Remember the times when you would lay in bed and your mother would tell you the stories of a prince saving the princess from the tower of doom? Well, this isn’t the time to forget them; rather it’s the time for “The Andersen Project: Ex Machina” to strike the Ann Arbor stage with its fusion of two classic children’s tales and a modern narrative.
The Andersen Project: Ex Machina
Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Highly acclaimed director and writer Robert Lepage’s “The Andersen Project” is a collaboration with Lepage’s own company Ex Machina. The performance is a one-man show played by actor Yves Jacques, portraying a Canadian writer who travels to Paris, where he is employed to write the libretto for an opera composed of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales. On his journey, the writer meets a janitor and a dog, who play significant roles in his experience.
The name Andersen in the title of the performance refers to Hans Christian Andersen, the writer of traditional folk tales. His two stories, “The Dryad” and “The Shadow,” provide the narrative material for this production.
“The Dryad” tells the story of a spirit living in a tree and its dream to live in Paris, an ambition eventually leading to its ruin. The other story, “The Shadow,” is dark and foreboding, recounting the experiences of a man separated from his shadow. Both of these tales are not the flowery Disney stories we all saw when we were younger, but rather delve into deeper questions, such as the nature of longing and the events that occur when those wishes are answered.
Intertextuality is an element of Lepage’s work. There are layers of references invoked throughout his milieu of productions. Therefore, a keen eye may be essential to viewing his work.
“He often has fairy tales or partial plot lines or song lines or a symphonic cycle,” said English Prof. Linda Gregerson. “You have multi-narrative threads or psychological threads or complicated collage structures going on. He is really good at very fluid movements among different levels. (Also,) the performers are very good at shape-shifting, taking on multiple personae and being quite astonishing in transitioning from one another.”
Gregerson explained that when Lepage’s work features a lone performer, there is never a loss of expansive range. His single-performer productions are not narrowing, but rather have a feeling of enlargement. In this way, Lepage can focus on and sharpen certain elements, therefore guiding the audience’s attention to those poignant images.
“He’s like Steven Spielberg at his best,” Gregerson said. “He knows the wisdom and the formal power of the childlike imagination. He’s never contemptuous of … relatively naïve storytelling. He understands how powerful that can be. You can be much more passive in film, there’s a way in which it’s so wrapped up before it gets to you, but live performances never die, it needs the viewer. Lepage absolutely gets that.”
Additionally, part of Lepage’s skill is his ability to make the audience feel invited to the production, something that may be the key to his work’s success.
“There’s a foundational joy in the performative that informs his work,” Gregerson said. “You would think that goes without saying, but in fact joy, is something that way too often goes missing in stage work. Someone who keeps it so central is someone to be really grateful for.”