Peter Sellars & Maya ZbibTheatre to change the world

Published in October 2010clockTime to read: 4m45s
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Peter Sellars’ courageous determination to make theatre and opera relevant to today has earned him the reputation of enfant terrible of the contemporary stage. His uncanny ability to awaken Western audiences from their complacency, combined with his humility and generosity of spirit, made him the ideal mentor for a young dramatist from a country whose citizens are all too aware of the vicissitudes of fortune.

by Avery Willis Hoffman October 2010
  • Peter Sellars
    The Mentor
  • Maya Zbib
    The Protégé

“I always feel that I’m present to learn, and I’m there because I’m interested. And step one of being a director is to not know, and to ask the questions that everybody else is dying to ask…”
Peter Sellars

For director and Rolex mentor Peter Sellars, art is not just a medium for beauty or entertainment, but a means of enacting change – political, social and moral. Sellars insists that a director is simply a guide for the performers, asking questions and pushing the boundaries of creative exploration.

Maya Zbib is just embarking on her theatre career in Beirut, the Lebanese capital. Like Sellars, she is open, eager to learn, eager to see past the impediments thrown at her. But Zbib’s immediate environment is vastly different from Sellars’. She co-founded Zoukak, a six-member theatre collective that creates new works and conducts drama therapy workshops in refugee camps in areas in Southern Lebanon torn apart by the protracted Israeli-Lebanon wars. Her theatre collective struggles daily to maintain an open rehearsal space where ideas flow freely, without censorship. As children of war (born during the Civil War that lasted from 1975 to 1990), the members of the collective hesitate to take on the violence that surrounds them or the fragility of Lebanon’s peace.

When the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative connected these two unique individuals, no one could predict the outcome. Since a final project is not required at the conclusion of the year, Sellars and Zbib were able to continually mould and remould their relationship – depending very much on where they encountered each other in the world.

Kisangani, Congo

Early in the mentoring year, Sellars invited Zbib to visit the Congo with him. There, he introduced her to Faustin Linyekula, a Congolese dancer and choreographer whom he has supported and collaborated with for many years.

Unlike Zbib and her group, Linyekula’s dance troupe, Studios Kabako, based in Kinshasa and Kisangani, wrestles with violence openly and deliberately. The dancers physicalize the violence, they put it to music, they purge their anger and deep pain through the rigour of their bodies. Memory and the suppression of memory are central to all of Linyekula’s works. In these dancers, singers and musicians, Zbib recognized the charred landscape of her own country – like Lebanon, the Congo still laid bare the wounds of brutal civil war:

Visiting the Congo, I sensed that the memory of pain and bloodshed stays in the bone marrow of a city, it seeps through the wood of the coffee table and the smell of the river. It takes an outsider to bring them to the surface for you again.
Maya Zbib

Observing Zbib, Sellars noted immediately how much you can learn about someone’s character when they are placed in demanding conditions. She embraced the Kabako group, forming a kinship with them borne out of comparable pain. With “her own determination and genuine appetite for life”, Sellars said, “Maya plunged right in to their activity and started giving acting/movement classes with no hesitation.”

Extracted from an article written by Avery Willis Hoffman, for Mentor & Protégé, a magazine documenting the 2010/2011 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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