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Iñaki Rikarte, the theatre director who turns everything into gold | Culture

by News Room
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The name of Iñaki Rikarte is on everyone’s lips in the Spanish theatre world. Everything he directs turns to gold, his works are loved by both audiences and critics and he is taking home the main awards in the sector this season. At the recent Talía Awards, awarded by the Academy of Performing Arts, he was crowned best director for his work. Forever, a moving wordless mask show by the Kulunka troupe. At the Godot, Madrid critics’ awards organized by the magazine of the same name, he achieved the same distinction for The monster of the gardens, by Calderón de la Barca, which premiered three months ago with the National Classical Theatre Company (CNTC). But next Monday he could also win two Max awards, reference prizes on the national scene, which will be presented in Tenerife: best direction and best theatrical co-authorship for Forever. They would join the one who won in 2023 for Supernormales, a surprising production by the National Dramatic Center (CDN) on the sexual life of people with disabilities.

All this has exploded in the last two years, but Rikarte has been on stage for more than two decades. Born in Vitoria 43 years ago, he began working as an actor in plays by the CDN, the CNTC and the Basque company Tanttaka. But at the same time he launched himself as a director in different groups in Euskadi, mainly Kulunka. In 2020 he was a finalist for the Max for best direction for Disdain with disdain, by Lope de Vega, in another CNTC production. Since then he hasn’t stopped: four totally different and successful productions in four years. Has he found the secret formula for success? The aforementioned smiles: “There is no recipe. Each show requires a different process and I can’t guarantee that the next one will work. But perhaps there is something common that I propose with everyone: that the public understands and enjoys it.”

We are at the Comedy Theatre in Madrid, headquarters of the CNTC, where he has dazzled with his staging of The monster of the gardens. The performances have already finished, but it will be revived at the Almagro Festival from 19 to 28 July. It is a mythological comedy by Calderón de la Barca that is rarely performed due to its anachronism and difficulty: gods, nymphs, oracles, the hero Achilles and the Trojan War in the background. All in Golden Age verse. How do you manage to hook the 21st century public with these ingredients? “Realism doesn’t work with the classics, especially because the characters don’t speak normally. So you can’t try to make something that isn’t ordinary into something ordinary, you have to find a code so that these words seem credible in the performance. That’s what I mean when I say that I want the audience to understand it,” answers Rikarte.

He found the code after thinking many times about the question: what is this work really about? “It is the story of forced recruitment. Achilles is in love and does not want to go to war, but the forces of the State act in such a way that he cannot avoid it. They manipulate it. He could be a young Russian who lives in a village where the army bus passes and takes him away. Or a Ukrainian, an Israeli, a Palestinian. The destination is the State,” reflects the director.

In his staging, Rikarte does not allude to any of the current wars, but rather plays with the Spanish imagination to turn the stage into a metaphorical space with easily identifiable signs: legionnaires, civil guards, processions and virgins who are like contemporary oracles. A party in which nothing is free because from the first minute all the conventions of reality are blown up. “If Calderón made his cloak a tunic with the myth, why aren’t we going to do it? That’s what myths are for: so that we can reconstruct them and use them to explain who we are today,” Rikarte summarizes. The history of Western theater is the history of eternal rewriting.

With the same question he faced Supernormales, the show for which he won the Max last year. Written by Esther F. Carrodeguas, the play is a succession of stories intertwined by a character who offers sexual assistance to people with functional diversity, with a mixed cast of actors with and without disabilities. “I was lost, it was a totally unknown world for me and the text is brutal, without taboos. Until one day I found the key while watching with my son how some gardeners worked in a roundabout in Madrid. Among them were people with disabilities and it seemed like the idyllic image of integration: blue sky, those people planting flowers, all in uniform. But suddenly I thought: is it really idyllic? What is there beneath that image?” Rikarte recalls. The scenic translation of that question was: a perfectly trimmed French garden rises, disappears and below is a disabled boy masturbating on a bed.

Perhaps that is Rikarte’s secret formula: his ability to condense the essence of a scene into an image that connects directly with contemporary sensibility. Or perhaps she has developed that skill in her many years of work with the Kulunka company, specialized in mask theater without words. There is no choice but to rely on visual language. “For example, you see a mother showing her son photographs that she takes out of a tin box and you understand that she is telling him something about her story. Even if the characters do not speak or you do not understand well what Calderón’s verses say. The situation is the heart of theater,” he proclaims.

With Kulunka, founded in 2010 by Garbiñe Insausti and José Dault, he made his debut that same year directing André y Dorine, an elderly couple who fall into apathy and then into Alzheimer’s. The show was cathartic and liked so much that it is still performed all over the world: they have already reached 30 countries. Then they would come Quitamiedos, Solitudes, Edith Piaf, Hegoak and Forever.

There is still one question, the most difficult one yet: How do you manage to please both the public and critics at the same time? Rikarte shrugs his shoulders and responds with another question: “Isn’t criticism also the public?” But she does not avoid the issue: “I do not consider myself an avant-garde director, in the sense that my objective is not experimentation or surprising with innovations. But I do use contemporary stage languages ​​and everything that can help me in each show. Maybe it’s just a matter of using them sensibly.”

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