Performative Arts (Institute of Performing Arts, Maastricht)
The self-proclaimed narcissist and “wannabe” countertenor Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe graduated as theatrical performer at the Toneelacademie Maastricht. Besides directing he often focusses on vocal performances such as My Protest, My Inner Songs and Mea Big Culpa. In those solo performances, Meirhaeghe is not afraid of reflecting on prevailing concepts in society. His adolescent ability to trivialise, put things into a broader perspective and criticize, offers him a self-conscious persona, who battles his own devils as well as those of others. Like a medieval fool daring to enter the tension zone between entertainment and criticism, thus melts the enfant terrible in his work as snow during summer.
Meirhaeghe devotes time and space to create completely new ideas, try new voice recording techniques, opera projects and works and textually frame his past works within his future vision.
08.01 Excerpt from Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe’s extensive biography, vision and future projects
The need to reread, reinterpret and restructure the opera circuit is germinated while studying performance arts. The course encourages experiment and focuses on interdisciplinary approaches, and ultimately helps Meirhaeghe’s evolution from being an autodidact countertenor and solo performer to a director and creator. His then microscopic eye, primarily focused on activating a space, gets a macroscopic upgrade. Or as Peter Missotten describes it: “If you have a problem, make it worse.” On his terms, Meirhaeghe orchestrates a marriage between the traditional opera-ballet genre, experimental and contemporary theatre. The twofold relationship between intense emotions, abstraction, musicality and virtuosity is not to be sacrificed but to be preserved and maintained. And with this calculated disruption of hard-boiled structures, he invites the fool back on stage as the ultimate metaphor.
Also, Vanderberghe’s appearance in The Ballet is not a coincidence. A lot of his works, if not all, are influenced by male muses, Meirhaeghe’s photographic background and the maturing process of his self-conscious, rebellious persona. As a young boy he often captured drama in static snapshots of sudden moments and preferred that momentary feeling as his subject. He evoked his own absent beauty through literally imagining the present, young male nudity, and gradually created several muses, making him experiment with his models. The disentanglement of that emerging balance of power made him appropriate the beauty of others, nearly embodying their charm. Vanderberghe can be perceived as the glorification and idolization of that process: he’s ubiquitous in every work, except The War, and becomes almost a worshipped and praised figure. As a huge influence on Meirhaeghe’s practice, Vanderberghe plays a pivotal and clearly crucial role in his life. The dichotomy becomes once again apparent due to the echoing struggle between uncertainty and self-confidence – a dilemma which also forges a path to focus more on his own shows. And in the wake of previous, great artists and stars that created everlasting masterpieces before him, he immortalizes that nowadays recurring need to prove oneself with the nickname self-proclaimed narcissist. A hyper-personal work with the fool as the catalyst of his art practice and as the personification of that ceaseless ambiguity.
However, in his future repertoire the muses cut back their decisive cameo. The emphasis shifts to a more cross-disciplinary, collaborative and open approach bundled in a more receptive discourse regarding opera and ballet. Considering the involvement of a supportive, engaged group of people as essential, he transcends opera-ballet through an interdependence with contemporary visual art and design without disrespectfully treating the theatrical canon and old repertoire. Think of it as an opera in transition, transformation and (r)evolution. In addition, he concentrates on boundless engagement, exceeding love, in a search for the world’s manifestation and its salvation. For example, Meirhaeghe revamps Ballet de la Nuit, an originally 13-hours long spectacle in which the notorious French king Louis XIV makes his debut as Apollo, and reduces it to an epitome of one hour. He bridges the gap between the French baroque and the now, between classical opera-ballet and 21st century pop. At the same time, he questions the magnificence of that medium because of its immense production without a lot of resources. Other pieces he plans on updating, are Erwartung (1909) by Arnold Schönberg, the proto-opera L’Europe galante (1697) by André Campra, the revolutionizing La muette de Portici (1828) by Daniel Auber and Combattimenti di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624) by Claudio Monteverdi. Every show values the powerful, reciting potential of opera. Whether it is a tableau vivant rendering songs of love and war or stimulates an independence war or drawing a heart-breaking metaphor of Europe: Meirhaeghe calls for change.
Theatre as a time machine with the fool as our guide.
04.01 Meirhaeghe in his atelier and showcasing a model of a setting for a future project