Betroffenheit - Kidd Pivot & Electric Company Theatre (Canada)
3-4 March 2018, St James Theatre, Wellington
New Zealand Festival
Reviewed by Leah Maclean
Betroffenheit is not for the faint of heart. The staggering dance-theatre work from writer Jonathon Young and choreographer Crystal Pite is a Darren Aronofsky film or Chuck Palahnuik novel brought to the stage. It is a labyrinth of heightened emotion, dark corners, grotesque characters and moments of raw beauty.
Betroffenheit (German) may be an unfamiliar word to many, but simply translated it means shock, bewilderment or impact. The two act work follows a disturbed protagonist, portrayed by Young himself, and his journey through grief, with addiction and the idea of 'coming to terms'. It's incredibly heart-wrenching to note that the work is inspired by Young's own personal experience, following the tragic deaths of his daughter, niece and nephew.
The work opens on a white washed set, perhaps a warehouse or an industrial basement, long cables slither slowly across the stage and up the walls, suddenly lights begin to flash violently and brightly. Disembodied voices holler out panicked and repetitive questions; repetition of phrases is a key aspect throughout the work. Curled up in the furthest corner is Young, dressed in nondescript dark clothing; we are in his world of disconnection, his safe ‘room’.
We are shortly introduced to the rest of the cast, a group of manic and overbearing clowns dressed in glittering show-girl outfits and smart suspenders. They perform incredible synchronised, near aggressive tap routines, and they push and pull against Young, mocking him and dragging him through trauma and encouraging his addictions. The performances from David Raymond and Jermaine Spivey are highlights. Raymond's tap is faultless and his menacing, hunched over clown is downright chilling. He's much like Pennywise from the latest film adaption of Stephen King's IT. Spivey represents fluidity, whether it's through his suave isolation of movement or his transition from character to character. The lighting design also deserves a round of applause. Tom Visser's fantastic work is shown through impressive silhouettes and startling bursts, really creating that deeply unsettling atmosphere.
Act two is a definite shift in pace. The ‘room’ from the first act is gone, opening up the space for more emotionally charged dance and the performers have shed their outrageous costumes for a more subdued look. The mania from the first act has subsided and the audience can almost feel the sensation of release or rather, in this context, coming to terms. Spivey’s final dance solo is an effortless, technically superb act of human expression. His embodiment of trauma and the relief of release is breath-taking, ending the work in one profound swoop.
The NZ Festival did well to catch and programme this act on its final world-tour performance. There is no doubt that Betroffenheit will haunt and inspire its audiences for a long-time after it's done.
With special thanks to Sacha Copland for her input into this review.
Photos: Michael Slobodian