INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
New York Times JANUARY 28, 2019 - by Joshua Barone
DAU HAS FINALLY OPENED IN PARIS: DOES IT LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?
PARIS - To experience DAU, the Russian artist Ilya Khrzhanovsky's much-hyped and unwieldy magnum opus, you have to get used to waiting.
The immersive and provocative work - a genre-hopping installation with elements of film, theater and performance art - finally opened here late Friday evening, after its premiere was postponed at the last minute because it did not have the necessary safety permits.
This delay was just one more in a long history of postponements that have dogged DAU for years, from its controversial production in Ukraine to its botched rollout. It was meant to open in Berlin last September, but never did (officially because of incorrectly filed paperwork). And it still hasn't fully arrived in Paris.
DAU was supposed to begin on Thursday and play out in three neighboring venues: the Théâtre du Châtelet, the Théâtre de la Ville and the Centre Pompidou. But only the Pompidou's contribution appears to be running smoothly: The segment at the Théâtre de la Ville is operational, but not fully, and the one at the Châtelet remains closed until further notice. (A spokesman for DAU said that an opening date would be determined at a meeting of safety inspectors planned for Tuesday.)
With its frequent problems yet mounting mystique and anticipation, DAU is beginning to court comparisons with the Fyre Festival, the ultraexclusive and ultimately fraudulent music festival that followed months of hype with a staggeringly inept, ultimately canceled inauguration. DAU is by no means a scam, but its bloated reputation so far belies a thin and poorly managed spectacle.
Mr. Khrzhanovsky conceived of DAU as a biopic about the Nobel Prize-winning Soviet physicist Lev Landau. He filmed over the course of three years at what he called "the Institute," a campus-size set in Ukraine where hundreds of people, almost all nonactors, lived as if they were in the U.S.S.R. There was no script, just extreme Method acting. Naturally, the lines between fiction and reality began to blur.
That phenomenon is meant to extend to the experience of DAU now: The two Paris theaters are supposed to be immersive worlds in which screening rooms - Mr. Khrzhanovsky edited more than seven hundred hours of footage into thirteen films - are only one element of an environment meant to evoke the Institute at every turn, with period-appropriate cuisine served and dressed-up wax figures placed, uncannily, among the crowds of visitors.
I went to the Théâtre de la Ville twice on Saturday. Much of my visit was spent waiting in line: for security, screenings and virtually everything else. It took nearly an hour to get a "visa," which everyone is required to purchase. (They give access ranging from six hours to anytime throughout the run of DAU, which ends February 17.) Mine hadn't been printed yet, and I had to navigate a crowd of people trying to get new ones after the cancellations on Thursday and earlier Friday.
My problem wasn't unique: "Why are so many visas missing?" I overheard one employee ask, to no one in particular.
After finagling one, I made my way inside the theater, where you are meant to hand over your smartphone in exchange for a DAU-issued device programmed to guide you through the visit - uniquely tailored to each person based on answers to an elaborate and emotionally invasive questionnaire. I took the test, but never received a device, and was left to explore on my own.
It was late afternoon, yet DAU didn't seem to have woken up yet, despite being a 24-hour operation. At first, none of the films were being screened. However, the cafe and gift shop appeared to be up and running with no problems.
Each space in the theater is poetically labeled, with names like "Animal," "Betrayal" and "Motherhood." (The titles at the closed Châtelet are much sexier: "Utopia, "Sadism," "Orgy.") In "Communism," I found a hallway of Soviet-decorated apartments where DAU staffers, who were working inside, had inserted some of their own comforts, like a MacBook and a white Nespresso machine, which stood out among the earth-tone antiques.
The uppermost level was closed but would be open later, one of the workers told me. Or not. Things change, he said, adding: "Welcome to chaos."
At the Pompidou, there was also a Soviet-style apartment: A group of actors is living in it, in full view of the public, for a month. This little performance-art supplement is the most smoothly run aspect of DAU, offering an immediate taste of what filming must have been like: utterly inane, unscripted interactions, for hours on end.
When I returned to the Théâtre de la Ville later that evening, the movies were finally being screened and the crowd was much larger. The apartments were now closed, but the top floor was open. Through the door, I could hear the earnestly Romantic theme from the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony; was it a screening, or some kind of concert? The only thing that would make it worth the wait of nearly half an hour to enter, I thought, would be if Teodor Currentzis - the Greek-Russian conductor, who plays Lev Landau in the DAU films - were on the other side of the door.
Inside, Mr. Currentzis was leading a rehearsal of the symphony with his orchestra, MusicAeterna. It was a music lover's dream, an opportunity to see how Mr. Currentzis works with musicians - walking among them, articulating his directions not with words but with emotive gestures and singing - to achieve the urgent, often shocking interpretations he is known for.
I could have watched this all night. But how was it related to DAU?
The same question could be asked of all the peripheral programming open now. The restaurant, the apartments: These blundering bits of immersive theater did little, if anything, to enrich Mr. Khrzhanovsky's films.
The movies, after all, are truly an achievement. They're intimate, hypnotic, discomfiting, sweet. And they raise uncomfortable questions about consent - actors are filmed having unsimulated sex while drunk, and in one scene a woman is stripped and tortured - and Mr. Khrzhanovsky's attention to accuracy, which, according to some on set, bordered on the sadistic.
DAU would be much more effective, and deserving of the hype, if the films were just screened like any other movies. They are worth talking and arguing about; the half-finished window-dressing currently surrounding them, however, is not.