Academic journal article TheatreForum

Kristian Smeds's Countergeographies of Theatre

Academic journal article TheatreForum

Kristian Smeds's Countergeographies of Theatre

Article excerpt

Meticulously conceived and executed, episodic and imagistic, raw and wild, carnivalesque and ritualistic, whether "exploding" screened images of contemporary politicians or concentrating the dark passion of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment into an intimate monologue for Sonja, Finnish director Kristian Smeds's (b. 1970) associative, multi-layered mise en scène articulates a philosophical interrogation of the spectator's "capacity to liberate himself, and to realize his potentialities" (Fromm vi), motivating a spiritual quest for human dignity and solidarity. Awarded the XII Europe Prize New Theatrical Realities in 2011, Smeds enforces a critical attention to the interplay between theatrical and social processes, the excess of many of his stage productions providing the means to reflect on forms of individual and social conformity, constraint, and oppression. Subverting the petrified expectation of a theatrical status quo, and generating performance that refigures the theatrical spectator as a social agent, Smeds's theatre is a resolute, often iconoclastic, protest against the alienation of contemporary neoliberal society, dramatizing the audience's implication in the mutual action of theatre, history, and cultural politics.

Smeds relates himself to theatre makers and theoreticians such as Grotowski, Kantor, and Brecht, and on the contemporary side, to Frank Castorf, to the Lithuanian Eimuntas Nekrosius, and to the Finnish directors Jouko Turkka and Esa Kirkkopelto (see Ruuskanen and Smeds). Leaving the Helsinki Theatre Academy in 1995, Smeds founded the Takomo Theatre in the Finnish capital, which quickly gained a reputation for using performance to deconstruct the relations between the audience, aesthetics, and power. As director of the Kajaani City Theatre (2001-2004) in a remote corner of northern Finland, Smeds's provocative productions of his own Huutavan ääni korvessa (A Cry in the Wilderness, 2001), Buchner's Woyzeck (2003), and Chekhov's Three Sisters (2004) drew national debate and international acclaim. Here, Smeds also began working with video artist Ville Hyvönen, who - with producer Eeva Bergroth - became the Smeds Ensemble in 2007 (see Developing what was at that time in Finland an innovative model for a theatre company, Smeds, Hyvönen, and Bergroth operate as a mobile international artistic collective without its own venue or actors. The Smeds Ensemble neither imports nor exports; the location and the timing of each theatrical work are at their disposal-Smeds prefers a long, exploratory rehearsal period-and the material conditions of each project determine its theme and aesthetic (Moring). Smeds and the Ensemble have a history of working in Estonia, and continue to collaborate with Baltic artists and theatre institutions.

Smeds's statement for the 2007 premiere of Tuntematon sotilas, (The Unknown Soldier), at the Finnish National Theatre underlines his commitment to unsettling the spectator's comfortable privilege. The astringent lines introduce his theatre as well, a theatre that reframes and resists both the icons of history and the contemporary politics of consent:

This performance does not seek peace.

This performance does not seek consensus.

This performance does not worship icons.

This performance does not seek acceptance.

This performance does not seek to be a shared experience.

This performance does not seek to be politically correct.

This performance does not seek to be a patriotic victory parade.

Smeds's The Unknown Soldier was informed by two modern Finnish epics, Edvin Laine's patriotic 1955 film, and the rather more pacifist and therefore controversial 1954 novel of the same name by Väinö Linna from which the film is adapted. Together, they narrate Finland's complex World War II history during the period after the Winter War (1939-40), when Finnish soldiers, allies now of the Third Reich in the so-called Continuation War (1941-44), seized back Finland's eastern Karelian border and further invaded the western areas of the Soviet Union. …

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