It was not an easy place, but Angélica Liddell showed up without a flagger, dodged almost all the goring and managed to leave through the front door. The Spanish director premiered her new show at the Avignon Festival, Love death, that “death of love” with which Wagner titled the end of his opera Tristan and Isolde, which Liddell also makes sound in this unclassifiable work, a story of its roots and its depths that he swore was inspired by the biography of Juan Belmonte signed by Manuel Chaves Nogales. Expect something like a biopic of the bullfighter was to misunderstand the recent evolution of Liddell’s dramaturgy, increasingly complex and even unintelligible, which ignores Aristotelian rules and social consensuses, and even thrives on the rejection of others, with antagonism as everlasting aesthetic and moral posture.
Even so, the shadow of the poet and suicidal bullfighter can be seen everywhere in this performance, welcomed with an ovation at the beginning of the 75th edition of the festival that elevated it in 2010 with The house of strength, breaking with years of contempt and marginality in the Spanish scene and when he was about to throw in the towel. In the figure of Belmonte, Liddell found, he assures, a twin. “When reading the book by Chaves Nogales, I realized that it said things that I could have signed in my own handwriting, phrases that had rolled in my mouth like an ancient language. For example, that you fight as you are and that you fight as you love ”, he said yesterday in his little two-star hotel in Avignon, the place where Liddell stays by his own decision in a frugal room, almost like in those times. in which he attended this festival with a false press card and dined on cold sausages in his hostel in the suburbs.
Delivering the fighting bull from death is like blaspheming. It is a blasphemy against beauty and and against the sacred
Liddell has never seen a bullfight – and neither did Chaves Nogales – which does not prevent him from admiring them. “Bullfighting goes beyond that, it belongs to the world of poetry. The ethical debate does not interest me. Society is so infantilized that it is unable to cope with the beauty of ritual. For me, freeing the fighting bull from death is like blaspheming, it is a blasphemy against beauty and against the sacred ”, he assures. The director protests against an artistic world “obsessed with duty, to please all social groups.” “This naive society of what is correct and rights borders on idiocy, as the great Javier Marías says. We are heading towards a prohibitionist, hygienic and puritanical society, without any edge. We are depriving the human of its black part, of its part at night ”. Faced with this “scourge”, Lidell advocates a theater converted “into the last bastion of transgression.”
Its function gives a new example of this. At five in the afternoon, as in the cry of Lorca by the bullfighter Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, he begins his work at the Avignon Opera, a provisional shed on the outskirts of the city of the Popes erected while restoring its historic headquarters located in the center. It starts with Liddell in strict black, pouring himself a glass of red and mutilating his shins, phalanges, and crotch. A habitual tic in his theater to which he now returns in this work, commissioned by another enfant terrible like Milo Rau for the National Theater in Ghent, and a symbolic scarification that translates “the spiritual risks” that she takes on stage. During rehearsals, Liddell watched countless videos of Jean Rouch, the ethnological film pioneer who filmed animist rituals in Africa. “Subjecting the body to physical alterations allows you to jump into a trance. I could say that they are my teachers ”, ironizes the director, who makes a nod to those cultures, even at the pace of paso doble and dressed in a bullfighting costume, in a tremendous final stretch.
“When I fall in love I am in danger of death. The most dangerous thing that can happen to me in life is to fall in love “
Love death bears the subtitle of The smell of blood does not leave my eyes, phrase inspired by a quote by Francis Bacon, whose haggard gaze also bursts onto the stage, in the overloaded set of references that Liddell usually proposes to the viewer. The work was due to premiere in the 2020 edition, which was suspended due to the pandemic. Liddell did not live it with frustration: this long gestation of two years allowed his text to circulate in other directions, which he believes have enriched the result. “What I was missing broke in, which was falling in love. If it had been released a year earlier, it would not have been toured by the same force. There would be no savagery, tragedy and pain that love implies. The work has changed 100%, ”says Liddell, who in 2021 has come out of a media fast in which he had been involved for five years, a period of depression and mourning for the death of his parents in which he did not grant a single interview. Although this apparent happiness has, as almost always in it, a bitter reverse. “When I fall in love I am in danger of death, as Emmanuel Carrère says in Yoga. The most dangerous thing that can happen to me in life is to fall in love, ”says Liddell, who lives waiting to be left, subjected to the incessant terror of loving and not being reciprocated.
We are heading towards a prohibitionist, hygienic and puritan society, without any edge
While hanging from the horns of an inert bull to which he recites phrases from Cioran or perrea With sevillanas from Los Marismeños as a backdrop, Liddell establishes a parallel between bullfighting and theater. “In case those idiots are unable to understand it, tell them that bullfighting is a spiritual exercise,” reads his first sentence.
He wanders on the tables lamenting a terrible love affair, before embarking on a stand-up tremendousist during which, microphone in hand, he pronounces insults left and right. Against his admirers, “fools, women and fags” who fill the wastebaskets of his hotel rooms with their letters full of those compliments that he so abhors. Against actresses, “more pigs than whores, because they don’t cheat.” Against Me Too, as he already did in his work The Scarlet Letter: “The actors should be directed with a whip. So much denunciation and so much host… ”. Against France, where “16-year-olds demonstrate for their pensions”, a society that disgusts him for its elitism, its desecration and its strikes. The most admirable thing is that the task ended with cheers, perhaps because no one takes a worse part than herself in this cast of bosses: “Who will go and collect your ashes? You are already an old whore and you have not gotten anyone to love you. You are here to seek the love of these strangers. You are working in this theater because nobody loves you in the real world ”. He confirms it in the interview, by way of conclusion: “My bull is not the public, but the stage itself.”