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Barbican celebrates Duchamp

Published October 16, 2012

The Barbican theatre has announced a programme of multi-disciplinary work to celebrate the great 20th century French artist Duchamp next spring, bringing together key artists who shared his iconic surrealist and Dadaist sensibility, from Samuel Beckett to Merce Cunningham.

Dancing Around Duchamp will centre on the Barbican’s major new exhibition The Bride And The Bachelors, with plays including Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinocéros, Beckett’s Watt and Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi complementing the Duchamp retrospective, alongside performances by the Richard Alston Dance Company and Rambert Dance Company.

Many of the dramatists and choreographers presented in the programme had a personal connection with Duchamp. Beckett, whose novel Watt is brought to the stage from 26 February to 16 March, was introduced to the artist in the 1930s and the pair became regular chess competitors. Directed by Tom Creed and performed by Barry McGovern, who has also adapted the text, the surreal story tells the extraordinary tale of Watt’s journey to Mr Knott’s house where he becomes his servant.

Théâtre de la Ville’s production of Ionesco’s Rhinocéros, one of the major absurdist plays of the 20th century, plays from 14 to 16 February and depicts the struggle of one man whose friends and neighbours are turning into rhinoceroses, leaving him increasingly isolated in a world where others have yielded to the inevitable domination of brute force. Jarry’s Ubu Roi is also a landmark work, outlawed when it was first performed in 1896 due to its bad language, made-up words and lack of respect for authority. This new French production  by Barbican Theatre regulars Cheek By Jowl plays from 10 to 20 April.

The Bride And The Bachelors will explore how Duchamp’s work inspired collaborations between four contemporary American artists including the composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. As part of the performance programme, avant-garde director Robert Wilson will perform a theatrical interpretation of John Cage’s Lecture On Nothing (25 February) in the Barbican theatre, while the Richard Alston Dance Company will perform works from the Merce Cunningham repertoire on 29 May in the gallery itself.

Speaking about the season, Louise Jeffreys, Director of Programming at the venue, said: “Duchamp’s influence remains profound even today, he radically altered what we think of as art; blurring the distinction between art and life, using chance procedures, embracing humour, irony and absurdity, provoking tastemakers and perhaps most radically of all, creating works of art from everyday objects. This timely season – presented exactly 100 years since the scandal caused by Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending A Staircase No 2 in 1913 – will allow audiences to explore his legacy over the course of the century.”

The Barbican also announced today other events taking place in the spring season including the world premiere of Michel van der Aa’s opera Sunken Garden (12 to 20 April), a co-commission with English National Opera that uses 3D film, Cia de Dança Deborah Colker’s Tatyana (31 January to 9 February), a dance piece inspired by Eugene Onegin, and the annual London International Mime Festival which runs from 10 to 27 January and will present a vast programme of the best of mime and physical theatre from around the world.

“Duchamp’s influence remains profound even today, he radically altered what we think of as art; blurring the distinction between art and life"