Dallas — Canada’s Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre combined to take one man’s tragedy and transformed it into two hours of nightmarish, chaotic and absurd theater. Anyone lucky enough to witness Betroffenheit Thursday night at the Dallas City Performance Hall, courtesy TITAS, will have it imbedded in their psyche.
As a joint project by choreographer Crystal Pite and performance artist and playwright/actor Jonathon Young, the work was a stunning marriage of dance and theater.
The German for Betroffenheit is all but untranslatable, but it seems to refer to shock, bewilderment and impact. Our protagonist Mr. Young experiences post-traumatic stress, reliving again and again a terrible incident like a tape on rewind.
The setting is a claustrophobic warehouse, with a beam at the center, electrical boxes on one side and piles of cords stretched out the length of the room. The building is lit with horrible fluorescent harshness, when it’s not hit with streaks of strobes or lighting bolts. Strange clanks and screeches come from an invisible source, but other than the noise—and the eerie lighting—nothing seems to happen. Suddenly, the cords move on their own, uncoiling like snakes and disappear. If that is not unsettling enough, a beam of light illuminates a figure huddled in the corner, and the nightmare is only beginning.
What follows is nonsense, fear, vaudeville decadence and comic relief. Our guilt-ridden, shell-shocked protagonist carries on fragmented and repetitive conversation with an invisible presence in a control tower. Words like “What happened,” “It’s going down!” “Oh my God!” “The system is failing,” and “Don’t respond,” are repeated. And repeated. All the while Mr. Young is frantically trying to open an electrical box, a telephone or find a safe place to hide.
Mr. Young lives in a nightmarish world of constant flashbacks. Just when it seems impossible to rid himself of his demons, Jermaine Spivey bursts in, face made up with garish streaks. He is Mr. Young’s alter ego/nemesis/friend/demon. He moves with jerks and spasms, grinning maniacally.
The tension is all but unbearable. Time for comic relief. It comes with a Las Vegas showgirl (Cindy Salgado) bursting forth in high heels, feathered headdress and little else and a man also in high heels. To carry out the theme, someone glides around carrying a huge, floppy fan. Mr. Young is stunned and delighted. Next we know, they are gone and he and Mr. Spivey turn in to competing MCs wearing cheesy powder blue coats and very big black wigs, “It’s your turn, no it’s your turn,” each says, trying to edge the other away.
There is also a slinky vixen (Tiffany Tregarthen) in cone hat and gold, two-piece swim suit who folds and unfolds like an accordion, a man (David Raymond) in black hat who tap dances around the stage, and a preposterous puppet show where Mr. Young finds himself in a cart, only his head visible, while “his” tiny legs stick out and “dance.”
Mr. Young comes close to dying several times with his body stretched out on a gurney. Others rush in to either revive him or leave him dying.
The tension does not exactly abate in the second half—now just a dark, empty space—but there is much more dancing: a little tap with all six characters joining in, some salsa, and a lot of languid, curving, buttery movement that just as abruptly turns into slow-mo. Maybe it’s possible to experience redemption—or at least some sort of relief—and to express that was the glorious solo by Mr. Spivey. He both folds in and expands, with elements of breakdancing and quirky jerks and smooth, arching turns. Our last view of him is of a dark figure bent over and walking crab-like into the darkness.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Read Katie Dravenstott's interview with Jonathon Young
» Read Danielle Georgiou's Sixth Position column about dance theatre