Between but not wandering : spiritual space and contradiction in Robert Lepage and Ex Machina's ' Seven Streams of the River Ota '

Reynolds, James (2016) Between but not wandering : spiritual space and contradiction in Robert Lepage and Ex Machina's ' Seven Streams of the River Ota '. In: IFTR 2016 : Presenting the Theatrical Past; 13 - 17 Jun 2016, Stockholm, Sweden. (Unpublished)

Full text not available from this archive.


Robert Lepage's Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994-1997) appealed to the spiritual-aesthetic traditions of Zen Buddhism, in order to describe responses to 20th-century crises ranging from HIV to Hiroshima. Japanese Zen, and its reflections in the aesthetic of wabi-sabi, thus provided Ota with a spiritualaesthetic resource – a rich seam of concepts and concrete objects to mine and transform into striking images, near-empty spaces and narratives. At this vital stage in Lepage's career, therefore, the aesthetic values and spiritual beliefs of Zen – appertaining to form and emptiness, space, and contradiction – began to saturate his work, initiating a performative re-creation of tradition that Lepage readily confirms continues to the present day. This paper explores Ota, and other of Lepage’s subsequent devised theatre pieces, in order to demonstrate that both Zen’s traditional spatial precepts, and its embrace of contradiction, are core to Lepage’s method of theatre creation, as well as his performance aesthetic. Consequently, I argue that a positive engagement with social, cultural and political difference underpins the inter-disciplinary eclecticism that inevitably emerges in staging contradiction, along with a drive to create performances capable of negotiating international, and multiple, traditions of belief. In pursuing this argument, I weigh the value of apprehending difference against the critical problem of Orientalism typically produced when "West meets East". My contention here is that Lepage’s deployment of forms in contradistinction does not activate a simplistic binary, but rather creates and makes present in performance a contemplative, liminal and spiritual 'between' – effectively, a Zen space – mediated into a rewarding and relevant experience available to a wide audience. Lepage’s performances of spiritual tradition thus present a positive cultural principle – paralleling the effects of encountering cultural differences in reality, offering emotional depth and insight, and producing a forward-looking perspective.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Event Title: IFTR 2016 : Presenting the Theatrical Past
Organising Body: International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR)
Research Area: Drama, dance and performing arts
Faculty, School or Research Centre: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (until 2017) > School of Performance and Screen Studies
Depositing User: James Reynolds
Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2017 10:40
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2017 10:40

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page