Revolutionary energy on a mountain of waste

Recensie Theaterkrant

Anyone who can be found with any regularity on a beach somewhere on the Atlantic, whether near IJmuiden or in Lomé (West Africa), cannot have failed to notice it. The seas are rapidly turning into highways for gigantic container ships that loom on the horizon in endless traffic jams as far as the eye can see. Articles appear in (foreign) newspapers about how business is excitedly speculating about melting ice caps that could enable faster sea transport between continents. What can a performing artist do against this violence?

Nicole Beutler takes up the gauntlet in the first part of what is to be a trilogy: Rituals of Transformation I: Ginkgo. The Japanese tree that gives this show its title is the only living organism that managed to defy the atomic bomb. The performance begins in post-apocalyptic atmospheres: an orange sun rises against an inky black sky, illuminating a landscape like an exploded industrial site. Among oil drums, worn armchairs, suitcases, water bottles, bicycles, racks, and indefinable fragments of overconsumption, the dancers scurry. A backdrop descends with an idyllic park landscape, but it is only a fleeting memory of what a landscape once was and the canvas quickly disappears, leaving the inhabitants to their fate in their fragmented metropolis.

In this waste, the dancers indulge in short dances of a spastic nature. At regular intervals they seem to address the heavens in an urgent prayer, and here and there we see an attempt to escape, to fly away. The shadows they cast at times form silhouettes of hybrid creatures, between object and human.

From the outset, on the right of the front stage, a sovereign, spiritual presence dressed in white is commenting on events and guiding them on that wondrous instrument that must be played while dancing: the theremin. Its controlled and effective playing by Dorit Chrysler forms a permanent balance against the desperate chaos on stage.

Halfway through the performance, the inhabitants of this world come together and unite in a revolutionary energy, screaming loudly at the audience as they carry objects with them. A choir dressed in black sings an edited version of the lacrimosa from Mozart's requiem, a repeated mourning lament.

The final part of the performance is a series of individual statements by each of the dancers. They seem to be personal statements taking a stand against the violence that surrounds them. The calm and concentrated sincerity with which Cesirhe Sedney speaks his farewell text impresses amid the more intense monologues by Hilary Blake Firestone, Melyn Chow and Felix Schellekens and the unexpected Dutch by Marjolein Vogels.

During these monologues, a new country/city is built up leading to the final scene: as a mutilated version of Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne resounds, a steady snow descends over the collapsed remains from which all life seems to have vanished. Or has it?

Beutler packs a big punch and the chosen theme fully justifies this approach. Marloes and Wikke are the ideal designers for this project, they create strong images: the stream of PET bottles clattering on the floor with accusatory noise reinforces the eloquence of the performance. The texts used, on the other hand, do not always succeed in getting to the heart of the argument and sometimes lack the impact that the images do. They come from obvious (Morton) and perhaps less obvious sources (Shakespeare, Rinpoche), but - unlike the dancers' monologues - they create a certain analytical distance from the rest of the scene material.

They become footnotes to the action and join the main text only with difficulty. Engagement and analysis are thus offered side by side, and the viewer has to switch and go along with the story or reflect on the analysis. This is what the performing artist is capable of. Beutler does not want to be pessimistic, so the last text that sounds is 'there might still be time'. The closing image fits this seamlessly and opens the way to the second part of this trilogy in the making.

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