Artistic complexity in Simplicity

Students from the Intercultural Theatre Institute during a rehearsal for the theatre production Simplicity.
Students from the Intercultural Theatre Institute during a rehearsal for the theatre production Simplicity. PHOTOS: INTERCULTURAL THEATRE INSTITUTE

Theatre means freedom of expression for Argentine director and seven students from Intercultural Theatre Institute

Theatre director Guillermo Angelelli survived Argentina's infamous Dirty War of 1976 to 1983, when thousands died or disappeared under a military dictatorship. When the country returned to civilian rule, he found freedom in clowning and street theatre.

"You could not find theatre in the streets because meeting in the streets was forbidden. We were coming from a very, very bad period and clowning was like a deep breath of air," says the 55-year-old bachelor.

He is in Singapore to direct one of three shows put on this year by the graduating class of the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI).

The independent arts school offers a practice-based three-year course for students. Simplicity, running from today to Saturday at the Drama Centre Black Box, is devised by Angelelli with the seven student- performers he has worked with during two previous trips here.

Simplicity is inspired by a poem of the same title written by the acclaimed Argentine writer of surreal fiction, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges was a pioneer of magic realism and has influenced both philosophers and writers of fantasy fiction. He went blind in his 50s and Simplicity tells the relationship between a blind writer and his wife.


Guillermo Angelelli.

"Borges means so much to me. I've taken a lot of inspiration from his writings," says Angelelli, who encountered the writer in his late teens. "The fact that he was blind added to his way of looking at the world."

Angelelli fell in love with theatre in primary school in Buenos Aires when his grandmother hand-made his costumes and took him to rehearsals.

  • BOOKIT / SIMPLICITY

  • WHERE: 100 Victoria Street, National Library Building, Drama Centre Black Box, Level 5

    WHEN: Today and tomorrow, 8pm; Saturday,3and8pm

    ADMISSION: Tickets at $25 from simplicity.peatix.com

His mother, an administrator, was busy with work. His father, who worked in an independent theatre company, left home when Angelelli was very young.

Bucking his mother's disapproval, he trained at the National School of Dramatic Arts in Buenos Aires and in 1984 co-founded clown troupe El Clu del Claun, which made its name with alternative, non-traditional work.

Angelelli specialises in clowning, physical theatre and vocal training. Since 1986, he has worked closely with Denmark's Iben Nagel Rasmussen, also known for her independent and self-generated work, and is a member of her Bridge Of Winds project, which brings together artists from Latin America and Europe every year to develop new projects.

Encouraging students to develop new work is key to Angelelli's training. So for Simplicity, each student-performer built on the text of the poem, improvising sketches that often incorporated their own personal stories.

Of the seven students aged 21 to 35, one is from Brazil, one from Hong Kong, two from India and three from Singapore, which leads to an interesting mix.

Singaporean student Elizabeth Sergeant Tan, 23, used a Balinese mask depicting the moon to build her character. The mask comes from the collection of her mother, the late director Christina Sergeant.

The actress says she drew comfort from looking at the moon after her mother died of a heart attack in 2013.

"The mask reminds me of her, the blue eyes and the features," she says. "Now I'm bringing it all together in this performance."

S. Ramassamy, from Puducherry in India, will sing a Tamil folk song about a trapped bird, as well as demonstrate movements from the martial art Kalaripayattu.

The 31-year-old has a master's in performing arts in theatre and drama from Pondicherry University, but says the course has been eye- opening.

"I'm not just learning about different cultures, I'm also learning about my own culture. What does it mean to me? What is my identity?"

Director and performers emphasise that Simplicity is an ensemble piece, a production with structure.

Tan says: "Guillermo is the first teacher we've had who has been so stringent about this. 'If you're not able to repeat what you did, then you did it mindlessly,' he says."

For Ramassamy, Angelelli's practice and the connections forged with other students during the creation of Simplicity have been invaluable. He hopes to similarly encourage bonding and self-expression through his own Velippadai Theatre Movement in the village of Kuruvinatham.

"In this contemporary world, we need space to share. We're so busy in our lifestyles that even in the same house, brother won't talk to brother. Theatre provides that space for us to open up," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Artistic complexity in Simplicity'. Print Edition | Subscribe