It is with a huge sadness that we share the news that our friend and partner, Xavier Ricard Lanata, has left us at age 48 on September 5th after a long and heroic battle with a vicious brain tumor. In a hundred different ways, until his final day he continued to prod, probe, and help our work as he shared his revolutionary and surprisingly theatrical thoughts on what is happening to the world through the prism of a powerful vision of ecology. Xavier was a polylingual French-Peruvian philosopher, ethnologist, poet, writer, artist, and scientist, senior civil servant, and professor. And the effortless way his heart spoke to his mind was a piece of theatre in its purest form.
We met Xavier in the Autumn of 2008 as we were flying back from our last performance of Truth In Translation at the Mess festival in Sarajevo after two months of touring the Balkans. It seems he had been in the audience. Almost comically he demanded that we speak there, in the aisle of the plane, and do it immediately. He then proceeded at breakneck speed, to tell us in no uncertain terms, what he wanted us to do for the next decade of our professional lives. In a passionate soliloquy he spoke of a circus group of street kids in Batambang, Cambodia; Theatres of revolution in Peru; refugee centers in and around Paris; and indigenous populations that had to be included. It was a dazzling performance of profound humanity and grand theatre. His voice was almost operatic; his music an aria.
We had breakfast in Paris the following day and within a week we were sitting with his colleagues at CCFD Terre Solidaire planning how to come together with the Phare Circus Company in Cambodia. It took us five years to raise the funding for that project. But it took only that breakfast to know each other as old friends.
Very soon Xavier became our most tireless, passionate, brutally honest, and trusted advisor. Two years ago he became the founding president of GAC’s French association.
Xavier rarely talked about his achievements—his contributions to knowledge and action at the highest echelons of education and human rights activism. He didn’t need to. One could feel that he instinctively saw common threads between people and shared our desire to bring opposites together, teasing out discussions and profound moments amongst those who didn’t know they needed it. So he became part of our creative team. Dreaming with us, arguing with us, and plotting with us—a stubborn and relentless critic for which we love him even more. We made huge plans together—plans we had just begun to put into operation when the tumor appeared. So he started moving faster than he ever had before, laying down thoughts and programs for others to build from. Our work continues very much with his memory guiding us and the inspiration and longing he continues to give us.
Bottom line? Xavier never gave up. He grieved, he raged, he laughed, his passion and exasperation exploding at each gasp of the world’s apathy. And in a strange way, his vulnerability protected us all.
We are heartbroken personally. But we hope for a third act soon where he returns in whatever incarnation he chooses.
Rest in Power, dear Xavier.
-Michael and Jackie Lessac
Co-founders, Global Arts Corps
Words are hard to find about my friend Xavier, after he sadly passed away on the 5th of September.
And yet, words were his realm. He used them with joy and talent, he fed on them, he weaved them together to connect with other people and quench his infinite thirst and curiosity for human beings, the planet they all live on and the comprehension of the different realities they live in.
He was also keen to connect together people from different horizons giving them the opportunity to develop their knowledge of each other and their possibilities of cooperation.
In the books he wrote, he gives us very important keys of comprehension of the world today, and ideas to invent a better livable one for the future, respectful of nature, its resources and their preservation. His ecological vision is essential.
He was also an accomplished and enthusiastic singer, guitar player, comedian and art lover. His enthusiasm was a contagious blessing for everyone who knew him. It was endless in his commitment to the causes he was fighting for (Ecology, deglobalization, inequalities...) with radicalism. But his radicalism was above all serving humanism. He was radically human.
Today, now that is gone, I feel a great emptiness. But at the same time, I also feel fulfilled with his friendship, brotherhood and the warmth and joy of his humanity.
Artistic and Teaching Advisor, GAC
It was a summer day in 2012. The coolness of the evening was finally falling on Prizren,a beautiful town in the south of Kosovo. We were on a terrace along the Lumbardh, the river that runs through the city. South Africans, Northern Irish, Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, all from countries in conflict, gathered around Michael and Jackie Lessac. Yet we all sang together. We started a song in Albanian with my fellow playwright Jeton Neziraj, and Xavier didn't hesitate for a second to join us. He immediately picked up the guitar and sang us a song from Peru. It was so very beautiful.
