Granma. Trombones de La Havane
Grandchildren of Fidel’s Castro comrades employ the words of their grandparents to reconstruct the Cuban revolution… as they play the trombone.
Fidel Castro is dead and the Rolling Stones performed in Havana. Yet if in Cuba revolutionary rhymes paradoxically with octogenarian, the country is being transformed under the fascinated eyes of the world. Like their elders, young people would like to create a utopia that galvanizes the planet, but how to do so? Onstage, the grandchildren of Fidel’s comrades incarnate their grandparents and reinterpret the Castroist adventure as they question their heritage and imagine the future.
In keeping with his documentary approach, Stefan Kaegi of the Berlin collective Rimini Protokoll – producers of the delightful 100% Montreal in 2017 – met with some fifty grandchildren of the revolutionaries. He employs four of them onstage, as well as the contributions of young Cuban artists set to the sound of trombones (merrily liberated from their military stiffness), to paint a portrait of their present and their future, their reality and their dreams. An illuminating overview of Cuba from the 1950s to today.
Produced by Rimini Protokoll + Maxim Gorki Theater
Conceived and directed by Stefan Kaegi
Performed by Milagro Alvarez Leliebre + Daniel Cruces-Pérez + Diana Osumy Sainz + Christian Paneque Moreda
Dramaturgy Aljoscha Begrich + Yohayna Hernández
Set Design Aljoscha Begrich
Video Mikko Gaestel
Music Ari Benjamin-Meyers
Research Residencia Documenta Sur – Laboratorio Escénico de Experimentación Social (Havana)
Research and interviews (Cuba) Taimi Diéguez Mallo + Karina Pino Gallardo + Maité Hernández-Lorenzo + José Ramón Hernández Suárez + Ricardo Sarmiento Ramírez
Set Design Assistant Julia Casabona
Video Collaborator Marta María Borras
Production Manager Maitén Arns
Coproduction Festival TransAmériques + Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione (Modena) + Kaserne Basel + Onassis Cultural Centre (Athens) + Staatsschauspiel Dresden + Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne + LuganoInscena-LAC+ Zürcher Theaterspektakel (Zurich)
With the support of German Federal Cultural Foundation + Pro Helvetia, Fondation suisse pour la culture + Swiss Arts Council + Senate Department for Culture and Europe + Goethe-Institut Havana
Presented in association with Monument-National + Carrefour international de théâtre (Quebec City) with the support of Pro Helvetia, Fondation suisse pour la culture + Goethe-Institut Montreal + Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany
Premiered at Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin, on March 21, 2019
Written by Paul Lefebvre
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Stefan Kaegi (Zurich + Berlin) Rimini Protokoll + Théâtre Maxim Gorki
Active since 2000, the Berlin collective Rimini Protokoll is a major player on the contemporary documentary and participatory theatre scene.
The members of the group (Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel) met in the 1990s while at the avant-garde Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Giessen. Depending on the project, they work together as a trio, solo or as a duo.
For each new work Rimini Protokoll plunges into the heart of a specific human and social reality, working with people who live that reality, whether they be employees of Sabena after the brutal collapse of Sabena Airlines (Sabenation. Go home and follow the news), the muezzins who summon Muslims to prayer in Cairo (Radio Muezzin) or Bulgarian truckers (Cargo Sofia). These non-actors, identified during the research period, show up onstage as themselves, recounting their own experience in creative fashion, not imitating their reality but presenting a performative reality.
Initiated in Berlin in 2008, each presentation of their 100% City series includes a representative sample of 100 citizens selected using the same criteria. The project has been presented in over 35 cities, from Marseille to Melbourne, London to Vienna, not to mention Zurich, Cologne and Montreal.
Rimini Protokoll’s presentations, which also include films, radio programs and installations, shed new political light on the realities being studied, but from a perspective that is humanist, empathic and driven by a moving curiosity for the vast range of human experience.
Rimini Protokoll presented Mnemopark at the FTA in 2007, a portrait of Switzerland through the lens of model train enthusiasts who reconstruct the landscape to facilitate the movement of their toy trains. It also presented 100 % Montreal in 2017 as part of the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations.
Rimini Protokoll strives to take a new look at political and social issues. Why did you choose Cuba this time?
