him, but love sometimes leads us to betray our own self-interest that will inevitably come back to haunt us (and Ana) in the end. “You dream too much: does it hurt?” is one of the first lines to create a lightening bolt. In the imaginary world there’s supposed to be no pain, no suffering, no hurt; just happiness, joy and freedom — at least in theory. This line made me question what is Imaginarium Life. Is it an imaginary world free from sin and sorrow? Shame and suffering? Despair and desolation? Or is Imaginarium Life just life as it is simply renamed to give us (or Ruben) the false impression that we can create new worlds out of nothing when we are in fact powerless to do so. “To be able to live: first kill the self.” I know what Ruben feels. Sometimes the only way to save ourselves is to destroy the absurd notion of the self that we’ve created because we feel like we’re not good enough, smart enough, cute enough, creative enough or fill-in-the-blank enough. This broken self, this powerful and intoxicating thing, becomes so big and damaged that it sublimates our authentic self to our manufactured self. In other words, see Imaginarium Life. See what happens when we create false worlds to destroy false selves when we live in a physical world that flows whether we like it or not. Damaged or not, we exist in one world and in one reality. When we step off, we step away from true salvation. As Ruben’s existential crisis and exorcism of the ego progresses, he totally disconnects from reality and loses all sense of the external world. He confuses the imagined Ana with the real Ana. This warps his sense of reality and the consequences of his actions are deadly. As the performance wraps up, the merging of the imaginary world and the physical world becomes obvious as Ruben tries to pin a pair of angel wings onto the projected image of Ana. He leaps and hops in front of the moving image as he attempts to put the wings back on his broken angel. “The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering,” Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska writes, “whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world — it is astonishing.” Imaginarium Life is astonishing it its ability to connect to the audience through radically detached characters. It’s a human narrative that explores the damaged and fractured egos of an impotent artist and his embittered wife. The artist who tries to save himself from himself by retreating into himself as if he can cure a wound with a wound is indifferent to his own suffering. Imaginarium Life exposes this blindness that we impose upon ourselves for…what? Self discovery? In a vacuum? This play is a terrifying and expansive performance that is visceral and stunningly visual. Imaginarium Life exists in two separate worlds — the projected world and the physical world. Whatever you might think of their work in the end, Taran and Forte’s performances are measureless. Their craft is impeccable. Their future is blinding. This review first ran in December, 2012. The performance and film fusion of “Imaginarium Life” returns to the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach from March 15-17, at 9:00 p.m.: tickets range from $15- $17.