Chile: European drama pulls in the crowds

Article published on March 26, 2007
Article published on March 26, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

On January 25, residents of Santiago de Chile came across two buses that had, apparently, crashed opposite La Moneda Palace, home of the government

Although some believed there had been an accident, the truth was even more improbable: a giant rhinoceros was destroying everything in its path and had hidden somewhere in the city. A Giant Little Girl had gone to find it: devastation guaranteed.

Such was the plot of the street theatre performance The Hidden Rhino(pictured), a production by the French theatre company Royal de Luxe during Santiago's fourteenth International Theatre Festival (Santiago a Mil Festival). For one weekend, everyone living in the Chilean capital celebrated the most important theatre festival in Chile. Of its thirty productions, the greatest interest was in those from Europe. On this occasion, the festival organisers chose not to have one particular foreign country as guest of honour, but instead chose four large-scale European productions: the aforementioned Rhino, Masurca Fogo by German choreographer Pina Bausch, and two productions from Englishman Peter Brook, considered the world’s best theatre director; 'Sizwe Banzi is Dead' (Sizwe Banzi est Mort), and The Grand Inquisitor.

'Having those two (Pina Bausch and Peter Brook) here together, as well as Royal de Luxe, is a luxury that any festival in the world would love,' said Carmen Romero, festival director, in the Chilean magazine, Cosas. 'What’s more, it’s fairly expensive, as with all luxuries: a million Euros. Something that forced us to sacrifice other very interesting foreign productions,' she added.

700,000 people in the street

Some 8,500 people saw Bausch and Brook’s productions, making them the most successful foreign productions showing during the festival. The first to receive applause was Bausch, with her Masurca Fogo. It's a physically expressive piece which draws its influence from Lisbon, Cape Verde and the central European mazurkas. It was premiered at Lisbon's Expo '98, and also included in the Spanish hit film Talk to her (Hable con Ella) by Pedro Almodóvar. Peter Brook offered Sizwe Banzi is Dead, a drama about South African apartheid, and The Grand Inquisitor, the story of the ghostly apparition of Jesus Christ in Seville, written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. These productions, performed in French and English respectively, were enthusiastically received by the Chileans, thanks to the addition of subtitles.

The greatest attraction was the Royal de Luxe production, which brought the 'little giant' and her rhino out of Europe for the first time. For an entire weekend, The Hidden Rhino circled around the Chilean capital: the puppet passed several of the city’s main landmarks, had breakfast with the president, Michelle Bachelet, and drew 700,000 people out into the streets to watch her eat, sleep, walk and witness the rhino’s capture. Alain Bourdon, the cultural attaché of the French embassy in Chile which sponsored the Santiago a Mil Festival, revealed he was 'impatient to find out what we can do in 2008.'

The Giant Little Girl in action