Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lotte Van Den Berg - Stillen @ Lilian Baylis Studio

I can't really say how I felt about this piece. It was so different from I have ever seen, more performance/visual theatre than dance. So I am just going to describe what I saw, in the hope you will get an idea of what it was like. (It is quite possible I will have missed some bits!)

The stage is much wider than it is deep, and it is almost bare: no masking, about eight chairs along the edges, a piano in the top left corner, and a floor paved in bars of soap. An old woman with wild reddish hair sits on a chair. Neon lights at the back come on, slowly lighting the space. A young woman enters the stage (from a door on top right corner) and sits on the other side, near the piano. They wait. For possibly over two minutes, they sit and wait.

Finally a young man comes in, walks over the young woman. He touches her, wanting to show his affection, but she shakes him off repeatdly. She goes to play the piano (what music? The notes didn't say. Chopin?), while he moves angrily, stamping on the floor and making a hole in the soap paving. He then walks to the front right corner, sits and eats some bread and water.

Another man walks in slowly. He looks strange: he is blinded, his face covered by a mask of plasters. The first man takes him to the centre stage, and feeds him some of the bread he has been chewing, provoking repulsion in the audience. The blinded man wants more and tries to fish more bread from the mouth but there is none left by this point. The first man sits on the chair at the back, and cuddles the blinded one as if a baby, sitting him on his lap and taking him in his arm. The blinded man gets angry, tries to escape this hold, punches are exchanged, with loud thumping, until he walks. The soap pavement under the chair has been partially destroyed by the fighting.

The young woman plays the piano again and, while the young man starts putting the floor together again (like a puzzle) a little girl with very long blonde hair and in pink leotard walks in. She helps placing the soap bars neatly back before dancing a little.

An old man, tall, slim, bald, walks in. The little girl looks at him and walks off. He sits down. The old woman walks in and sits next to him. The lights change to something dimmer and warmer than neon. The young woman, who has stopped playing piano, is sitting down next to it. She pours a glass of water on her feet, and starts lathering up the soap with her feet. The young man, now in the opposite corner, does the same. They look at each other, smile, play.

The man with plasters on his face walks back in and sits on a chair along the back wall. He starts to whimper loudly, moving about on his chair. The old man goes to sit next to him and seems to calm him down with a few quiet words (we cannot her what he says) but then he starts whimpering again, and the old man keeps talking. The other young man takes his chair and comes sit next to the old one and makes another loud noise, the old woman sits next to him and does the same, and finally the young woman sits next to the man with plasters and talks quietly too. Slowly they all stop until the young woman is last.

The young girl walks back in, heading straight to the piano, where she plays some high notes. The old woman walks to the piano and plays low ones. The young woman comes and sits in the middle and plays a tune. When they are done, the blinded man suddenly walks up along the back wall, almost in a panic, until he find a rope that he pulls, tipping a big glass container full of water. For 30 seconds, water pours down on the stage, drenching him. The whole cast is looking at him. It is a beautiful image.

Things get a bit funnier after that, as the floor is now slippery and the cast must carefully manage that, as if they were walking on ice. The young couple hug and keep falling and laugh.

Then it got very moving for me: the old woman walks across to the old man and they kiss tenderly for a long time. The old man then turns around and starts crying, his sadness feeling very real. They both sit, but the old man seems to be gone: little by little, he falls on the floor. He has just died. The old woman cries, her face to the back wall, before turning to sit a beautiful song (what? I do not know) in the quavering voice of an old mezzo-soprano.

Finally, in what was a superb and very powerful image, the little girl, holding a big bucket of water, comes near the old man and, sat on the floor, starts slowly washing his face, his hands, his feet.

The end.

You can watch an extract of Stillen here.