Wow, by Sónia Baptista

This piece stems from the idea of the beautiful, the ugly and, mainly, the sublime. According to its creator, Wow tries to materialise a thought, a reflection and a poetics about the sublime. It premiered on January 13 at Culturgest’s large auditorium. The co-creation is by Joana Levi, Gaya de Medeiros and Cire Ndiaye. The interpretation is by them and Sónia Baptista. With the special appearance of Inês Gonçalves. The light design is by Daniel Worm, the set and props by Raquel Melgue and Mariana Gomes, the costumes by Lara Torres and Sónia Baptista, the music by Eduardo Raon, the sound design by Rodrigo Gomes and the video by Raquel Melgue.

Sónia enters the scene with the audience lights on. She does it comically: she dances to the rhythm of a song she sings to herself, with small steps she manages to move her whole body. In the centre of the room, she realises the reality of most performance halls: it is empty, only flies are spectators. She gets emotional, she says she has always wanted to be in front of an audience of flies. The fly becomes an image throughout the play. For example, a giant fly suddenly descends from the lighting structure. Sónia Baptista approaches it and sings the word “fly” in Portuguese, with a different intonation from the original word, suggesting that she is praying or evoking a spiritual entity. We hear “muuuuuscáááá” [“ffflyyyyyyyy”]. This moment is quite sarcastic. As I understand it, it is a reference to privileged white people travelling to South America or Southeast Asia in search of connecting with the ancient spirituality of indigenous cultures. Amid financial stability and material abundance, there is something they are missing. Western culture has alienated these people with false necessities and the only way out of this cave is to go to the Andes to take selfies while eating magic mushrooms at a spiritual retreat, go to Bahia to connect with nature and Candomblé or go to Tibet to find themselves through Buddhist philosophy.

All this is too much, as Sónia Baptista says. A violin playing classical music goes along with her speech, accentuating the irony. Cirque du Soleil is too much, explaining Beauty and the Beast to a lesbian is too much, Japanese porn is too much. The provocative speech mentions several things that are too much. And the common thread of all is the ideas of the beautiful and the good (inseparable concepts in Ancient Greece). In the play’s synopsis, we read that the contemplation of beauty was supposed to produce not only wonder and delight but also to bring the viewer closer to a desire for justice and a will to achieve higher ideals. Detractors of the cult of beauty are also mentioned. Those who say that it is through ugliness that we transcend the appearance of matter and that we reach the true perception of the sublime. This performance can be divided into monologues, one from each performer. In each monologue personal stories from the past and childhood are shared. These stories dialogue with the concepts of beautiful, ugly and sublime. They make dialogues with the romantic vision of the 18th century, still present in most people’s imagination. When we think of beautiful, ugly and sublime, we reproduce the ideological and conceptual heritage of the poets and intellectuals of that time. The perpetuated stereotypes clash with the stories told, showing their influence on our lives, dreams, ambitions. This influence is almost always (if not always) negative and traumatic. They put us in permanent competition and comparison with the other, they destroy our self-esteem. Each monologue has its own tone, but all share something intimate from their lives. Gaya de Medeiros’ monologue is dramatic and dark, Joana Levi’s is comic and luminous. There is a characteristic common to all: the spoken word is illustrated or accompanied by a gesture. The choreographed movements of these monologues add texture to the scene and open up possibilities of interpretation of what is said.

Apart from the monologues mentioned, the choreography of this piece is quite homogeneous, as there are many moments where the bodies enter osmosis. That is, they move together, one after the other, giving birth to the gesture through the relationship with the other. There are two distinct corporal presences: one individual, which refers to its intimacy; another collective, which invokes the common and shows the particularities and manifestations of what is or may be beautiful, ugly and sublime. Due to the invocation of the common, we understand that all questions about the beautiful, the ugly and the sublime are above all the reflection of our doubts, fears and insecurities.

Rodrigo Fonseca (1995, Sintra). He studied at António Arroio, has a degree in History of Art and a master in Performing Arts from FCSH/UNL. He was co-founder of the publishing house CusCus Discus and of the festival Dia Aberto às Artes. Besides Umbigo magazine, he writes music criticism for Rimas e Batidas. He is a sound technician specialized in concerts and shows and resident artist at the cultural association DARC.

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