Lepage, Robert

▪ 1995

      Quebec's Renaissance man—author, director, designer, and actor—Robert Lepage continued in 1994 to surprise and amaze audiences as the theatrical wizard who masterfully translated ideas into images and made his plays seem like intricate puzzles. Tectonic Plates (1988) dealt with the collision of French Canadian and Scottish cultures. Two pianos gliding across the stage symbolized the continents of Europe and North America. The bombing of Hiroshima was the metaphor in The Seven Streams of the River Ota (1994). This play, set in the home of a Jewish Czech photographer living in Japan, revealed the story line through a series of flashbacks. Lepage's play Polygraphe was a metaphysical detective story sparked by the murder of one of his friends.

      Born in 1957 in Quebec City, Robert Lepage graduated in 1978 from Conservatoire d'Art Dramatique de Quebec and then studied in Paris with Swiss director Alain Knapp. Lepage became a skilled performer in comic improvisational theatre before joining Théâtre Repère in Quebec (1982). This theatre, founded by Jacques Lessard, relied on the active involvement of actors to discover the key, object, or pattern necessary to develop the production. In 1985 Lepage became artistic director of the company. From 1989 to 1993 he was head of the French theatre section of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. In 1994 he returned to Quebec City to found a new theatre company, Ex Machina.

      Lepage was noted for surprising juxtapositions in his plays. In Needles and Opium (1991), French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau and U.S. jazz trumpeter Miles Davis exchanged places. Lepage envisioned both these men in 1949 traveling between New York and Paris at the same time, both addicted to drugs. He also believed in producing plays in more than one language, making the actors devise methods to project the meaning to the audience without translation. In 1989 he produced Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in a combination of English and French. His Dragon's Trilogy (1985) was staged partly in Chinese. He won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for his direction of the Trilogy (1988). In 1992 Lepage sparked controversy at the British National Theatre by setting Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in a mud bath.

      In 1993 Lepage directed the Canadian Opera Company's production of Béla Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle and Arnold Schoenberg's Erwartung. He also directed Richard Wagner's Ring cycle in Paris. In a lighter vein, he designed a Montreal show for British rock star Peter Gabriel. As an actor, Lepage starred in his one-man plays Needles and Opium and Vinci (1985). In 1988 he played the role of Pilate in the film Jesus of Montreal.

      For his contribution to the performing arts in Canada, Robert Lepage received the National Arts Centre Award in 1994. (DIANE LOIS WAY)

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Universalium. 2010.

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