Before I start my review, I should point out that I am not a dance or theatre critic – so anybody who is an expert in these fields, please don’t diss me if I get my terminologies confused, or just completely wrong. I am, however, a photographer, and am all too familiar with some of Marcel Proust’s theory (Monday morning lectures should be illegal), which is essentially the backbone of the entire production.
This theory is related to the photograph and the human memory. To elaborate slightly for the sake of clarity, Proust believed that the visual memory replaces actual memories, and because a photograph – as we are led to believe – is a factual document, we believe it to be real, when in-fact a photograph can replace our own experiential memories, or even lead us to believe that we have seen something that we haven’t. Now that’s covered, let’s get down to what we, the lucky audience, actually saw.
The cast consists of six performers – all of whom dance and act – one musician, and one photographer. The musician (Elko Blijweert) is the first of the cast to appear, and does not leave the stage until the end. The performers consist of a narrator-come-lead-character; a deranged narcissist mother/artist; her three very individual sons; and a slightly confusing young female whose presence is not really explained until later in the production; and then there is the photographer (Danny Willems), who is the presence that seems to link the scenes together, and helps Vandekeybus’ idea be seen.
The show begins with the mother moving the apparently dead bodies of, what we assume are, her children into the middle of the stage, arranging them, and then screaming at the top of her lungs. After a few moments of painful yelping, she gives in, says “fuck it”, and walks off stage. This is the moment where the audience realise that the show is going to be a rollercoaster of extreme ups and downs.
The next scene is where the play really starts, and the narrator starts satirically discussing a very famous installation by Joseph Beuys, in which he shared a room with a coyote for three days. Using the dancers, himself, the photographer, and some props, he reenacts this piece several times, each time using the dancers as the coyote (he adds three more for effect), and uses the photographer to record the piece. The scenes that ensue build on the family relationship between the mother and her sons, and also the narrator and his relationship with the mother and the seemingly unrelated girl.
It is hard to explain without detailing each scene – and quite frankly without watching it again it would be hard to do that – but the story is about the mother, who is an almost-made-it artist – who has three sons, but begrudges them for stifling her career. But then as the production goes on, all of these stories become distorted, and the characters become angry/delusional/sad and it becomes a melting pot of death, accusations, love, art, photocopiers, hate, and marriage, before culminating in yet another huge reference – this time the greatest film ever made but never was, by Henri-Georges Clouzot – and this leads towards the end of the intense and incredibly thought provoking performance.
I went to see the production on the Tuesday, and I had to wait until Thursday before writing this review, simply so that I was able to digest some of the elements of the show. Perhaps in one week it will make even more sense, but either way, this production does what Mr. Vandekeybus intended, which was to play with our minds, and his interest in Proust’s theory was communicated perfectly in his deconstruction of the memories of the characters themselves, and what we the audience saw at the beginning of the show, and what we think we saw at the end.
Words: Dante Holdsworth