For Angélica Liddell, Each Performance is About Survival

GHENT, Belgium — There is nothing in modern theater fairly like an Angélica Liddell monologue. The Spanish director and performer, who has crafted her share of monumental productions over the previous three a long time, pushes herself to grating, visceral extremes onstage.

Take her new manufacturing, “Liebestod” (subtitle: “The Smell of Blood Doesn’t Leave My Eyes, Juan Belmonte”), which could have its world premiere subsequent week at France’s prestigious Avignon Festival. In a latest rehearsal in Ghent, she railed in opposition to Western societies “engorged with rights and eco-anxieties,” in opposition to France — “a country obsessed with fame and the elite” — and, above all, in opposition to herself.

“Not a single word about happiness will pass my lips,” Liddell, 54, warned close to the start.

In different arms, practically every part she does may come throughout as self-indulgent. Love or hate them, nevertheless, Liddell’s scorching speeches, which may last as long as an hour, have earned a cult following in locations like Avignon, not least as a result of she throws herself into them as if her life relied on it.

And in keeping with her, it does. “I need the stage to survive myself,” she mentioned via an interpreter after her rehearsal, wanting spent. “Onstage, I’m allowed to kill myself over and over again. That possibility allows me to avoid real suicide, real madness.”

“Liebestod” was commissioned by Belgium’s NTGent as a part of a sequence, “History/ies of Theater,” launched in 2018 by the playhouse’s director, Milo Rau. The sequence has been much less a historical past lesson than an area for contrasting voices to discover their relationship with the artwork kind.

The first installment was Rau’s personal “La Reprise.” And after extending an invite to the Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula in 2019, Rau turned to Liddell.

“I was sure she had to be a part of it from the beginning. I admire her as a total artist and performer,” Rau mentioned in Ghent, including that her monologues “go to the heart of theater.”

Liddell’s pursuits lie within the sinister corners of the human psyche. She has written about terrorist assaults and cannibalism.Credit…Colin Delfosse for The New York Times

“Liebestod” was impressed by the Spanish custom of bullfighting, and particularly by Juan Belmonte, an revolutionary bullfighter who died in 1962. Liddell sees a connection between his artwork kind and her personal: “Belmonte said that what frees us from death is actually longing for it,” she mentioned, evaluating it to a poet’s “death wish.”

Liddell’s tackle theater historical past is actually idiosyncratic. In “Liebestod,” she describes the custom as populated with “bureaucrats, bit-part players and technicians with rights.” She finds most modern theater productions, she mentioned afterward, “naïve and a bit childish, because they’re always focused on the good.”

Very properly — she may be as mild in actual life as she is abrasive in her work — Liddell mentioned that she had no real interest in enjoying good. “I find these times to be repugnant, because everything is about likes,” she mentioned. “I don’t want to show the best of myself during a performance. I want to show my ugly sides, that I can be a monster as well.”

Her pursuits lie within the sinister corners of the human psyche. She has written about terrorist assaults, cannibalism and her sexual need for criminals. Her productions are laced with references to artwork historical past and faith, and have a ritualistic high quality. In “St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians,” a health care provider collected her blood onstage, and Liddell’s fluids additionally make an look when she scrapes her arms and legs in “Liebestod.”

“It has been a long time since I cut myself in my work, but I needed to create that state of irrationality. Blood is love, beauty and death — like a holy trinity,” she mentioned, earlier than tempering: “I must add that I only do these cuts in front of an audience, never by myself.”

Still, Liddell says she doesn’t contemplate herself an actress. “There is no distance between me and the stage,” she mentioned. “It’s a different level: It’s not a performance, it’s a transfiguration.”

Liddell is a uncommon artist who is wholly uninterested within the present political or social discourse. In 2018, she even produced an anti-#MeToo manifesto, “The Scarlet Letter,” during which she extolled males’s superiority. “People were so pure, so correct, so moralizing,” she mentioned of #MeToo.

But certainly, I prompt, the feminist motion created the situations for uncompromising ladies like her to create freely. Liddell dismissed the thought: “What I needed for my work to happen is to be who I am, to have illiterate parents when I was growing up, poor grandparents, a mother who was intellectually impaired.”

Liddell was born in Figueres, Catalonia, to a navy household. She attended Madrid’s Conservatory for the performing arts, solely to give up when she discovered the educating there disappointing. Although she has labored steadily because the early 1990s, producing her work hasn’t at all times been simple. She has lengthy skilled what she known as “friction” with mainstream Spanish theater, to the purpose that she refused to carry out a few of her productions in her residence nation due to an absence of help for her controversial experiments.

The state of affairs has improved up to now couple of years, she mentioned, however there have been different disappointments, like in 2016 when no Paris playhouse would stage “What Will I Do With This Sword?”, a five-hour present that includes a scene during which bare ladies masturbate with lifeless octopuses.

“Producers don’t always understand what the essence of a piece is,” Liddell mentioned. “I find myself continuously explaining what I’m trying to do.”

“There is no distance between me and the stage,” Liddell mentioned. “It’s a different level: It’s not a performance, it’s a transfiguration.”Credit…Colin Delfosse for The New York Times

In 2017, for the primary time, Liddell directed considered one of her productions with out showing onstage herself, when “Dead Dog at Dry Cleaners: the Strong” joined the repertoire of Berlin’s Schaubühne theater. “It was a very strange experience to see people do what I do,” she mentioned. “The acting was excellent, but it was very difficult to explain my process.”

Would she do it once more? “I don’t think so,” she mentioned with fun.

Her personal staff is small however close-knit. Some, like her assistant director and frequent actor Borja López, have been together with her since her earliest performances. “I need people who understand my obsessions,” she mentioned. “What we are representing isn’t the rational world. They need to defend that, and also understand that sometimes I have no patience.”

And performing is an all-consuming enterprise for Liddell. “After the performance, she disappears,” mentioned López, who sat close to her in the course of the interview.

She is no extra sociable in the course of the day. “I don’t do anything,” Liddell mentioned. “I take care of my voice and myself — I don’t even read. I’m very afraid of catching a cold, of not being in the right physical state for the performance.”

“I prepare, like a bullfighter,” she mentioned, returning to the inspiration behind “Liebestod.” “The stage is my bull.”