Luminato closer Apocalypsis challenges the bounds of conventional theatre.
The foyer at the Sony Centre for Performing Arts was packed on Sunday afternoon as art lovers came to witness R. Murray Shafer’s Apocalypsis for its last performance. Coats came off, umbrellas were placed under the seats, and before the audience could even begin to imagine what the large box on stage would hold, the music and show literally took over the theatre. One by one, performers appeared in the rows and aisles, until the audience felt like an integral part of the narrative.
Even though Shafer wrote Apocalypsis in 1976, the political drama feels eerily contemporary. Opening with a prologue from Mariatu Kamara, a woman whose arms were cut off by rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone, the performance unfolds to tell the story of how she escaped the war and started her life again in Canada—a metaphor for death and rebirth in the modern world. In a fast-paced society that exists on the expectation and the necessity of change, the roots of Shafer’s story might be more relevant now than ever.
Director Lemi Ponifasio believes that Apocalypsis is a reflection of our own voices. “It is revealing to ourselves what is broken within us. It is not the end of the world but it is us giving birth to a new world,” he says. “It is us saying, we have created the world and we can change it.”
The two-and-a-half-hour show was divided in two parts: John’s Vision and Credo. The first part started off with the destruction of the world, and is based on the Revelation of St. John the Divine and Psalm 148. The second part looked at the birth of the new universe and borrowed from the work of Giordano Bruno. The distinct parts were marked by a transition from heavy percussion and layered sound to the homogenous form of late-Romantic melody.
In a show that captivated the audience from its inception with a palimpsestuous narrative, Denise Fujiwara’s performance as John was the star. The performers engaged with the space on and off the stage to illustrate a connection between the performers and the audience, the art and those consuming it. In a piece that relied on an extravagant musical score to convey emotion, Fujiwara used silence and her movement in a confined space to poignantly act out her character’s key role in the story. She demonstrated the theme of connectivity at the heart of the stage, and at the heart of the show, as John.
For Jorn Weisbrodt, Luminato Festival’s artistic director, Shafer is unlike his contemporaries because he does not write for institutions, but defies them. His team of 1000 performers, composed of a diverse demographic—including an 11-year-old trombone player—worked for three and a half years to bring together the best of the many realms of art to produce his masterpiece.
Ponifasio ended his pre-show chat by saying that theatre is a wish to be wounded. Apocalypsis, the best kind of theatre, is just that. It takes you to the depths of chaos and brings you back again through perfectly timed stillness and silence.