“The most powerful thing Rubén transmits, is that he eliminates this fear of the impossible,” Gabriel Burgazzi Rodriguez, NYUAD Class of 2014, said as he described how Theater Mitu’s third professional production at NYUAD, A Dream Play, came to life. Indeed, portraying the surreal and ethereal experience of a dream through the medium of theater may seem daunting to some, but for Rubén Polendo — director of the New York and Abu Dhabi-based performance company Theater Mitu, and head of NYUAD’s Theater Program — Arthur Strindberg’s expressionist piece presented an ideal opportunity to apply the company’s “whole theater” approach. Characterized by the incorporation of a range of global performance traditions, Theater Mitu defines whole theater as “a theatrical experience that is rigorously visual, aural, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual all in the same moment.”
Opening with the turbulent scene of a mythological creature defying the wishes of her father by descending from the realm of the gods to experience the human condition, it is immediately apparent how the whole theater concept translates on stage. The creature’s inflated dress, swept across the entirety of the stage, gradually deflates through her descent to earth, while she rallies against the assertions of her father that humans are a “discontented race.” The play follows her interactions with humans through scenes that jump backwards and forwards across time, crossing storylines, and exploring poignant issues, such as the roles of family, love, and work.
In another scene the mythological being explores the institution of marriage, and as she wrestles emotionally and verbally with her human husband, the two are entangled in an acrobatic dance embodying their strained and struggling relationship.
“We’ve really investigated traditions that explore the feelings of a dream-state in the creation of this production,” Polendo said. “This includes elements of Japanese performance forms, electronic music, and Sound Indian traditions – which often involve the embodiment of a mythological creature.”
I think this was one of the most exciting plays that has been produced at NYUAD. It employs a different kind of logic and a different style.
“I think this was one of the most exciting plays that has been produced at NYUAD,” Rodriguez, an assistant director on the production said. “It employs a different kind of logic and a different style.”
As a double-major in theater and public policy, Rodriguez said working on a professional production has helped him learn how to put the theory from his classes into practice. “It’s very interesting to me to observe how Rubén does things. In a conversation, he’ll say, ‘I have a vision of a lot of papers and people in white,’ and it seems very abstract, but you come in the next day and it’s all there. It breaks down this fallacy that you can’t make dreams come true.”
NYUAD junior Amani Al Saied, a film and theater double-major, who was also an assistant director, said she “got addicted” to Theater Mitu productions after working as a documentary apprentice on Chaos, the company’s first production in Abu Dhabi.
“I think what they’re trying to do is very new to the landscape we’re living in, it is very different from what people are used to; they’re kind of stretching what the idea of theater is and what it could be,” she said.
She agreed that watching a professional director at work has been a valuable learning experience. “For someone who wants to become a director it is very important for me to see how other directors work; seeing how Rubén makes decisions and how and why he communicates to actors has been enormously enriching.”
Theater Mitu’s adaptation of A Dream Play, which was open to the public, presented five sold out shows at NYUAD’s downtown campus from October 17-21.