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Beckett v. Duchamp : Script for Tallinn

© Vladimir J. Konečni

Times are in reference to a beginning at 19:00

18:54:00 begin: Webern, both movements from Quartet Op. 22 (for violin, clarinet, tenor saxophone and piano) Beckett v. Duchamp CD Track 1 (3'02") and without a break CD Track 2 (3'07") = 6'09" Also, from 18:54:00 to 19:00:00 non-stop, Slide (grey-black) of Duchamp's King and Queen etching is shown.

19:00:00 Lights out and back on several times; then prolonged darkness for 3-4 seconds; then lights on and simultaneously music begins: Stravinsky Octet for Winds (movement: Sinfonia), Track 3 = 2'36" During this time, the chess pieces (all except White King = scarecrow-mannikin, who is there from the beginning, not brought in by Diaghilev, see below) run out into the hall and wonder about on and around the chess board (no talking, no laughing, etc.); gradually each is taken to its proper place by the Narrator = Sergei Diaghilev; the three White Pawns face toward Duchamp's high chair (tennis umpire's style); the two Black Pawns face toward Beckett's high chair; Duchamp's figure is already seated or, better, carried out and placed into the chair by Diaghilev; Beckett walks out toward the end of 2'36" and takes his seat;

19:02:40 Stravinsky Orpheus (Pas d' Action - Andantino leggiadro). Track 4 = 1'48" At the beginning of this comes out the Ballerina and does a solo dance au pointe, chess pieces are motionless; Diaghilev walks around unobtrusively, "inspecting"; at the end of this:

19:04:30 Diaghilev speaks (English with a heavy Russian accent):

A very good evening to you ladies and gentlemen! Perhaps I don't need an introduction, but... I am Sergei Diaghilev... You may call me Serge.

I am the impresario of the Twentieth Century. I organised it all. The whole century is my idea. One could say, only a little immodestly , that the Twentieth Century would not have existed without me!

(points to the Ballerina) This is my friend the ballerina. My confidante. She will keep me company and entertain us.

(points to the Two Percussionists) And these two are the percussionists. They came here to watch and play. They are members of the public like you, except a little more crazy!

And here we have the ancient game of chess. The game of Kings. I am a poor player, but I like to watch. A "kibitzer" as chess people say... a "voyeur"... as the prudes would say.

This particular game that you see on the board here has been going on for a long time. For many years, dozens of years... In fact, since the Twentieth Century began...

Around the beginning of the Twentieth Century, two boys were growing up, one, Marcel, in Normandy, in France, and the other, Sam, in Dublin, in Ireland... although they both later became Parisians. And they both liked chess and have been playing this very game for God knows how long.

But this is the endgame. End of the game. The game will end tonight. And being a sorcerer and magician, I know it will end in exactly 12 moves!

Let me introduce the Players. This here is Marcel, Marcel Duchamp. He is a little indisposed today and cannot get up on his own. But I'll lift him in a little greeting. (Diaghilev lifts the Duchamp mannikin briefly.) He is in charge of the Black Chess Army... or what is left of it. But his two pawns are dangerous, each a step away from becoming a Queen. Since his voice is hoarse from too much smoking, I'll call out his moves... And this here is Sam, Samuel Beckett (Beckett bows.) He has been playing the White pieces.

So let the game resume! White to play!

19:08:00 - 19:12:22 Rammstein, Track 5 = 4'22"

          At 19:08:00 The pieces come to life (but without leaving their squares!) -- the White Queen (stretches sensuously), the pawns (white and black, dance in place, exchange glances), and the Black King (minimally: places hands on hips?). (The White King is a mannikin.)

          At 19:08:25 The Two Percussionists (the male one naked to the waist) run into the hall and start on some percussion;

          At 19:08:55 They both start hitting a steel (oil) drum (industrial/used-looking) full force with pieces of metal pipe.

          At 19:11:10 Beckett stands up. Operator reduces volume on CD player to close to zero.

          Beckett: The first move of the White is Queen from c2 to c3! (In the same instant, the White Queen jumps to c3 and Operator resumes Track 5; it finishes at 19:12:22).

19:12:25  Diaghilev: Duchamp has been reduced to having no choice. The first move of the Black is King from a1 to b1! (Black King moves. Then complete silence 7-8 seconds.)

19:12:40  Beckett: White's second move is Queen from c3 to d3 Check! (The White Queen moves and glares threateningly. She and Black King stare at each other a few seconds.)

19:12:45 - 19:15:38 David Bowie "Sorrow," Track 6 = 2'53" (The Ballerina dances solo and with the Two Percussionists.)

19:15:42 Diaghilev: Duchamp's second move is King from b1 to a1.

19:15:55 - 19:17:44 Simultaneously, Stravinsky Septet (Movement: Passacaglia), Track 7 = 1'49" begins and the Slide of Nude Descending the Staircase No. 1 appears and the slide remains for 30". At 0'30", Slide of Nude Descending the Staircase No. 2 is shown and the Ballerina, visible but motionless until then, begins to dance and keeps on dancing to the end of Track 7 (1'49") At 1'22", Slide of Nude Descending the Staircase No. 3 will be shown and stay on until the end of Track 7. (So: first slide for 30 sec.; second slide for 52 sec.; third slide for 27 sec.; the Ballerina dances from 19:16:25 to 19:17:44. or 1'19".)