I first went to Cuba a dozen years ago to give workshops with the Argentine director Lola Arias. The fact that she was Latin American opened a lot of doors. I returned on several occasions and each time I wanted to embark on a project, because Cuba is at a pivotal moment in its history, but each time it was impossible. For a long time Cuba represented a sort of social paradise and influenced policy in Latin America and elsewhere, including Europe. To review the history of Cuba is also to review the history of the left on an international scale. In 2016 things began to open up following visits by Obama and the Rolling Stones, and the government started to allow people to set up small independent businesses. I realized then that I could finally work on what intrigued me – contemporary Cuba.
In the Laboratorio Escénico de Experimentación Social (LEES) in Havana that year, you worked with young directors, some of whom are part of the Cuban cast in the show. How did things evolve?
We quickly realized that the sectors of Cuban society where things don’t change are rare, despite the fact that a lot of power still remains in the hands of men in their eighties who defend the existing structure and status quo. A high point occurred in February 2018 when the dramaturge Alioscha Begrich, along with me and a group of contemporary artists brought together by the theatre specialist Yohayna Hernández, conducted some fifty interviews, assisted by the young artists and researchers at LEES. We began by meeting with both elderly people who had been linked to the Revolution and with younger people, often young entrepreneurs.
I’m fascinated by generational and intergenerational connections that allow for both nostalgia and friction. Then we had the idea to meet with the grandchildren of the revolutionaries we had encountered. The grandsons and grand-daughters of those who created and supported the Revolucion made an impressive contribution to our approach, so much so that we chose four of them to be in the show in order to portray Cuba through their eyes.
Those two men and two women tapped into the hearts and souls of their grandparents, which gave us a subjective rapport with history. We also asked ourselves if the stories of these elderly people were still interesting, as we certainly had no intention of making another Buena Vista Social Club or paying tribute to ancient jerry-rigged Cadillacs. We realized that the old folks’ stories took on a different meaning when recounted by the young generation, people full of hope.
One of the four, Diana, is a musician who plays the trombone. The Castro regime has developed a lot of patriotic music, often military marches for brass instruments, pieces that are played in public parks. Diane taught the trombone to the three other performers, and during the show they play together, a form of utopia.
Can Cuba represent a utopia?
Where are we now in terms of the distribution of wealth? Where are the collective utopias? We did a show on Davos and its annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. What emerged from that is that governments have less power than major corporations. Where are the hopes that Cuba represented in the 1960s? One thing remains in Cuba, something very important, and that is sharing.
That doesn’t mean the sharing economy or collaborative consumption of multinational firms, but communal sharing on a daily basis, sharing in social and individual life. We were interested in the familias compuestas, that social model particular to Cuba that grew out of a housing shortage: families, distant cousins, lovers, ex-lovers and ex-spouses live under the same roof because they have nowhere else to go, which is a sort of metaphor for Cuba’s situation.
Why the word Granma in the title?
The old American-built boat that brought the revolutionaries to Cuba in 1956 was named – who knows why – Granma or grandmother and was purchased by the grandfather of one of our actors. That man later became the first Minister for the Recovery of Property, charged with redistributing the riches of the wealthy. Granma is also the name that the Castro regime gave to its daily newspaper. In the paper’s archives, we see a young Cuban historian rewriting the official history of her country by scrutinizing it from the subjective viewpoint of her grandmother, thereby making her grandmother’s history her own.
“After two hours of journey time, this continual back-and-forth between the projected images and what you ‘really’ see outside produces a truly unique experience that neatly distils what our lives have become today: nomadic, rootless, everywhere and nowhere; a life where images have become part and parcel of reality.”
Fabienne Darge, Le Monde, 2018-02-08, about Cargo Congo-Lausanne
“Surprisingly moving, 100% Montreal is an enthralling exercise of psychological, social and political examination of the individual and collective self and of the systems that govern us. It’s a winning choice for this year’s FTA and a befitting selection forthe official programming of Montreal’s 375th anniversary.”
Camilla Fitzgibbon, Montrealtheatrehub.com, 2017-05-26, about 100 % Montréal
« Le théâtre de Kaegi est ainsi : en lien direct avec le réel, le quotidien, l’humain. »
Natacha Rossel, 24heures.ch, 2018-01-29
« Ce collectif de trois auteurs-metteurs en scène cherche chaque fois à proposer des expériences sensibles qui ébranlent l’idée que nous nous faisons du réel. »
Claire Richard, Nouvelobs.com, 2016-10-24
« C’est une grande force du “théâtre documentaire” de Rimini Protokoll que de savoir nouer (…) l’échelle générale à celle individuelle. »
Nicolas Garnier, Maculture.fr, 2016-09-26