William Kentridge’s mural, Triumphs and Laments, in Rome became the city’s biggest contemporary art work and is also Kentridge’s largest public work. The 550m stretch of black and white images was unveiled on 21 April 2016. It was commissioned to mark the anniversary of Rome’s founding in 753BC.
The mural’s inauguration was celebrated by a series of performances using shadow play — a technique strongly associated with Kentridge’s graphic style — and accompanied by music written by his long-time collaborator, and fellow South African, the composer Philip Miller. Miller involved 40 musicians, from Italy and South Africa, to form two processional marching bands, who played moving along the half-a-kilometre stretch of the mural on the right bank of the river Tiber.
Gramilano has been keeping his ear cocked for Kentridge news since the extraordinary Die Zauberflöte at La Scala in 2011, when his animations dominated the production, with their swirling white patterns and images illuminating the theatre’s giant stage.
Zackary Woolfe’s New York Times review of Kentridge’s ‘trimphant’ Wozzeck in Salzburg last August (which is coming to the Met) says,
For those who were dizzied by the artist William Kentridge’s frenetic productions of The Nose and Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera, he starts his extraordinary new Wozzeck with a self-deprecating joke. As the opera opens, the title character, a cruelly exploited soldier who murders his lover in a fit of jealousy, is screening a very Kentridge kind of animated film: jittery black-and-white drawings, surreal juxtapositions and swiftly flowing images.
“Slowly, Wozzeck, slowly!” the bullying Captain shouts at him, watching the footage. “One thing at a time. You make me quite giddy.”
This was precisely a criticism levelled at his Magic Flute by a Milanese critic. Yet Kentridge’s vision wins out. As Woolfe noted about the Salzburg performance,
But for all its antic fancifulness, this is also the truest, least over-the-top Wozzeck I’ve seen.
An interview, two questions and a sea of transience…
An encounter with Kentridge and his remarkable mural opens a short film by Luisa Mariani who, with Giovanni Pirri, is also co-author of the screenplay: Flussi e Riflussi (“Ebb and Flow”). Shooting took place a few days ago on a Tiber riverboat and in front of Kentridge’s monumental frieze depicting the history of the city.
The impermanence of memory is the underlying theme of a journey through the emotions of second-generation Italians, played by youths of Chinese and Egyptian descent. Notable Italian actors ‘of a certain age’ Maria Monti, Mario Valdemarin and Violetta Chiarini (“The Actress of the River”) are joined by director Mariani and Michael and Marina Barranger (the “Greek Chorus of Reminiscence”).
The theme of identity also flows in and mingles with those of multiethnicity and migration. Young Anglo-Italian actor Simon d’Aquino, who has just finished shooting Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime in the UK, flew in from London to play himself, a bilingual thespian of dual heritage.
Mexican actors Luis Miguel López and David Venegas Norzagaray from Guadalajara recount, in words and song, the significance of memory for the Hispanic peoples.
To an original soundtrack by Paolo Rozzi, the plot is fanciful and mysterious, based on the fear of losing one’s identity and on the thousand facets of memory.
To what lengths can human beings go in order to prevent their histories and stories going adrift with the tide?
Is Time a ferry towards transformation?
Photos of William Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments in Rome, © Sandro Lombardo
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.