Katrina Helstein: the story of growing up in tammsaareish peat

On April 10, 2018, the play “Spring Awakening” by scandalous German playwriter Frank Wedekind premiered. The stage design of the piece is tammsaareish: the straw briquettes and peat could be considered to be a field, cultivated with work and love. That does not mean that the fourteen-year-olds and younger ones should rush to see this awakening. The shock may hit also older than fourteen-year-olds who happen to see Belgian director’s Armel Roussel’s intense and scary piece. Why this and why now? And why Vaba Lava?

The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has written: “The human body no longer resembles God nor the animal, but other human bodies, hence the disappearance of a human figure from the arts of our time.”

Yet, making a contact with a human body, especially with your own body, is one of the main gauntlets of becoming an adult. And on that topic ballets have been made. „Giselle“ comes into my mind that has rather similar structure. It begins with love or sex and ends in the cemetery. Thus began and ended also the “Spring Awakening”. There are some pretty disgusting American movies made on getting used to your body that do not tend to talk about anything else than sex hungry teenagers. How proud can be a young man who has swung with as many young ladies as possible. And oh how happy he is about this whole thing! In this sense, the nominees for this year’s Oscars, “Call Me by Your Name” or “Lady Bird”, are no different from the coming of age story written in 1891 and exiled from the stages for fifteen years. From here, Sigmund Freud draw inspiration for his death and life drive theories, and in turn, inspired Jacques Lacan and many other Frenchmen who love theories of desire. Perhaps this is why director Armel Roussel has time and again returned to the “Spring Awakening”.

If you think about it, there is something to return to. And there is something to be afraid of. At a time when the human body is in the service of advertising and pornography, at a time when many people do not feel beautiful enough to be loved, because they do not look like photoshopped models, “Spring Awakening” is very strange and beautiful. It all starts when one girl turns fourteen and wants to know… Today, it seems absolutely ridiculous that nobody tells a girl about where children come from or what sex is. How easy it is to talk to your child when we live in a sexualized commercial world where everything can be sold with tits or abdominal muscles that you can’t turn a blind eye to.

The game of tits and abdominal muscles also do not let to turn a blind eye to the “Spring Awakening”. It’s a blatant grin addressed directly to the audience, who feels embarrassed. Look, a young girlie shows her beautiful behind to the whole audience or pulls out her marvelous tits! This activity, however, is something else that we can overlook due to the intensity of the moment – the bareness and fragility of growing up, embodied by sad-eyed Moritz (Nicolas Luçon), or the midwife (Uiko Watanabe) with the abortion pincers.

A body has always been put into service of something. It has always been that way. It just cannot be left alone. Like this fourteen-year-old cannot get to know her body because society or parents have other plans for her. And society always has some plans for our body. Like during the Soviet Union period when they were only having sex for having babies. At least it was ideologically correct. But can a person always be ideologically or morally correct? Such questions make us feel uncomfortable as if we are already mistaken by asking them. In some cases, they even lead to depression, because bodies of some people have not been used. This is illustrated by the suicide of Moritz’s character. Armel Roussel adds some half-naked actors to the discomfort, showing confusion between the human body and the rules of morality. And it creates tension while making you laugh at the same time because it’s no secret – actors enjoy the play with something mad in it.

Director Armel Roussel characterizes the Belgian theatre as physical and concrete, French theatre as verbal and abstract. In some ways, “Spring Awakening” is all of the above: physical, concrete, verbal and abstract. The story itself will not change. Boys and girls are growing up – what’s happening under our own eyes is extremely concrete and physical, at the same time it’s verbal because without words we wouldn’t understand bodily. But all this together is abstraction and a prelude to plays and films examining sexuality and/or violence. That’s why, at the end of the show, there are four tombstones on the stage, one of which belongs to the brutal, crazy murderer Roberto Zucco. Armed Roussel has directed a play about him as well.

Everything started on one tammsaareish stage.