The joy of living radiated from him. In the middle of the song, the voice of the muezzin echoed from the minaret of the 16th century minaret at the Sinan Pasha Mosque. The evening prayer and Xavier's song escaped to the sky, side by side. The two voices did not intermingle; there was no clash. Rather, a harmony settled between them, a kind of peace in joy.
Whenever I had the chance to see Xavier, I always felt a poetry of joy in him. During the Ottoman Empire, he would have been named ashik. Singer of joy and love. It is the memory that I have of him. Dritë u baft shpirti i tij! May his soul become light!
Associate Artistic Director, GAC
My brief encounter with him left me with renewed energy and hope that there are positive changes still possible in this accelerating, fragile world. Xavier profoundly heard the music of the universe. He was a true “giver”, a genuinely warm individual and brilliant mind whose wonder of the world and deep felt humanity affected everyone who met him. The world can hardly afford the loss of such a mind and spirit.
Associate Artistic Director, GAC
What I remember so clearly is the largeness that was Xavier. Always searching for new ways to implement his vision of bringing artists around the world together.
His passionate plea to us to develop umbrella projects that included groups fighting oppression around the world was before its time. And it wasn't just advice, it was action. With his fierce desire to include other performance-based groups who also live on the edge, he was the one who introduced us to Phare Ponleu Selpak, the Youth Circus and School in Cambodia, that his organization, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, had been supporting for years. It opened up a long incubation and collaboration between Phare and the Global Arts Corps. The result, with persistence and some resistance, ultimately opened discussion between family generations of silence about the genocide. And so was born the devised "creation" known as See You Yesterday. It all started with Xavier! The work we are doing today has Xavier's stamp all over it.
Senior International Producer, GAC
I first met Xavier on June 4, 2019, after Michael and Jackie suggested that it would be a good idea for us to spend some time together as I took my position at GAC, that he could give me additional perspective on the work the organization had done. And they simply thought we’d have a plain old delightful time together. He and I had lunch at a brasserie in Paris’s 12th arrondissement, the kind of nondescript joint where he was a regular, greeted as the grandiose storyteller and bon vivant that I would come to know that day and in the months that followed.
Over couscous and wine he recounted his professional path and I my own, and the conversation quickly followed the organic churn of ideas, with book and film and music recommendations, and went far and wide and even rather personal. I was in awe of this raconteur who was so learned, so versatile, so at ease with the former boxer who ran the brasserie as well as the businessmen at a nearby table. And how he relished speaking Spanish, English, and French, at times with a joyous, theatrical flair of pronunciation and erudition.
In addition to being an ethnologist and philosopher, Xavier was a political thinker, parliamentary candidate, published author, activist, traditional guitar player, and singer. I left that extra-long Parisian lunch feeling exhilarated, joking to a friend that I had just spent the last few hours with a real-life Buckaroo Banzai, the eponymous character in the wacky, 1980s cult film about a polymath who was a physicist, test pilot, surgeon, and rockstar.
And yet he also made time for small things: one day he joined me just so we could traipse around the various banks of the Latin Quarter like door-to-door salesmen for hours, waiting patiently to be seen by one bank advisor after another, just trying to get one of them to agree to open an account for GAC’s newly formed non-profit French association (“Our kingdom for a bank account!” he joked, as Richard III.)
Over the next couple of years, into the pandemic, its lockdowns, and his cancer, we’d have phone calls where he would give me his sense of the world, his take on GAC’s projects, and connecting us to ideas and people and other organizations. He had these conversations a few times from a hospital bed this last year, phone calls that were actually his breaks from dictating the text of his next book.
Now that he is gone I see from the condolences and tributes how he was this way with so many more people than I imagined, giving so many over the world so much of his time. Xavier packed so much living into the time he had, and there was so much more he would have given and done.
Managing Director, GAC