Light and fluffy it isn’t. In fact, Betroffenheit has been described as the most harrowing of Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s prolific canon. “Simply devastating,” was how the Dance Critic of Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper, Martha Shabas, put it.
The German word doesn’t translate easily into English, but in the context of this dance-theatre work it means an overwhelming kind of “shock” or “trauma.” And that’s because the work’s starting point was an unimaginable tragedy: the death in a fire of Young’s 14-year-old daughter Azara.
Jonathon Young, a Vancouver-based actor and playwright, wrote the piece and performs in it. The choreography is the inimitable work of Crystal Pite, though she told Culture Whisper that throughout she “followed his lead in how he approached each day of creation.”
Betroffenheit comes in two parts: part one is narrative. Here theatre and dance blend to powerful effect: post-traumatic stress comes in the form of a room with no exit: all harsh lights, grimy walls and snaking wires. Young’s voice echoes through loudspeakers, frantically trying to find the words and mantras to help him cope with the tragedy.
Read the Crystal Pite Interview
At the same time, a surreal parade of grotesques provides temporary relief from the pain, even while causing yet more anguish, showing that the more you try to suppress a painful memory, the more of an obsession it becomes.
In the second half, the stage is cleared and the piece becomes more abstract. We are treated to pure dance by members of Pite’s own Kidd Pivot company. In choreography described by the Canadian site The Georgia Straight as “mind-blowingly creative” her dancers show all their power and versatility, “exploding with agony, trembling together like some conjoined organism, and pressing down each other’s convulsing limbs.”
Pite choreographs to an especially commissioned soundscape by Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani, and Meg Roe, but also for the first time to Young’s own words, and uses their rhythm to dictate movement.
Heart-wrenching it is, and by the end you may well feel as though you'v been punched right in the solar plexus; and yet the work is not unremittingly dark: Pite and Young offer some hope, a kind of redemption, and so much-needed catharsis.
Premièred in Toronto in June 2015, Betroffenheit, a co-production between Kidd Pivot and Young's own Electric Company Theatre, had its UK première at Sadler's Wells last year and earned near unanimous praise. For Culture Whisper it was definitely one of the very few 5 Star events of the season
Now it makes a welcome return; and anybody interested in dance and its unique ability to blend rigour, thought and pure emotion would not want to miss Betroffenheit.
Pre-show Director's Conversation: Wed at 6 pm. Price £4
|What||Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young: Betroffenheit, Sadler's Wells|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
11 Apr 17 – 12 Apr 17, 19:30
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|