By way of an update on what is to be found beyond the walls of Beijing’s galleries: Chronicles, directed by Roman Gabria of Gabria Visual Theatre troupe in St. Petersburg, brought a striking performance to Beijing’s Russian Cultural Centre at the beginning of this month. Little known outside Russia and barely in translation, it’s not easy to find out about this small troupe, which often consists only of Roman Gabria himself. Opened last year, the Russian Cultural Centre has been slowly but surely upping and diversifying its displays, and is now a downtown venue to bookmark for art, classical music, and now art-related performances.
Chronicles was an hour-long monodrama tightly performed by the young Sergey Agafonov. To watch this show of visual theatre – lying somewhere between theatre and performance art - without any background presented no issue. Above a newsprint-papered backing loomed a huge digital timer counting up the time lapse of the performance. Against its solemn, numerical countenance unfolded a variety of actions based on the daily experience of Beijing’s street life, with which the directors had recently come into contact. Agafonov moved with an energy at once amusing, skilful and ironic.
The actions he performed, newly infused with dance and theatrical expressiveness, included answering the phone, reading the newspaper, spray painting, driving through the rain and putting on a shirt. All were executed with a renewed performative vitality that exceeded, but also built on, that of banal quotidian movements. Answering the phone, for example, was a particularly entertaining vignette, in which he contorted his body, robot like and as if knocked aside by the impact of the voice speaking through the device.
Thus, Chronicles provided a brief and refreshing take on Beijing’s clogged streets and myriad human movements. As the clocked ticked its last, one was left with the imagery of an apt visual and physical response to the energy and ennui that characterizes contemporary urban landscapes, not least Beijing.
~ Iona Whittaker
(All images Courtesy of the Gabria Visual Theatre Troupe)