Choreography of Violence

Feature in Issue 12-4 | Winter 2000

For the past three years the Catalan town of Reus has hosted the COS International Festival of Mime and Gestural Theatre. For ten days in November the festival programmes a selection of widely differing physical theatre productions. Anne Dennis reports.

he site of the up-and-coming COS International Festival of Mime and Gestural Theatre (Festival de Mim i Teatre Gestual de Reus) is Reus, Spain; a fashionable, yet unhurried, Catalan town that boasts a long his. tory of cultural activity, supported by its agricultural and trading wealth. It is a superb site for a theatre festival. Recently, two glorious fin de siècle theatres have been renovated and the entire town centre has been turned into a pedestrian-only area of cafés, shops and plazas. all enhancing the town's modemist architecture,

The Reus public enthusiastically receive the festival, which is now in its third year. Because of its manageable size, real communication is possible between participating companies (both international and Catalan) and the town's various spaces and cultural facilities - its schools, museums and theatres; and between students of physical theatre from Barcelona's Institut del Teatre and local street artists, etc..

The festival is thematic. The theme of this year's festival was Stage Combat. Lluis Graells, COS 2000's artistic director, explained that the objective was to demonstrate and explore the art of the choreography of violence'. Along with the theatre performances there were lecturedemonstrations by fight directors from Paris and London, and demonstrations in the street of theatrical fencing, Butoh and Capoeira. A short course for the "Gestus' students at the Institut del Teatre in Barcelona was given by British fight director Richard Ryan. (This group of students was at the festival reworking their masked version of Gelderode's The Blind, in collaboration with the Reus musical ensemble Simfin.) The city's museum presented an exhibition of photos, costumes, theatrical weapons, props, etc., entitled "Fight and Theatre'. Most of the productions addressed the theme in some way.

The festival opened with Swiss company Mummenshanz performing Next and closed with Yllana's new Rock and Clown. There was a balance of companies - big and small, established and emerging, young and old. Certain companies, whose work directly complimented the theme, seemed to point the way forward. I think specifically of Derevo's Once, Baubo Teatre Moviment's Combatimento, Centre Dramàtic del Vallès' El Baró i La Leprosa (The Baron and the Leper) and a clown version of Genet's The Maids by Reus's own Natural Clown Killers. Avner The Eccentric (USA) was there, cropping up everywhere: like Chaplin, one just never wants him to stop.

Catalonia has a well-known tradition of physical theatre, with companies like Commediants, La Fura dels Baus and Tricycle (to name a few). There is now a new generation of actors appearing on the physical theatre scene, many coming out of the 'Gestus department of the Institut del Teatre. They are very distinctive, highly skilled and are experimenting with a vast range of performance possibilities. It is impossible to categorise their work: Clown? Dance Theatre? Pantomime? Street Art? One can only say that they are very open to dramatic risk.

In the future, I should like to see the use of the festival's theme expanded; leading to further discussion and comment around what has been seen, represented and understood within the structure of the event. For example, this year the subject of human conflict in dramatic context could have been examined with more depth.

The next COS Festival will take place in Reus in November 2001. The main focus of the festival is All Saints Day (November 1st), when the streets are gven up to popular Catalan theatre: dragons, devils and fireworks. The theme of thw 2001 festival will be Pantomime. When I tried to push Luis Graells for a hint of what he has up his sleeve, he answered, That is for the actors to discuss and define'. When I suggested that surely this was a question of history, culture and language, he smiled wryly. I think he is inviting a polemic!

For further information on COS 2001 contact Luis Graells, Artistic Director, IMAC, Carrer de San Joan 27, 43201 Reus, Catalonia, Spain. e-mail: