I am riding the emotional high of Betroffenheit, a co-creation & co-production of Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot and Jonathon Young’s Electric Company Theatre, presented tonight at the Bluma Appel Theatre as part of Canadian Stage’s current season, in a run that ends Feb 21st.
This is the third sample of Pite’s brilliance brought to the Appel. Both Dark Matters (brought to Toronto in March 2012) and The Tempest Replica (presented here in May 2014) were revivals of earlier productions. Betroffenheit is especially powerful.
You can’t mistake the ambitions of a piece employing a big multi-syllabic word connoting a psychological term. And yet the work is a meditation on the limits of words, signification and meaning itself. Before attending I looked for definitions of the big B word, finding a couple to complement what we were given in the program, which I’ll quote because it’s such an apt synopsis of the work itself.
“A state of shock and bewilderment encompasses you in the wake of a disaster. It is a timeless, liminal space where you return again and again even as you struggle to gain and maintain distance, and where you keep responding to the disaster long after it has subsided. Here a crisis-management team is keeping your emergency situation alive and present, a trusted voice is urging you to come to terms with the past, and a steady supply of “The Show” is available for all the distraction, escape and pleasure you crave. In one sense you’re the survivor and this is your refuge. In another, you’re the disaster waiting to happen. “
This is a work that seems to aim for a kind of healing and redemptive catharsis, even as we’re taken to the depths of hell in the obsessive recurrence of symptoms of horror and shock. PTSD and addiction are big parts of the subtext, but perhaps the key thing that needs to be said is that Young himself had a major trauma that led directly into this project. We’re in the realm of a kind of psychodrama, watching that crisis-management re-enacted over and over, by multiple persons representing parts of the inside of one person’s head. We’re given such a visceral sense of the anxiety lurking under the surface throughout the first part of the work that everything hangs together organically, occasionally set aside when we escape into that refuge of “the show”.
Young enacts all the voices on the sound-scape of lines repeated over and over, itself a fascinating achievement that I wish I could hear all by itself.
I think I see a pattern in Pite’s work, one I inflicted upon her in the talk-back session (when she was very gracious to listen). Both of the previous works have an intermission, dividing a first section that is more expository & dramatic, from a second section that is more dance than drama, a distinction that was brought up during the talk-back as a matter of puzzlement. As an opera fan, I submit that in the older works we expect different segments of a work to perform different functions. First we watch the story advanced by recitative (an expository discourse that uses a little music and lots of words to advance the plot), followed by an aria (a meditative discourse that uses a few words and lots of music for the sake of poetry & music). Pite’s dichotomy is like a variant on this. Before the intermission we’re more in the realm of PTSD and anxiety attacks, a soundscape that makes you jump, and lots of words serving as exposition. After intermission we are in a more peaceful meditation upon what we’ve been told, less action than passion, as the physiques of the dancers reflect and re-enact the agonies we’d heard in the first part.
Next week Young and Pite will participate in a PTSD forum with Dr. Gabor Maté, and Dr. Diane McIntosh Saturday, February 27, 2016; 2 – 3PM
Queen Elizabeth Theatre Salon (650 Hamilton St, Vancouver, BC)
FREE, limited seating available.