Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre
Betroffenheit by Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young
London, Sadler’s Wells
31 May 2016
Gallery of pictures by Dave Morgan
(based on a 35 second fragment of Betroffenheit)
On seeing just a handful of works I hold Crystal Pite in very high esteem as a choreographer. Only a week ago I referred to her Solo Echo for Ballet BC, seen at International Dance Festival Birmingham, as 5 star work. Her Polaris for London dance school students and her own company was much feted by the London critics with 4 star reviews, her duet, A Picture of You Falling, danced last year at a Sadler’s Wells Associates show, absolutely dominated the night and based on videos I’m really looking forward to seeing Scottish Ballet dance her Emergence at the Edinburgh Festival (and then touring). Artistic Directors are falling over themselves to get a slice of her amazing talent and rightly so. But her Betroffenheit, created with Jonathon Young (a Canadian writer, actor and theatre artistic director), comes as a disappointment. I don’t think I’ve felt so dispirited about a major talent since Sylvie Guillem created Eonnagata with another Canadian, theatrical luminary Robert Lepage (and Russell Maliphant), and somewhere along the line dance choreography really got left out and replaced by not-such-good theatre. Same with Betroffenheit.
Betroffenheit is a heartfelt look at trauma and loss, informed by Young’s personal experience of losing his daughter and 2 cousins in a fire. Beyond that it’s about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug addiction and mental pain, and Young, with the team, looking at abstract ways of showing what’s going on here. What we get is a 70 minute first act, set in the yard of a small manufacturing facility, where Young, inhabits a mad world in which everyday objects light up and have dialogue with him or he speaks to some omnipresent higher being, going around in troubled circles. Later Young becomes enmeshed in a dreadful cabaret show with the hosts from hell. It could be funny but it’s not really – it’s a bewildering experience, but I’m not sure graphically showing a dream bewildering experience to the audience really tells us much about trauma or drug addiction as such. As theatre I didn’t find it compelling at all. Cabaret aside, there is not much dance to be seen, though there are some short sections of mime where the dancers gang-up and harangue Young in words and clever amplifying gestures. Perhaps 15 mins of the 70 made me really perk up. The interval came as a relief and some left at this point.
The second (and final) part of the night is 50 minutes and starts promisingly – there are dancers dancing on a nearly bare stage! Better, this is the movement I think of when I think Pite – the movement of humans. It was said of the famous pioneer car designer Bugatti that he could see the forces in the components he designed, making them lighter and more beautiful than the less thoughtful functional work of others and I feel Pite has a similar instinctual feel for the body and both its mechanical and emotional possibilities. And she can aggregate that feeling and move a group so you see the individuals but also a society view of caring, or whatever. The Kidd Pivot dancers (KP is Pite’s own company) are seriously good, strong and quick but I have to mention Jermaine Spivey particularly, who can morph from rubber legs to a body of steel in milliseconds – an astoundingly charismatic mover. Sadly the omnipresent voice from above returns and more rather bewildering theatre follows. But come the end, I have to record that a good proportion of the audience stood (in the Stalls at least) – I suspect it’s a Marmite piece that you connect with or you don’t. Personally I don’t feel I saw anything that illuminated PTSD, so much as a tedious and confusing night of theatre with glimmers of very interesting dance. Although Pite is the headline name and the dance press were naturally there, this was more a theatre piece and I’d be interested in what theatre critics might have made of it. I give it 3 stars because when you do see Pite’s movement it’s amazing, but in any other hands this was a 2 star night.