The FMU Artist Series presented Cedric Liqueur’s solo performance of Dante Alighieri’s “La Vita Nuova: The Face Shows the Colors of the Heart” on Oct. 4 at the FMU Performing Arts Center (PAC).
The performance was an English translation of selected prose and verses from “La Vita Nuova,” which were read by Cedric Liqueur, an actor, director, playwright and former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Liqueur began his performance by sitting in the front of the room with the lights dimmed. He then started reading braille while his eyes were closed behind a pair of dark sunglasses. This artistic choice was his way of getting into character, as the story’s protagonist goes blind.
“Stage actors, you have to create a character. There’s nothing on Dante, no one has ever done a solo performance on Dante,” Liqueur said. “Dante is a bit tough because it’s 13th century renaissance medieval literature; it’s kind of like Shakespeare.”
In the selected pieces Dante describes the love that a man has for one woman, Beatrice. He fell in love with her at first sight when he was only 9 years old. Time passes and nine years later he sees her again, and his feelings of love are confirmed because he still feels enthralled by her. Later, Beatrice dies, and the man is left with grief and an urgent need to find value in life after she is gone.
Liqueur said a lot of thought went into becoming the character from the story.
“When I was thinking of Dante at some point in my writing, it’s been a long time since Beatrice has passed and he’s older. He’s going blind and he’s written a lot of stuff down but he can’t read them anymore. So instead of looking at a person and talking about Beatrice I had to go back in my mind, and blind people can’t see so they really have to create images with their words. So that was my idea behind closing my eyes and not looking at the audience.”
The audience was a mix of Dante fans and people who had never seen a copy of Dante’s work before. At the end of the performance Liqueur opened the floor to discussion of the performance and the work, and one audience member commented that Dante was not in love with Beatrice but rather the idea of loving her.
“I can’t hear, I’m not listening to myself,” Liqueur said. “The only way I know if I was able to perform the way that I was trying to do it is if someone in the audience tells me, ‘You know you said that, and I understood it.’”
Liqueur has performed other shows at FMU, including “Clarence Darrow: A One-Man play by David Rentils,” in 2017.
Both before and during the reading, slides of artwork by William Blake, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other artists were shown, depicting Dante and his love for Beatrice.