After the standing ovations in Italy: 'Grief & Beauty' returns to Ghent| 24 October 2022
Grief & Beauty was the opener of the new NTGent season in September 2021 and received immediate praise. Dutch newspaper Volkskrant called the performance "a universal tale about life and death, and how one emerges naturally from the other" (*****). La Libre Belgique noted how "comforting beauty is born from the tenderness and truth of emotions". The New York Times reported on its front page: "Death, live on stage".
The show's theme is contained in its title. Death has long been an anchor in the work of director Milo Rau and his team. In Grief & Beauty, Rau intertwines the life stories of four actors, including Arne de Tremerie and Princess Isatu Hassan Bangura, with video footage of the very last moments of a Flemish woman, Johanna, who chose to plan her own death through legal euthanasia at the age of 85.
Showing death so explicitly is a controversial choice by Rau for some, but in reality the choice offers mostly insight and comfort, reviewers recently noted in Italy, where the play performed to packed houses in Rome, Prato and Genova this October. From the outset, this was Rau's intention: to make a radical yet tender performance about perhaps the last taboo: our own mortality, and especially modern man's tendency to imagine himself immortal and banish death to a remote corner of our lives and society.
"Accompanying Johanna to her death is as if I had also accompanied my father, who was alone when he died. The beauty Rau evokes in the title is this: the gift of a second chance", writes the reviewer of art blog Paneacquaculture. "Perhaps it is not Milo Rau who is controversial, but it is us who are no longer willing to look reality (of our mortality, nvdr.) in the eye. We just want to get as far away from ourselves as possible."
"When Johanna died and we were allowed to film her death, I came close for the first time to understanding what she did," Rau himself said in a video interview. "She managed to overcome her own grave, according to Aeschylos the greatest achievement man is capable of. Superficially, it seems like something only a distraught woman would do, but as I talked to her, she took away my fear of death. What remained, at the end, was her acceptance of death as well as life, and the ultimate beauty of her gesture."
"There is a need, a great need, for artists who muster the courage to address, beyond rhetoric, society's pressing problems," writes Teatro e Cricitca. "The screen on which Johanna appears (...) is the symbol of a deep willingness to take on the weight of the world, to tell those left behind that - in the end - that weight is little compared to the beauty of life, even when the beauty, at the edge of existence, is dying."