Moulin Rouge | Dance | Theater as therapy | Music spotlight

The "Opéra Panique" family
courtesy of MC93 Bobigny / Alberto Garcia Alix
Theater as therapy
by Molly Grogan

Opéra Panique & Le Concert Incroyable

If the artistic process can be compared to a journey, the metaphor falls short of capturing the voyages both real and metaphysical undertaken by two artists performing in Paris this month: the director/filmmaker/cartoonist Alejandro Jodorowsky and the marionettist Philippe Genty. World travelers on an endless search for meaning, Jodorowsky and Genty walk a fine line between theater and therapy, in works that investigate the hidden reaches of human spirituality and psychology. New shows find these visionaries returning “home,” with surprising results: in “Opéra Panique,” Jodorowsky examines human relations in the intimacy of his own clan, while “Le Concert Incroyable” takes audiences on a unique visit to our family of man.
Ever since his birth to Russian parents living in Chili, the enigmatic Jodorowsky has defied definition. His life has been an exploration of boundaries and genres, as a clown and pioneer of avant-garde theater in Chili in the 1950s, as a mime with Marcel Marceau in the 1960s, as a maker of cult films like “El Topo” and “La Montagne Sacrée” in Mexico in the 1970s, later as the author of the cartoon series “L’Incal” and most recently as the animator in Paris of informal tarot readings and lectures known as the “cabaret mystique.” A thread runs through these many paths: an irresistible quest for self-revelation that has taken this seeker of life’s most vibrant forces to the edge of existence itself.
On the theater scene, this search led Jodorowsky to create “happenings” with the director Fernando Arrabal and the cartoonist Roland Topor. These extremely violent shows were meant to release destructive energies in order to arrive at sustained peace and beauty. The group called itself the Mouvement Panique, inspired by Pan, the Greek god of fertility whose nighttime noises caused “panic” in the hearts of travelers. However, Jodorowsky’s interest in theater as catharsis began earlier, with his discovery in Mexico of “psycho-magic” at the hands of a sorceress cum performance artist who operated on him before a live audience with a knife and scissors before sealing the wound without a stitch. The power of art to provoke a spiritual transformation has since been a guiding principle of his work, though the Panique happenings ended after a particularly intense one left Jodorowsky feeling both purified and glad to be alive.
Marking the return to the theater of this infinitely curious adventurer, “Opéra Panique” takes up the ideas of the movement’s work, with a more easily accessible poetry. Twenty scenes exaggerating life’s little rituals look at the relationship between the individual and his social environment. The study begins at home in “Opéra Panique”: sons Adan, Brontis and Cristobol and their spouses, all actors and actresses, form the cast. The fruit of Jodorowsky’s long-standing desire to work on stage with his multi-talented family, the show provides a more intimate look at the on-going investigation of theater’s therapeutic powers by this artistic visionary.
For Philippe Genty, theater is again a kind of cure, but in his case it orders the chaos churned up by paranoid schizophrenia. Marionettes, which he discovered in their diverse forms during a solo car trip around the world in 1961 to help him recover his sense of self, proved the key to his improved mental health. Puppets and multiple personalities have informed his work ever since, in mystifying shows like “Ne m'oublie pas” (1994) and “Passagers clandestins” (1996), where marionettes both life-sized and miniature led the way through mind-boggling tales.
Tirelessly exploring human identity, Genty ventures about as far back as one can in his latest show, all the way to the origins of the species. “Le Concert Incroyable,” custom-made for the Evolution wing of the Natural History Museum, traces the progress through the centuries of the animal kingdom and particularly of that most dangerous of animals: man. It unrolls as a caravan trip across time and hostile landscapes that ends in the world of the Web and our modern urban existence, a voyage made possible by the latest in light and image technology, actors, musicians and a 40-person choir which all manage to rub shoulders with the gallery’s exquisite collection without disturbing a single vertebra. Celebrating the wonder of life on Earth, Genty’s newest creation recounts the most essential journey yet, of the development of consciousness and now the challenges to it in the Third Millennium. A fantastic feast for the senses, each performance is also a subtle reminder that we may have Internet working for us; we’re still just dinosaurs in waiting for whoever or whatever lies ahead.
“Opéra Panique,”to May 20, Wed-Sat 8:30pm, Sun 3:30pm, MC93 Bobigny, 1 bd Lénine, 93000 Bobigny, M° Bobigny Pablo Picasso, 50-140F, tel: 01 41 60 72 72
“Le Concert Incroyable,” to May 28, Wed-Mon 9pm, Grande Galerie de l’Evolution, 36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 5e, M° Censier-Daubenton, 100F/80F, tel: 01 40 79 48 36