REAL LIFE TRAGEDY
There’s no English translation for betroffenheit.
“It’s a speechlessness,” says choreographer and dancer Crystal Pite. “There’s a loss of words.
There’s a sense of something you aren’t able to speak about. Something about the untranslatableness of that word really works with the piece.”
The piece in question is Pite’s latest work, for which the renowned choreographer borrowed the untranslatable German term as a title. It’s a collaboration between Pite’s performing arts group Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre, whose co-artistic director, writer and performer Jonathon Young, approached Pite a couple of years ago to direct him in the show, which was at that time in development.
“I loved the idea of working with him because I’m a big fan of him as a performer,” Pite says over the phone from the Banff Centre, the artist incubator where Betroffenheit will show as a work in progress on July 16 before travelling to Toronto for its world premiere with Canadian Stage as part of the Pan Am Games’ Panamania cultural programming. “I was really intrigued by the idea. I took a look at his writing and listened to him talk about the project and felt like it was a project that could really benefit from having dancers in it. As the piece developed, the other performers in the piece became an integral part.”
In keeping with the show’s title, Pite isn’t keen on describing Betroffenheit in explicit terms, only to say that the work draws from a real-life tragedy experienced by Young. Kidd Pivot’s online synopsis offers more clues: “A crisis-management team is keeping your emergency situation alive and present, a trusted voice is urging you to come to terms with the past, and a steady supply of ‘The Show’ is available for all the distraction, escape and pleasure you crave.” Images of the show in progress are eerie and almost jarring: sinister, clown-faced dancers contort themselves onstage as Young lies nearby, blank-faced, apparently in a state of shock.
“We’re using (Young’s experience) as a kind of heartbeat of the work,” she says. “It moves outwards to the universal question of survival.”
“It’s intense to be working with this material,” she continues. “It’s hard to work with that content. Surprisingly, there’s been so much joy through the creative process. You’re confronting this material, but the spirit of confronting is loving and earnest.”
Pite is no stranger to confronting darkness in her work, but says that with Betroffenheit, there “hasn’t been a lot of heaviness” during the creative process. In spite of that, though, she’s careful not to describe the show as cathartic. “I think the word catharsis is tricky,” she says. “It’s a bit like epiphany. But, within the content, we have talked a lot about epiphany. I think what ultimately happens with our protagonist is that the kind of epiphany he was looking for is not at all what he ends up getting.”
There’s another word Pite will use to describe, if not the show itself, at least its creation: collaborative. “Probably more than every other project I’ve had,” she says of working together on Betroffenheit. “Everyone is just leaning in with everything they have to make this come to life.”
BETROFFENHEIT Crysal Pite and Jonathon Young February 18 – 21, 2016 BLUMA APPEL THEATRE 27 Front Street, Toronto TICKETS $24.00 – $99.00 www.canadianstage.com 416-368-3110 PERFORMERS Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, Tiffany Tregarthen, and Jonathon Young SCRIPT Jonathon Young CHOREOGRAPHY & DIRECTION Crystal Pite COMPOSITION AND SOUND DESIGN Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe SET Jay Gower Taylor COSTUMES Nancy Bryant LIGHTING Tom Visser