Stefania Cenean

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Romanian Scene Designers: Stefania Cenean
Romanian Scene Designers: STEFANIA CENEAN
By Luminita Batali

If we were to illustrate what makes the stage designer Stefania Cenean unique and, at the same time, what places her in the elite of this field's creators, we could talk about the discrete and intense charm of a creation that, by its nature, can never be in the forefront of a theatrical representation. Stefania Cenean created the setting and costumes for the shows directed by Silviu Purcarete, “Titus Andronicus”, “Phaedra”, “The Danaides”, the costumes for “Who Needs Theatre”, directed by Andrei Serban and recently the stage design for “Heart of a Dog” at the National Theatre, “The Cherry Orchard” at Odeon Theatre, “Chirita of B├órzoieni” and “Ferdinand VIII King of Spain” at the Comedy Theatre. Among the awards received by the artist, there is also a UNITER award for stage design.
As we mentioned, stage design does not intend to do the show, to be a “protagonist” (apart from the rare exceptions noted by the art history), but to make it possible. It is the visual vehicle of the other messages, which belong to the other arts of the theatre: director's, actor's… But in “The Disguising”, a play represented some time ago at the Nottara Theatre, written by Marivaux, it was the one that practically saved the show. The actors' performances had little in common with the French writer of the “delicate sensual comedies”; in change, Stefania Cenean's stage design managed to bring Marivaux closer to the public's eye by means of dynamic elements of contemporary stage design. The refined setting was revealed to the audience right from the entrance into the hall, given the absence of the curtain. What seemed to be at first a wallpaper of leafage describing a classic French park, based on symmetry and decorated right in the middle by the image of a statuary group – “The Abduction of Proserpine”, at the beginning of the play turned out to be painted on transparent support. Even before the actors' performances, the scene was animated by intelligent lighting of this setting – concentrated in several spots – and, related to the same poetics of transparency, there was also a wonderful visual surprise of the statuary group that seemed to change its matter, stopped being opaque and revealed the silhouette of one character who started to move in the background.
Among the extraordinary costumes created by Stefania Cenean, we remind that of Arlequin, of the Countess… In this case, the three dresses were noticeable by the modern interpretation of the 18th century costume – their line was definite, the fabrics were precious, gracious and impeccably designed chromatically, so as to blend in the silvery atmosphere of the setting. What defined the feminine costumes, the gentle equilibrium between simplicity and decoration, was also a feature of the masculine costumes of Lelio (the Knight, actually a feminine character, was defined by more vivid colors), and of the valets, who were important characters in any love intrigue and whose costumes can't be neglected, all of them creations that “stood” in space and had volume. Especially Arlequin was created with authentic style and skill, from hat to clothes. And last but not least, Lelio's costumes were highlighted by grey colors, texture combinations and elegance.
Perhaps in the case of “The Mistakes of a Night”, directed by Petru Vutcarau at the Small Theatre, we can talk about a less outstanding stage design than that of “The Disguising”, because it overdid on the burlesque aspect of the play, probably because of the director's view. There was rustic setting – folding screens of wattle, natural wood, and then we noted the excellent use of trap doors that enlarged the “small” playing room, as implied by the name of the theatre. The atmosphere may not have described the house of a nobleman, but it perfectly created the confusion of a house with an inn, of dramatic importance. Among the folding screens, we also noticed the one that became a transparent hiding place and distorted the characters in a comic manner.
If the atmosphere was somehow too rural and rustic, the costumes compensated that by many vivid suggestive and successful elements: the Hostess, the Scottish servants… The characters' clothing followed a few lines: the merry motley crowd created a contrast between white, color and ecossaise fabrics, the suitor noblemen were portrayed by means of blue and violet colors of precious fabrics – however too effeminate in the beginning. For the conception of the varied feminine costumes, created with admirable fantasy, apart from colors and fabrics, the expression by means of volume was also used. Evening costumes, night gowns and shirts, underwear and night caps (see Mrs. Hardcastle – Coca Bloos) alternated merrily in front of our eyes. We must also remind here the costume of Sir Charles Marlow, the costume of an English nobleman, that is of someone educated and eccentric, humorously provided with an inter-war aviator cap, in the sense of the above mentioned characterization.
One of the most successful shows of the recent years, “Chirita of B├órzoieni” at the Comedy Theatre, written by Vasile Alecsandri (let us note that the name of the author was painfully small on the programme and used with the wrong preposition. But the author remains! This is not a show written “after” someone's idea, but it is Alecsandri's play, even if ingeniously adapted), had an exceptional team of actors: Emilia Popescu, Tudor Chirila, Mirela Oprisor, director: Iarina Demian, scene designer: Stefania Cenean and light designer: Alexandru Darie.
The stage design solved with confidence and ingenuity the problems of the show, music-hall and comedy at the same time. The plantation, a high-tech device suggesting the world of music-hall, made room especially for the movement and dance, the visual expression and description of the characters being successfully taken over by the costumes. We witnessed again the perfect suggestive theatrical line, adapted to the characters, to the actors, and especially to the actresses, that Stefania Cenean created very well by means of her costume design. Thus, for Chirita's costumes and make-up, a comic character and very slightly grotesque, interpreted by a beautiful actress like Emilia Popescu, the stage design constantly took into consideration all these hints. The costumes were perfectly helpful in supporting the comic play, without uglifying or deforming… Moreover, in a chromatics dominated by red, black and white, Stefania Cenean managed to create sexy costumes, suitable for the modern music-hall, which played with the fetishes of women's underwear without any fault, costumes that remained truly seducing and feminine as a result of this inspired vision.
In the above mentioned sceneries, but also in shows such as “Queen Mother”, “Ferdinand VIII, King of Spain”, the style of Stefania Cenean has never made ill use of fabrics or properties… Never having been haunted by that horror vacui that makes others say it all on the stage, in agglomerations often parallel to the playwright's original intentions, the artist lets the space and actors breathe in worlds where the stage design irradiates a discreet charm that smoothly accompanies the Romanian theatre's accomplishments.

This article was presented in “The Cultural Observer”, and also in the broadcast “Fine Arts” at Radio Romania Cultural, May 19, 2006.
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