There is a room in Jonathon Young’s mind created from trauma. It has an electrical box, a harsh fluorescent overhead industrial light, a wall phone, and a corner in which to hide and whimper; at times, to painstakingly crawl out of. The two walls of this room keep him hostage to repetitive illogical mental constructs and down the rabbit hole ramblings. These walls are also the set of the first half of an impressive dance theater spectacle, “Betroffenheit:” the inexplicable bewilderment created from a particular dramatic event.
Young is a self-described compulsive writer and artist and one of the founding members of Canada’s Electric Company Theatre. He collaborated with Canada’s leading choreographer, Crystal Pite to create his multi disciplinary exorcism and multi dimensional salvation. Pite—principle choreographer of Kidd Pivot—uses an intricate combination of street dancing–popping, waving, locking–with full-up tap dancing, salsa, and Cirque du Soleil styled modern. Stylistically their collaboration comes off as a contemporary rematch of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill–absurd theatrics that makes total sense and mesmerizing logic. Each segment is edited with razor sharp precision. Tom Visser’s lighting design creates a grainy black and white effect, as if scenes are being viewed through an early TV. This visual effect, along with the sometimes robotic choreography and repetitive text, seems to replicate the distortion of a video being spliced, creating a jump-cut image.
Visser, who began working in dance with Nederlands Dans Theater, has full command of the appearance of this performance from start to finish and is as talented and as tangible a presence as the six superb dancers. Young, Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, and Tiffany Tregarthen are all hugely capable with an impressive range, easily sustaining this two-hour performance. Young keeps all the plates spinning with his text, mostly prerecorded and sometimes live, and the real music and rhythm to “Betroffenheit.” Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe’s powerful sound design pounds dramatically throughout.
In the first half, dance happens more like breakout moments within the different segments of movement and dialogue, explosively appearing as a pink fan dance complete with a talk show host at one moment, then “All That Jazz” tap dance in black blower hats the next. Young’s humorous admission of being self centered as he crawls through different states of depression and grief while searching for the way out is surprisingly heartfelt, touching the cord that connects all of us. The second half is void of costumes, props, and gimmickry, signaling a transformation. The two defining framed walls that started the performance are now rendered on pliable canvas that seem to float through the stage before disappearing altogether. Now the set is empty except for Visser’s smoke filled lighting and the single monolithic column that fills the black stage. The choreography melds into modern, not as intricate or imaginative as the first half, but is a welcome relief. Gradually Young’s verbal repetitions—“I’m not the victim here! I’m here to help! Yes? No? Yes? No?” start to lose their intensity, becoming more spacious as he has glimmers of resolution. “You’re the disaster that is waiting to happen” slowly fades into a solo performance by supple Jermaine Spivey who has danced mostly as Young’s shadow and partner in suffering. Spivey ends the performance walking off the stage on bent legs, not fully out of a job but more likely going deeper underground.
David E. Moreno