Alice in Wonderland
David Henry Hwang, Unsuk Chin after Lewis Caroll
Thoughts on Alice
This opera is about the question of existence and of identity: Am I large, small, strong or suppressed? In what relationship do I stand to the world, and to my fellow human beings? How does nature overpower me, or how do I control it? These are global questions that involve all of us. Today we are no longer seeking our identity, but faking it – with the models and clichés that everyday life offers us. We seldom rely on our creativity and imagination, or on possible autonomy.
Alice lives through a story. Everything dream-like or nightmare-like that appears around her is not developed, so she has to learn how to cope with these episodic splinters of her thoughts and feelings. She is an intrepid person who is also capable of learning, and is going through the process of maturing. To some extent this makes her an exemplary character, yet it is difficult to imitate her, for otherwise the spectator would again lose his own identity to this figure. She has to remain as open as possible, so that the spectators successfully discover themselves in her. They are not turned into voyeurs and involved in the action as passive onlookers – instead they help to determine the course of that action themselves. Everything that flares up is so fragmentary that one immediately completes it, and interprets it according to one's own personal experience.
I am trying to portray a state of timelessness by means of alienation. In these timeless events, which should be seen as parables, the spectator will find connections with his own reality. Demonstrating this alienation and detachment does not mean that one is free of the present. On the contrary – in theatre I have to create a parable so precise that our present is recognizable to its fullest extent.
Theatre is a form of communication with the public, and when I speak I have to speak loud enough for people to hear and see. That is why make-up is so important. Some actors are shocked by that and say: "I look like a clown!" But where does the clown come from? The circus is large and the audience is a long way off, and that is why this kind of make-up has prevailed. The inner core of a character can be conveyed externally by means of masks.
Characters are also defined by the space through which they move. The space around a character – the relationship of proportion – determines whether that character is large or small, and that has to be represented in the theatre in continual changeability.
Portrayal of people is always done through consolidation of character – and that consolidated character then has the opportunity to personify someone prototypically, to make their innermost personality shine out, and to make their very existence credible and intelligible.
© Bavarian State Opera
Translation: David Ingram