by the Italian critic Anna Bandettini (La Repubblica), 25.09.2023

Eugenio Barba opens the ‘Living Archive’ in Lecce. The director: “I’m almost ninety years old and I will celebrate it on stage”.

On 5th October 2023 LAFLIS, Living Archive Floating Islands, opens its doors.  It will preserve the memory of the sixty-year extraordinary adventure of Eugenio Barba and his Odin Teatret.

It includes sets, costumes and props from performances that have moved generations of spectators around the world; and also the private library of a director considered a maestro of theatre, images of the long and unfinished history of a group with magnificent actors, films, recording and documents of theatre anthropology. The memory of the remarkable adventure of Eugenio Barba and Odin Teatret has found a “home” in our country, in Lecce, in the prestigious Bernardini Library, where the collections of Carmele Bene and Silvio D’Amico are also preserved. The Living Archive of the creative experience of the director born in Salento, and of his group of actors who are based in Holstebro, Denmark, will display his  masterpiece performances such as Min Fars Hus, Come and the Day Will Be Ours up to the most recent ones which have marked the history of theatre in the second half of the twentieth century, as well as the most innovative experiences  with group theatre, the Third Theatre, body language and, in general, a new culture.

  The concept of this place called LAFLIS, Living Archive Floating Islands, is also new. It is  an interactive archive, not a simple repository: a place of study and reflection, but above all a sensorial labyrinth to be traversed and experienced as a performance. “It is not a nostalgic project that closes a chapter”, explains Luigi De Luca, director of the biblio-museum centre in Lecce, promoter of LAFLIS, with Loredana Capone, President of the Council of the Puglia Region, “but a kernel of active culture that opens a new generative season about Barba’s lesson”. Many initiatives have been planned for the three-day inauguration, the 4th, 5th and 6th October, with films, performances by Teatro Koreja, Tascabile di Bergamo, and Potlach, the presentation of Eugenio Barba’s new book, My Lives in the Third Theatre. Difference, Craft, Revolt, encounters with the actress Julia Varley and Mattea Fo, and an “opening ritual” at 6pm on 5th October.

AB: Barba, by gathering this collection of your memories, are you looking to the future?

EB: The past is not a world that has stopped existing: it has a life full of lives. The past is not behind our backs, it is above us. LAFLIS wants to be present in the present, it is a breathing body that develops within three branches of activity: memory, that is the inventory of historical documents; transmission, which concerns publications, including the JTA, Journal of Theatre Anthropology, open access films, comparative studies, in order to transpose the past into the present; and transformation, the display of our performances as interactive installations and sensorial and imaginative experiences for the visitor, thanks to the contributions of Francesca Romana Rietti, the designer Luca Ruzza and the OpenLab.

AB: You became a “Maestro” of theatre in Denmark and from there in the world, but you chose to preserve your memory where you were born, in Salento. Why?

EB: I had imagined that my memory would linger in the place where it was created, in Holstebro. For years I have stored my private library in the old farm which, since 1966, I transformed into the Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium. Furthermore, thanks to a commitment that began in 2008 and ended in 2015, the Italian theatre scholar Mirella Schino together with Francesca Romana Rietti and Valentina Tibaldi managed to file, catalogue and transfer to the Royal Library of Copenhagen the first fifty years of original documents and a digital copy of the photos and audiovisual materials concerning Odin Teatret’s numerous activities.

In 2020 I decided to dedicate myself only to my activity as director, to my research on theatre anthropology and to Odin Teatret’s archive. I passed the leadership of the Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium to my administrative director who, as his first decision, fired the people in our archive. Then, referring to security reasons, he moved the 6,000 volumes of my library, thus wiping out the ongoing cataloguing process. Finally, after two years, he fired me. It was a lesson in human nature. It was painful to observe how the culture and history of our theatre was wiped out by claiming a change of generation. Among the rubble, I remembered Nietzsche’s words: in times of mourning, don’t pray, bless. From an earthquake new life arises. Through the partnership with the Puglia Region and the act of donation of my library and my artistic legacy, the gods have saved the memory of Odin Teatret, cancelled in Holstebro, and guaranteed a new spring here in Lecce. If Loredana Capone and Luigi De Luca continue to fight for LAFLIS, I can imagine a future for it as a memorial for the Third Theatre which deserves to be recognised by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of humanity.

