Betroffenheit (consternation, a state of shock, dismay) a co-production by Kidd Pivot Company and the Electric Company Theatre. Written by Jonathan Young, Choreographed and Directed by Crystal Pite.
Here Betroffenheit indicates very quickly, a state of trauma, set off by a personal crisis that the individual, a lone young man enclosed in a hospital room, has experienced but, cannot get out of his mind. In spite of the presence of a psychiatrist, and of individuals who seem to want to help him, the grief and the personal tragedy have possessed him deeply and we see how he can never escape their consequences no matter how hard all those around him appear to be helping him.
Theatre as psychic therapy has already been on the dance stage of the NAC. If you remember how the choreographers of the Israeli dance company LEV Dance, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar sought out expressions of obsessive-compulsive disorder while Ohad Naharin’s choreography Minus One has a large group shifting and balancing in a great collective poetics of corporeal disruption and psychic disorder.
Suddenly, the team of Crystal Pite and writer Jonathan Young offers us a most powerful reading of Freud’s notion of trauma, incorporating bodies and voices from the theatre (the milieu that is well known to the young man in question here) as well as finely tuned classically trained dancers who adapt to all the choreographer’s stage images through varied forms of deep personal upheaval, of shock and tragedy, as the notion of sudden deep change is expressed through the corporeal exchange that has made the work of this team as innovative as was Pina Bausch’s work in the 1970s.
Dance is now creating models of performance that draw on psychotherapy that present models of artistic creation that can be used to interpret, explain, represent, and even uncover the sources of a vast number of disturbing present-day situations that we don’t always understand: fear of change, fear of the “other,” anger, political action, and even the question of contemporary migration.
Interestingly enough, this performance was “crystal” clear! A man is enclosed in a huge room with nothing but a phone to communicate with the outside. He seems to be an inmate in a psychiatric institution. At first, a long cable rolled up on stage starts to move by itself almost like a snake that has come to life. As the image of this lone “creature” slides around, suggesting hallucinations, whispering voices echo in the background, repeating questions and creating confusion as they run through his head, corresponding to questions that others might have asked him about his state of mind: who are you, are you a user? Is he taking drugs? Perhaps he should not answer, nor should he try to explain they say. It will make it all worse. He is projecting questions and answers, and adding to his confusion. Questions are repeated. There are references to the “accident” as we start putting the pieces together from the past.
Suddenly, other figures related to the theatre swirl in and perform. Their costumes are flamboyant, their faces are heavily made up. Thundering tap dancers and Carnaval is a big ominous dance party with cross-dressers, fluffy costumes, and red lips as these figures enter and leave, bringing him back to his theatre days on the stage. Lipsynching their responses in a perfect way as they are rapidly transformed into hallucinations, projections of the disturbed individual’s mind, the dancer who is enclosed in his room alone and who is unable to explain what is happening as the near monstrously strange dancing images return again and again. Even the figure of the psychiatrist becomes a perfectly synchronized rubber doll using his arms and legs as flexible portions of his unspoken communication.
This interplay between the disturbed individual and the society he once knew becomes more intense as these figures become uncanny examples of various dance styles even though they also appear to bring moments of uneasy fun and uncomfortable pleasure. Christopher Hernandez as the cape swirling magician disappeared under his costume. The Carnaval Samba dancing, ballroom routine opened the gates to a twisted contortionist, dressed as a clown who smiled and coiled around her “victim” like that snake. There is also a psychiatrist who speaks in precise bits of language as his body jerks to the rhythm of the sentences and we see how they all appear to be almost robots, incarnations of the single individual’s traumatized mind who cannot change anything but who keep repeating what he wants to hear.
Grief, fear, and loss continually repeat themselves in spite of all their apparent efforts but there is no avoiding that which is and which will always be. Even if a taunting voice insists that “you are getting better, you are surviving,” nothing changes. In fact “it” even becomes worse.
The electronic soundscape, especially during the second part becomes a powerful presence where we hear the clanging of metal, and bells–then the crackling and crumbling of the world around the small group of terrified individuals comes from the world of performance. Almost as though they were appearing out of a mist, they are all exposed to a large post standing upright in the middle of the stage, stretching up to the top, an unstable support for the surroundings to show that could all come toppling down around them at any moment and crush them all. Thus the threat is ever-present. There is no solution in spite of the calming voice that repeats “you have survived.” But have they or has he? And the insecurity continues, as the questions ring in all our ears…
At that point we see that this enormous metaphor of a frozen collectivity, caused by a state of ongoing crisis of human behavior forced, for example, into a situation of migration where groups are constantly subjected to fear, anger, uncertainty, and loss, are the perfect reference for this performance model. In fact, there is nothing outside this portrait of human relations because the performance has captured the essence of what the world is living today. An extremely important stage experience.
Betroffenheit April 6-7th 2018
Written by Jonathon Young
Choreographed by Crystal Pite
Performers: Christopher Hernandez, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, Tiffany Tregarthen, Jonathon Young, Yiannis Logothetis
Set design: Jay Gower Taylor
Lighting: Tom Visser
Costumes: Nancy Bryant
Composition and Sound Design: Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani, Meg Roe
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.