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  • Writer's pictureBrecht Hermans

Review UrbanMag

Bart Magnus wrote a review about Dood in Venetië for UrbanMag.

About death and love

Cie Hatsjie is a promising young theater company from Hasselt. Both actors and director are in their early twenties and throw their hearts and souls into the theater, just because they like to do it. Because they want to give something to the public and also get something out of it for themselves. So amateurs, even though many would disagree after Dood in Venetië - based on the book and film by Thomas Mann and Luchino Visconti respectively. Amateur theater also deserves attention every now and then, and that doesn't have to be out of pity. After all, productions like this are simply worth discussing, if only because we will hopefully hear from some of them in the future.

Brecht Hermans, a theater studies student in Ghent, is experiencing his actual directorial debut with this self-written Death in Venice. You wouldn't give it to him if, five minutes before the start of the performance, he casually jokes and growls across the foyer with a bucket (which is actually a prop and therefore has yet to be placed on stage). Not a gram of nerves, just a bomb of enthusiasm and fun. As with the entire cast, by the way…

The beginning of the piece is closely paralleled with the film of the same name by Luchino Visconti. The opening scene of the aging man on the boat to foggy Venice is evoked in full and verbally, in a way that is very recognizable to those who have seen the film. This man, just as author Thomas Mann also writes in his book, wants to take a three-week vacation in Venice and then return and start the last chapter of his book. However, the character of this older man is immediately abandoned in the performance. Film and book turn out to be mere fertile starting points.

Cie Hatsjie brings from that moment on a Death in Venicethat is no longer about homoerotic desires for the perfect beauty, as was the case with both Thomas Mann and Visconti. Brecht Hermans and his actors branch the common thread of Visconti and Mann into a much more universal network: seen in a broader perspective, this Death in Venice is about the destructive power of the fall called love, in which man so easily enticed by beauty. Destructive, because love in itself is extremely destructive, especially in hot Venice. An epidemic, like the one in the movie, isn't even necessary. After all, love itself demands enough victims.

Lust, on the other hand, is safer. Tadzio, an attractive young Venetian, agrees with the incorporation of perfect male beauty. His lust yields him only stories, stories of individuals with whom he does not share the bed more than one night. That's all he wants. The stories he takes in through his sexual conquests feed him. The purpose of these stories is not to compile them into a book. With the stories that lust brings him, he will never write the last chapter, because there is never a last story. Out of a kind of survival strategy, Tadzio thus decides never to be seduced by love.

The first twenty minutes of the performance are quite confusing. Because there are several couples on stage and the event does not revolve around Tadzio and an admirer, it is initially very unclear who is who. After that, everything falls into place more or less. That may be a conscious choice, but due to the lack of any guidelines, it is made very difficult for the spectator in the beginning. Moreover, the sequel does not suggest any necessity or thorough motivation for this choice.

There is no real tension in Death in Venice, although we can replace it with an arc that shows the power of desire throughout the performance. This arc runs very nicely parallel to the sirocco that blows over Venice. A simple but striking choreography, accompanied by guitar music by and by Pieterjan Hermans, illustrates the seduction that accompanies this.

The most striking thing about this whole performance is without a doubt the wonderful acting. The entire cast is performing as one would expect from professionals, as if they had been doing nothing else for years. Cie Hatsjie adds a strong image as a group to that. The weak link that is quite common in amateur theater is absent here. Brecht Hermans' choice for a long improvisation period at the beginning of the rehearsal process combined with a fairly tight, fixed text towards the end bears fruit here: from the strong block that he and his actors have managed to forge, both the textually richer passages as the important expressive silences and glances come out very well. The sensual touches that this performance calls for are convincing, even the kiss is almost real.

Brecht Hermans' text is very balanced and balanced. The richness of some beautiful imagery is tapped at the beginning to reap its full meaning later in the piece. In one of the first scenes, for example, a character sees a mutilated pigeon in Venice: the animal has lost a toe. Later, the image of the dove is picked up as a metaphor for a lover. A woman who ran off with her sister's boyfriend accuses this sister of making a big mistake: she did not trim the pigeon's wings to keep it with her, but mutilated its toe. As a result, he could still fly and so, when things went wrong in love, he flew as far away from her as possible. At the same time he remained mutilated for life, mutilated by love.

Love is a strange beast. However, Tadzio is immune to it. Disfigured in legs and wings, he embodies perfect beauty. He is the dove that floats in St. Mark's Square, his legs nice and strong, proud and caressed in his vanity when the tourists offer him a breadcrumb. “I give you something, you give me something,” he says coolly to one of the women he wants to add to his palmares. A short-lived night, nothing more. Then the bird started flying.

Seen on Saturday, September 9, 2006 in the Belgium Arts Center in Hasselt

CREDITS Youth Theater Cie Hatsjie

Direction and text: Brecht Hermans

Actors: Inge Brauns, Anke Claassen, Christiaan Mommeyer, Dimitri Neefs, Peter Hendrikx, Elly van Eeghem

Coach: Bert Scholiers

Music: Pieterjan Hermans

Production support: arts center BELGIE

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