AB: Are you glad that the Living Archive will be kept in rooms adjacent to the well- known director and actor Carmelo Bene? Have you ever met him?

EB: I saw Carmelo Bene only once and we did not exchange a word. He had attended a demonstration of Odin Teatret’s training with the founding actors of our theatre, Else Marie Laukvik and Torgeir Wethal. He left hastily, commenting loudly that we hadn’t gathered to see how Danish actors move their feet. It was in Ivrea in June 1967, at the Conference on New Theatre organised by Franco Quadri, Edoardo Fadini, Ettore Capriolo and Giuseppe Bartolucci. What I have read about Carmelo Bene makes him very interesting for me. For example, what Nicola Savarese told me and wrote, the book by Leonardo Mancini or the various publications by Piergiorgio Giacchè who also attempted to draw a comparative portrait between Bene and Barba, both of whom grew beyond measure thanks to the blessing of St. Joseph of Copertino.

AB: You are 87 years old and still active. The Odin actors too. Why?

EB: I have a handicap: I fall in love all the time, and this state floods me with energy. I fall in love with women and men who fight for an idea and exude a certain brightness. I am seduced by absurd projects, for example a living archive which is an oxymoron, since an archive by its nature is a trunk full of old papers. My sons admonish me that I will soon be ninety, I reply that it is for this reason that I must hurry up and do as much as possible. I am currently rehearsing in Holstebro two new performances for Odin Teatret’s 60th anniversary in 2024, which we will celebrate every month in a different country. In Italy we start already on October 15th in Pontirolo, at the Arhat Theatre. We will return to Milan at the Menotti Theatre in March and to Rome National Theatre in June.

AB: Does the Living Archive in Lecce have the value of a legacy?

EB: You can only leave as a legacy what belongs to you. I have nothing to leave. What you call a legacy is a cemetery of memories, objects, books, decisions that come from obsessions and often fortuitous circumstances in my life. Something which is unrepeatable and inapplicable for those who come after me. Yet theatre remains the place where ghosts made of memory return. This memory does not consist in the cult of the past, but is a force aiming forward, a sats, an impulse to give a new and personal sense to the knowledge of what has happened. We ourselves decide to be someone else’s heirs, overturning his or her certainties, results and theories to rediscover an essence. I feel as if I am an heir of Stanislavski and Isadora Duncan, yet what do their performances have in common with those of Odin Teatret? Fabrizio Cruciani is right when he states that the past is the warehouse of the new. Therefore, I do not want to leave a legacy, but I don’t forget that there will be heirs and that I have to leave something that has a meaning and a value. I want the Living Archive not to be a repository of what has disappeared, but a landscape, for the visitor, of apparitions and love at first sight. The discovery of something new that has no age.

AB: A couple of personal questions: why do you always only wear sandals, even in winter? Will you live in Italy in the next few years?

EB: The sandals are the proof that I am a sapiens sapiens, therefore superstitious. They have a prophylactic function. If your feet are cold, no colds. Thus, protected against pneumonia, I travel unceasingly, at least six-seven months a year, but my home is and will remain in Holstebro, where I have lived since 1966 and where I still direct Odin Teatret. My children were born and raised there, I have a piece of land in the cemetery to be buried with the Odin actors who want it and also with my wife Judy who has supported my doing theatre since its start. If Odin Teatret and I have reached our sixtieth anniversary, we also owe it to her who protected the intimate space of our family. Judy was fundamental in the history of theatre, because since 1963 she translated into English the articles by Jerzy Grotowski which I edited and published in 1968 in the book Towards a Poor Theatre. Judy helped me to exorcise my demons by letting me pursue them in the theatre. I rejoice to be buried holding her hand. The other hand will be for Julia Varley.