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  • Mariana Baião Santos

Sun & Sea: This is not a beach


Sun & Sea, Ópera-performance by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė, 2019. @ Vennice Biennale © Andrej Vasilenko. Courtesy of the artists


A badminton shuttlecock hits the head of the gentleman in front of me with a resounding thud. The girls don’t notice. The shuttlecock falls into the sand, they pick it up and continue playing. There seems to be an opaque dome separating the two worlds, ours and theirs, which is surely only seen from below because we, up here, see everything.


The shuttlecock continues to fly between racket and racket, racket and sand, racket and sand. “You’re terrible, we shouldn’t play Badminton…”, says one to the other. The realisation doesn’t surprise me, after all one of the girls’ Badminton skills range from nil to embarrassing. However, what fascinates me is the spontaneity with which she speaks. They laugh and decide to continue playing, chatting in what sounds to me like Mandarin.


The laughter of a child interrupts the scene, he goes running around the other people enjoying the beach day under the spotlights. Some looking at him, smiling, others going about their own business. Some are reading, others are on their phones, sleeping, eating, sunbathing, putting on sun cream, chatting, juggling, hugging, touching, kissing, one paints, another crochets. The scene is as bizarre as it is mundane.


“After vacation your hair shines, your eyes glitter, everything is fine…”, they sing. The Big-Brotherian opera-performance by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė, Sun & Sea is a remarkable experience. It was presented internationally for the first time at the 2019 Venice Biennale by Lithuania, being awarded the festival’s main prize, the Golden Lion, and is currently touring the four corners of the world.

A strand of 20 tons of imported sand, dotted with people in pastel-coloured swimsuits, you perched above it, all-seeing. Sun & Sea is a climatic Opera, between arias divided by solos and group harmonies it sings themes that diverge between mundane concerns, life stories and the increasing deterioration of the earth. Yet the actors don’t seem to realise they are singing or that others are.


It is curious, contemplative, uncomfortable – an unparalleled voyeurism. Its rhythm and never-ending movement are hypnotising, after an hour making me question, “How am I not tired of this yet?”


It’s the duality between the scripted Opera and the natural spontaneity of people just going on about their lives that makes Sun & Seaa profoundly beautiful work. The sunbathers are unfazed by neither the exterior nor the words sung.


The opera intonation makes it harder to understand what they sing. The ugly side is subsided by the beauty of the piece, only discoverable to those who pay attention, who are willing to listen carefully to what is being said. A brilliant metaphor on how easy it is to ignore the climate crisis.


“Jellyfish dance along in pairs – With emerald-coloured bags, Bottles and red bottle-caps. O the sea never had so much colour!”.


Originally published in Portuguese on Umbigo Magazine 

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