Once again, Carolina Performing Arts has brought something rare and wonderful to the stage of Memorial Hall. La Verità, an extended physical poem on the nature of truth, performed by the Swiss Compagnia Finzi Pasca, completes the 2015-16 season. The program repeats April 28 before the company completes its first-ever American tour in New York and Philadelphia.
But what is it? Circus; movement theatre; clowning; cabaret; burlesque; slapstick; dance; music; puppetry, visual art; biography; dreaming? Yes, all of the above. Working outward and inward from (a replica) of a huge Salvador Dalí backdrop created for the Metropolitan Opera's 1944 production of Tristan and Isolde, known as "Tristan Fou," from its opening moment, La Verità probes at the meaning of truth, reality and actuality with a jaw-dropping combination of intellectualism, glorious physicality, mad humor and melancholy memory. This circus is not just for fun.
Some CPA patrons will remember Cirque Éloize, the last nouveau cirque to play here, and their ravishing 2007 performance, Rain. Several of the same creators are involved in La Verità, including writer and director Daniele Finzi Pasca. La Verità is darker than Rain, more complex, more self-conscious, and in places ugly and difficult to watch. But as an emcee character says during one of the many spoken interludes between acrobatic segments, "Sometimes things look ugly but are not ugly, they are contemporary."
Due to the performers' various accents and the acoustics of the hall, much of the verbal content was lost on me, which was annoying, but the visuals and actions were so clear, that those gaps didn't really lessen comprehension. The show opens with its back to us (the truth of backstage) when a dancer in silver shoes and a few white feathers, clearly running late for her cue, paws the silver curtains in a frenzy of irritation, trying to find the opening so that she could join her colleagues – for a fan dance! What a great opening statement. La Verità – the naked body of truth – flirtatiously hidden and coyly revealed in a burlesque of its own seriousness. If we are attentive, we get a glimpse.
And if we keep looking closely, we get many views, angles, versions. "Tristan Fou," like all of Dalí, relies on strange deformities and puzzling symbology to nudge our understandings with the stick of mystification. As in other Surrealistic efforts, both this painting and this show depend upon the spark-inducing juxtaposition of things that hadn't ought to be together in the "real" world. The most wonderful collision here involves a woman playing, on a tray of water-filled glasses, Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, from The Nutcracker, while behind her looms the love-tormented couple, Tristan and Isolde (who is which?) kneeling in a desolate landscape.
La Verità includes many more such bizarre surprises, but let's not forget about the wondrous circus acts, the beautiful feats of the body that reveal their own truths of strength, balance and agility, not to mention nerve. The strong man who holds a woman aloft on one palm, for instance, or acrobats on roller skates, or the lithe gymnasts twining themselves through a trio of suspended double helices – all these tell of the thrill of dangerous love that is in our very DNA. One scene shows a white world, populated with huge dandelion heads on tall stalks, in which an aerialist climbs aloft on and binds himself with two blood-red straps, his hair flowing down like one of Dalí's slippery, melting trompe l'oeils, spoke silently of sex and passion and longing. When black-clad puppeteers entered with the mournful marionette of a tiny woman, we were plunged into a complex consideration of freedom. The "woman" is controlled; the man appears free to act – but he is bound, by his own actions.
There is more, much more – fabulous, glittering hats, innumerable costumes, a Loie Fuller-style dancer, beautiful music, great lighting, flamenco can-can dancing, a bullfighter on crutches, rhinoceros masks. There is a most amazing rolling "wheel" that is a cutaway sphere, its shapes like great curved blades, within which the gymnasts stretch and roll – and roll over those who've dropped to the floor in a nerve-wracking series of near-misses. La Verità is a tumultuous parade of indelible images, provocative and demanding, just like the truth.
This extraordinary event repeats tonight, April 28. See our sidebar for details.