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'Transfiguration', Olivier de Sagazan - Sadler's Wells Theatre

This year's edition of the London International Mime Festival revives Olivier de Sagazan’s Transfiguration, which first premiered in 1998. Twenty years later, it continues to probe the concept of selfhood by delivering a disturbing and (quite literally) flammable performance. De Sagazan has inspired other artists such as FKA Twigs and Mylène Farmer, and he has featured in Ron Fricke’s documentary, Samsara. Transfiguration follows a confrontation between materiality and transcendence as the painter-turned-performer uses sculpture to materialise the concept of creation by performing it on the body. The beginning of Transfiguration is untraceable, as its performance begins unannounced. Before the seats are filled, de Sagazan circulates the stage, painting a loop of motion with his steps until it hushes the audience into silence. De Sagazan’s organic and almost interactive introduction is reminiscent to me of ‘consciousness’, and the idea that we plod through life on autopilot. The only way to break the circle is to recognise it.

De Sagazan pursues the core of selfhood by summoning spirits through rhythmic chants influenced by Shamanic rituals, then returning to a block of earth for an attempt at creation. He prepares the clay and places it on his body, moulding and reconstructing the many layers of ‘self’; adding a second skin until it coalesces with the natural layer he wears around his bones. Continuing to remould and transfigure his face, de Sagazan becomes a living sculpture, which is both beautiful and unsettling. As he shapes and remoulds himself, he blurs the line between creator and the created. He dips his fingers in paint and dots his eyes, while the lips are painted with a simple stroke. We watch as colours glide along the clay, gracefully losing meaning along the way. He is now deprived of his vision and can only feel what is within. In his post-show interview, De Sagazan speaks of ‘working blind’; this is clear in his visual rejection of rationality as he allows mannerisms to reign free. He abandons the image of ‘self’ as body while we sit in awe of his bravery, transfixed by his devolution towards evolution.

© Transfiguration - Olivier de Sagazan

As De Sagazan mutilates himself, he transforms into a hybridity of creatures, plunging us into our bestial beginnings. His use of gesture perturbs us until we sit facing the brute he guards within. The being generates movement, a primal signal sent throughout the body; it speaks in forms and in the eyes. Alternating between layers of male and female features, it is soon genderless. Despite his evolution, he still asks, ‘who am I?’. By removing his sculpted facades, de Sagazan starts anew, smoothing his head into a sphere-shaped and featureless tabula rasa, leaning into silence. De Sagazan pleads to understand the body’s control panel as both master and marionette. He channels his primordial essence, smashing his clay-made body against the wall and leaving tangible expression as a backdrop. It is violent and bursting - an explosion of flesh. The audience leaves wondering how bound they are to their bodies, reminiscing on an experience I would recommend to all.

Edited by Dimitrina Dyakova

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