19:17:45 Beckett: My move Number Three is Queen from d3 to d4 (The White Queen does Clothes Stripping No. 1, white-to-beige, then moves to d4 while looking flirtatiously at the Black King.)

19:18:00 Diaghilev: Duchamp's move Number Three is again forced and it is King from a1 to b1. (The Black King moves while not taking his eyes off the White Queen.)

19:18:15 Beckett stands up and reads:


my way is in the sand flowing

between the shingle and the dune

the summer rain rains on my life

on me my life harrying fleeing

to its beginning to its end


my peace is there in the receding mist

when I may cease from treading these long shifting


and live the space of a door

that opens and shuts


(Samuel Beckett, in Transition Forty-Eight No. 2, June 1948, p. 96)

19:19:00   Beckett (sharply): My next move is Queen d4 to e4 Check!

19:19:05 - 19:23:53 Rammstein, Track 8 = 4'48" Both Percussionists and the Ballerina spring into action, performing on instruments and dancing ad libitum. One of the Percussionists may walk about with a portable percussion instrument (woodblock or some such).

At 19:22:55 (3'50" into the track) Diaghilev raises his hand and Operator reduces volume on CD player to close to zero; The Percussionists and the Ballerina freeze.

Diaghilev: Duchamp's King will escape from b1 to a1!

Instantly the Black King moves. As soon as he does. Operator resumes Rammstein Track 8, which is followed promptly by the Percussionists and the Ballerina resuming their playing and dancing until the end of the piece (19:23:53).

19:24:00     Beckett: For the White's fifth move the Queen ascends from e4 to e5! White Queen moves, fast.

19:24:07    Diaghilev: Black King a1 to b1! Black King moves fast.

19:24:10     Beckett: White Queen e5 to f5 Check! White Queen jumps.

19:24:14    Diaghilev: Black King b1 to a1... Black King moves slow, with resignation.

19:24:15 - 19:30:10 Radiohead (from "Kid A"), Track 9 = 5'55". "How to disappear completely." During this time, lights go down. Everyone is perfectly still. The Ballerina and the Percussionists are frozen wherever they find themselves. The White Queen and the Black King are oriented toward each other, but heads bent down, no eye contact, absolutely still, not breathing.

19:30:10 Lights gradually back up.

19:30:15    Beckett: White Move Number Seven: Queen climbs again, from f5 to f6... White Queen moves slowly.

19:30:22    Beckett stands up and is quiet for 5 seconds.

19:30:27    Beckett reads:


The gravel laps at the rock's guts seemingly

forever, but then


the rain begins. The rain: it's light and improvised but

reaches for the end of time more patiently

than even the rocks do; it will breed

splendid weeds to overgrow and crunch


the rocks...


(Vladimir Konečni, from Zen will die, in Five Asian Sonnets; published in The Cathartic Poetry Journal Fall/Winter 1990, p. 12.)


19:31:10 - 19:34:17 Steve Schick/Kaija Saariaho, Track 10 = 3'07" The two Percussionists and the Ballerina improvize during this period but do NOT begin before 19:31:50 (40 seconds after the beginning).

19:34:20    Diaghilev: Duchamp 's King from a1 to b1... Black King moves slowly.

19:34:24 - 19:36:40 Steve Schick/Kaija Saariaho, Track 11 = 2'16". The Percussionists, the Ballerina, and all the others are frozen and silent throughout this period.

At 19:34:39 (15 seconds after the beginning), Beckett gets up and silently gives the sign to the White Queen to move from f6 to g6+.

The White Queen does and (speaking for the first time) calmly but forcefully says: Check! Then she, too, is frozen and silent to the end of the track.

19:36:45   Diaghilev walks to the Black King and whispers a few words to him, at which Black King moves humbly from b1 to a1.

19:36:50   Immediately following the Black King's move, Beckett reads:


'till in the end

the day came

in the end came

close of a long day

when she said

to herself

whom else

time she stopped

time she stopped


Diaghilev reads:


when he said

to himself

whom else

time he stopped

time he stopped


Beckett reads: time she stopped.

(Adapted from Samuel Beckett's Rockaby, 1981)


19:37:30 - 19:41:20  Rammstein, Track 12 = 3'50" The White Queen, the White Pawns, the Two Percussionists, and the Ballerina all spring into action, performing on instruments and dancing wildly. The White Pawns dance in place, never leaving their own squares. They all freeze at 19:38:15 (45 seconds after the beginning of the track), at which point Beckett voicelessly signals to the White Queen to move to the square g7, which she does. At 19:38:26, Rammstein sings the words "Asche zu asche" As soon as this is heard, the White Queen begins the "striptease" No. 2 beige-to-gray on the square g7, looking at, and performing for, the Black King (who stares fixedly at her); but she does not take too long and does it with rough, violent gestures. Simultaneously with the beginning of the striptease, the White Pawns, the Two Percussionists, and the Ballerina resume dancing wildly and performing on instruments and continue this until the end of the track; the White Queen joins in this "Bacchanal" (on the square g7 only). At 19:39:10. Slide of Single Duchamp Mannikin is shown for 20 seconds, followed, at 19:39:30, by Slide of Duchamp Playing Chess with a Nude for 30 seconds, followed, at 19:40:00, by Slide of Three Duchamp Mannikins which is taken off at 19:40:20 (after 20 seconds).

