Reverse ghost busting – prick up your ears!

Lilia Mestre premiers ‘(g)hosts’ at Budafest in Kortrijk

Corpus 29 Nov 2007English

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“How much myth do we build into our experience of time?” The words are Don DeLillo’s, they reverberate in the theatre when a white curtain is drawn down-stage. How much myth do we allow into our lives? How much myth are we aware of? And which myths?

Referring to Avery Gordon's sociological study of haunting, André Lepecki approaches the ghostly as a critical agent at the borders of society's intelligibility, prompting a heightened awareness, an alternative sensorial mode: "Such capacity to experience what should not belong to experience proper should not be confused with any sort of hysteria or histrionics. It is just a mode of composing perception initiated by the ghostly." It is a suitable line in the programme sheet of (g)hosts, yet the Portuguese, Brussels-based choreographer Lilia Mestre doesn't shun embracing ‘improper' manifestations of the ghostly, that after all make up a major part of our cultural imagination. Not the pathological but the histrionic is what tempts her. We are in the theatre, after all. And indeed, what can actually be said or shown about that realm in which the ghostly is taken for what it is? Listen! (g)hosts is Mestre's most complex and radical work to date, a compelling exercise in reverse ghost busting.

Tuning in

The theatre is pitch black, nothing happens, apart from thoughts coursing through one's mind – will we ever stop hearing our own persistent voice? Yet, the stage is wrapped in silence. For a while, nothing happens. And then, we see a light flash probing the space and hear a voice calling out and getting ready for whatever will present itself. But still nothing happens. Or better: there is nothing to be seen, heard or revealed. For that, we will need more tuning in – to realize eventually that there is indeed nothing to be seen, heard or revealed, though on the way a great deal of illusions can be cherished, along with their deconstruction.

The prologue is not over yet. Some white presence is glowing in the dark. With the lights slowly raising, it becomes a set of lines, two figures, then two skeletons performing a mirror dance. It is a slow and contemplative dance, supported by a sound design that travels through time, evoking narratives of the ghostly, modernist music and science fiction. To end up front, lit and clear: we see two women (performers Lilia Mestre and Michel Yang) in black dresses, striped with white tape, which is taken off easily. Yes, we are in a theatre after all: what you see is nothing but histrionics – or? Still, the prologue has tuned us. It has invited us into a mirror dance with our own thoughts, travelling beyond the visual into an acoustic imaginary realm, guided by our ears.


Michel Yang announces a weekly radio show, dropping out into a possessed state while continuing her speech as if she were untouched, all this just to warn us that "maybe, this is not really something for you." She continues to list up the music used and the radio play that is to follow. All the ingredients are present, the construction is clear. But (g)hosts doesn't thrive upon an alleged transparency: though obviously mock, this doesn't prevent its histrionics from being profoundly weird and confusing. The performance keeps transforming, takes you on a trip through an effective sound dramaturgy (in collaboration with David Elchardus), that takes off as a ‘fifties radio show with Orson Welles' The Black Museum. But when and where the transformation actually happens – both on stage and in your perception – is never clear. The sound travels through the space, speech is mostly disconnected from the bodies enunciating it, granting the acoustic imaginary a central place.

We follow visited bodies, silent though their lips move. They are moved by energy fields, struck with tics and twitchings – merely as hints, the movement material is not central to (g)hosts, which never moves into a demonology reminiscent of Meg Stuart. These bodies are hosts, they have pricked up their antennas like radio-receivers. A small radio is being installed on stage, the radio show continues and is open for people to call in. More voices enter the theatre. The two performers now construct a deserted living room around the radio, to then deconstruct it in slow motion – not unlike a decaying memento mori still life. The scene is moving in its evocation and detailed delivery, absurd in its reverse ghost busting. When Mestre eventually unplugs the radio, the mock character of the scene once again becomes clear – although the sound has long travelled elsewhere and though we knew from the start that it was a pre-recorded radio programme anyway. But again, this deconstruction of the machinery isn't exactly soothing, as the transformations one can track cover up myriads of other events, experiences and memories one hosts. Tuned in and scanning an alternative sensorial realm, we'll always be late to track down the ghostly, yet in a theatre with other people we are inevitably also ahead of ourselves. The sound reminds us of our heteronomous subjectivity.


"How much myth do we build into our experience of time?" A white curtain is quivering and shimmering – yes, spooky, why not! (g)hosts spirals into the grotesque and is ready to celebrate it, propelled by lights and music one would expect at a party. Two masked clowns move jerkily in front of the curtain, ripping to pieces some major newspapers (such as Le Monde and the Financial Times) – strongholds and stakeholders of our all too humanist desire to have an encompassing and transparent view upon the world we live in. Myths, clotted and cluttered with our own desires. Yang takes off her clown mask, reminding us that we are still on air, finishes the show and makes us listen for a concluding 1'37" to Charles Bukowski – who happened to know wonderfully well where not to find himself. And then the theatre is plunged into blackness again.