Love, death and music

Despite the subject matter, ‘Translunar Paradise’ is not a morbid piece of theater.

Translunar parade (photo credit: Alex Brunner)
Translunar parade
(photo credit: Alex Brunner)
When it comes to universal concepts, it doesn’t get much more all-embracing than love and death. Add to that music and striking visual dynamics that transcend language and cultural barriers and you’ve got a definitively inclusive and communicative offering.
This, in a nutshell, is what the audiences of the London-based Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise performances will get at the Khan Theater on June 4 and 5. Translunar Paradise, part of this year’s Israel Festival program, tells the story of William, who is so distraught at the death of his beloved wife that he is willing to follow her to Paradise. The show is the brainchild of George Mann, who founded the theater company and serves as its co-artistic director together with Canadian Amy Nostbakken and 29-year-old Israeli actor Nir Paldi, who has been living in London for the past five years.
Paldi and Mann first met when the two studied at the Jacques Lecoq school of physical theater in Paris, which eventually led to Paldi’s relocation to the other side of the English Channel. “There were students from all over the world there,” Paldi recalls, “and I joined up with a bunch of English students. We got on well and I wanted to carry on collaborating with them.”
The collaboration has worked well to date, with five productions under the team’s belt that have been performed across the globe. The current show was first performed to great acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival last August, which opened the doors for its inclusion in this year’s Israel Festival.
“[Israel Festival artistic director] Moshe Kepten came to see the show in Edinburgh and he liked it,” explains Paldi, “and he was pleasantly surprised to discover I was Israeli.” Paldi says that he, Mann, and Nostbakken – who also studied at Jacques Lecoq – are highly influenced by the physical theater approach they learned in Paris. “We use the dynamics of human situations, without using words, as our primary theatrical vehicle. We focus on the basic human material which any person, anywhere in the world, can connect with and be moved by.”
In addition to the visual lingua franca inherent in Ad Infinitum’s work, Paldi says that the artistic evolutionary process also follows an individually tailored line. “Our work is created with specific actors in mind, because they have to perform the material on stage.” However, adopting an across-the-board ethos does not involve the negation of cultural characteristics.
“Translunar Paradise, for example, is very English, but not in an excluding manner,” Paldi continues. “It is English in the way that anyone can appreciate why the English like drinking tea with milk.”
Despite his years in London, though, Paldi is Israeli and that cultural baggage presumably comes through somewhere in his work. “That is a very interesting point that I ponder constantly,” he says. “I am sure I am more English than I was five years ago but, paradoxically, being away from Israel also brings out the Israeli-ness in me.”
That quandary will soon find its way into the public eye. “I am currently working on a new production that addresses that aspect of my life – Israeli national identity from my viewpoint, as someone who creates in exile.”
Paldi says that there is very little in the way of cultural differentiation in Translunar Paradise.
“Mourning is a very basic component of life, wherever you come from. This production looks at how a person who has lost someone so dear to him can carry on living.
That is something we can all relate to. We all love someone, and many people have lost someone they love. The show is not supposed to be didactic but I think it presents something that people can take away with them – that no one is alone and that we all have a need to mourn.”
The show’s universality was recently substantiated following a performance in Ireland. “After the show a woman went up to George [Mann] and said to him, ‘Did you notice that the show goes through the seven stages of grief?’ And she was right. I’d never thought about that before. Then I saw that, somehow, in the most natural way possible, that’s what comes out of the show.”
That go-with-the-flow approach has paid dividends over the years. Ad Infinitum has picked up a clutch of awards for its output to date, including the Fringe Review Outstanding Theatre Award in 2011 and the Best Theatre Direction Award at the ACT Festival in Bilbao, Spain, in 2011. Ad Infinitum actress and musician Kim Heron won the The Observer newspaper’s Iron Man Award.
Despite the subject matter, Translunar Paradise is not a morbid piece of theater.
“There is a lot of humor in it, dark and otherwise,” says Paldi, even though the show evolved from a sad event. “We were in Canada with the show when George heard that his father was dying. He had had cancer for six years but it was clear that the end was very near,” Paldi recalls. “We canceled all the other shows in Canada and flew back to England. Of course it was very sad but there was also beauty in the release of George’s father’s soul after so much suffering. I think that comes through in Translunar Paradise.”
Paldi feels that death is the “great taboo” and that we need to deal with its existence. “In the Western world people try not to think about it, like it won’t happen for a long time, or if we don’t think about it it won’t happen at all. In Israel it is pushed even further away. Think about the fact that a dead body is [ritually] impure and we mustn’t touch it [according to Jewish law]. The first time I saw a dead body in an open casket I was horrified.”
In addition to Mann’s loss, Translunar Paradise is also inspired by Irish writer W.B. Yeats’s poem “The Tower,” which looks at the spectrum of life, and includes a passage describing how the speaker, as a young man, railed against injustice but how now, as an old man, he praises the world as he leaves it.
There is a rich musical backdrop to the whole show, which Paldi explains was interwoven into the work’s creation. “The visual part of the show and the music complement each other,” he says. “You can’t have one without the other. It’s a very romantic production.
I think it will appeal to the audience’s more romantic side. I am sure we all have that.”
Translunar Paradise will be performed at the Khan Theater on June 4 and 5 (both 9 p.m.). For tickets and more information: 623-7000, *6226 or