19:41:20     Diaghilev: Duchamp's move Number Nine is King from a1 to b1. Black King moves.

19:41:25 - 19:48:11 Beethoven String Quartet Op. 132, Fifth Movement Allegro appassionato. Track 13 = 6'46". During this time, the only active person will be the Ballerina. She will, for the first time, enter the space of the chess-board; first she will dance several close circles around the motionless White Queen, as if "identifying" with her; a little later, she will dance close to the motionless Black King, as if carrying with her the White Queen's message. She can go back and forth between the two several times, but end up off the chess-board by the end of the track.

19:48:14      Beckett: My move Number Ten is Queen from g7 to h7 Check! The White Queen moves and faces the Black King.

19:48:20 - 19:50:20 Stravinsky, No. 1 from Three Pieces for Clarinet, Track 14 = 2'00". During this entire two-minute period, no one moves or talks, lights should be subdued.

19:50:23     Diaghilev: The Black King retreats to the corner. The Black King does this very slowly. (From this point on, Diaghilev, the Ballerina, and the Two Percussionists are onlookers, standing in two groups of two, apart from each other, and watching.)

19:50:30 - 19:51:47 Stravinsky, the beginning of Elégie for solo viola. Track 15 = 1'17". At 19:51:00. Slide of Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy by Man Ray is shown and stays on until the end of the track. During this entire period, no one moves or talks, lights should be subdued.

19:51:50     Beckett: The White Queen will ascend to a place where heaven and hell are equally close. The White Queen moves from h7 to h8 and looks in the direction of the Black King.

19:51:58     Beckett: She will fall to kill. Hear the Epitaphium.

19:52:00 - 19:53:21 Stravinsky Epitaphium (flute, clarinet, harp) Track 16 = 1'21". During this entire period, no one moves or talks, lights should be subdued.

19:53:25     Diaghilev: Duchamp's move Number Eleven, his last move: The Black King walks to his death. The Black King makes tiny tired steps from a1 to b1.

19:53:40      Beckett reads:


I am alone.

In the present as were I still.

It is winter.

Without journey.

Time passes.

That is all.

Make sense who may.

I switch off.


(Samuel Beckett, What Where, 1984)


(After this, Beckett sits and watches silently to the end.)


19:54:00 - 19:56:21    Stravinsky Orpheus (Pas d'Action - Vivace), Track 17 = 2'21". At 19:55:10 (1'10" after the beginning), the White Queen, looking alternately at the Black King, the Duchamp mannikin, and down the h-line on the chessboard, readies herself and stands bold upright.

At 19:55:15 (1'15" after the beginning). Operator reduces volume on CD player to close to zero and the White Queen says in a clear, loud, but calm voice -- I shall kill Marcel Duchamp. Operator then restores the volume.

At 19:55:23 (1'23" after the beginning), there is the beginning of the fortissimo and immediately the White Queen exclaims Check-mate! above the music, runs a few fast steps down the h-line, then throws herself forward on the ground and slides on her front to the square h. There she rises to full height, looks at the Black King -- who sinks to his knees -- and raises her arms and head triumphantly into the air.

[The fortissimo lasts for about 22 seconds (until 19:55:45. 1'45" after the beginning of the piece) and the above actions should be finished by the fortissimo's conclusion.]

During the remaining 36 seconds of the track, the Black King will crumble from the kneeling position to the ground, dead. The White Queen, standing on h1, will do the final "striptease". No. 3, gray-to-black: the black bodysuit will have a scarlet-red stain in the stomach area. Finally, she takes off the blond wig to reveal brown or dark hair. The White Queen has now completed her metamorphosis to the Black Widow.

19:56:25 - 19:57:15   Stravinsky Orpheus (beginning of Apotheosis), Track 18 = 0'50". During this time, the ex-White Queen walks over to the fallen Black King and covers him with a black sheet or coat. As she begins to walk along the first row, from h1 to b1, Slide of Nude Descending the Staircase No. 1 is shown and stays on until the end of the music track. The Black Pawns, moving for the first time, help her. Around this core grouping, the White Pawns, Diaghilev, the Ballerina, and the Percussionists form a semi-circle and watch.

19:57:20 - 19:59:06   Stravinsky Cantata (Versus 1, "A Lyke-Wake Dirge") Track 19 = 1'46". During this period, a procession is formed and leaves the chess-board. At the front are the Black and White Pawns who carry the body of the Black King; behind them, walking alone, is the Black Widow;

behind her are Diaghilev, The Ballerina and the Two Percussionists. As they leave, lights are subdued. At the board is left the motionless Beckett, the only human being alive, and the mannikins of Duchamp and the White King.

19:59:10 Lights off.


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