“Betroffenheit,” performed by Canadian companies Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre, lived up to its title in the American Dance Festival premiere July 14, at Durham Performing Arts Center.
The German word “betroffenheit” means “shock, bewilderment or impact,” according to program notes.
The performance, which continues Saturday, July 15, represents a collaboration between the two companies. But at its heart, the dance is Electric Company Theatre writer, dancer and co-artistic director Jonathan Young’s own story of personal trauma, “Betroffenheit” choreographer Crystal Pite says in program notes. Young and Electric Company co-founder Kim Collier’s 14 year-old daughter, Azra, along with two of her young cousins, died in a cabin fire on a lake in British Columbia.
“Jonathan has challenged me to use our art form to grapple with the question of suffering and he has steadied me with his courage,” Pite writes.
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In addition to co-creating the work with Pite, Young also performs the role of the central, traumatized character.
The first 75 minutes comes across as a post-traumatic stress nightmare that also includes some diversions, escapes such as Las Vegas-style performances, tap dance routines and some ballroom-worthy salsa moves.
It opens with eerie, crashing sounds on a dimly lit stage, curtain partially pulled, as a black cord snakes across the stage. We hear authoritarian voices seizing up a catastrophic event, in which lives are lost, but the main character survives. The voices also dictate the protocol for dealing with it: “We don’t say anything … “ a voice says as Young’s character runs frantically back and forth. The phone rings, Young’s character answers and we hear a gravelly voice say: “Take no action. The first move is staying put.”
In this nightmarish world, terror can come in many forms, including the statuesque Cindy Salgado, dressed as a Las Vegas show girl wearing sparkly briefs and bra, and a white skull cap with a small, triangular top that resembles a child’s party hat. She enters pushing a wooden box on wheels then pushes down on a detonator-type device that sets off a loud explosive sound that sends the cast running, jumping and falling in panic.
As a group, characters, portrayed by Bryan Aria, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey and Tiffany Tregarthen takes different approaches to dealing with Young’s character. Someone in the group pulls him by the feet along the floor as we hear a voice say: “He saw it happen. He can’t take that … Sedate him … smother him.”
Then, near the end of this work’s first section, the traumatized Young collapses and the cast props him up as we hear: “We have to pump him. His system can’t take it.”
When the curtain fell on this 75-minute, dark, intense, powerful first half, I felt drained and exhausted. Thankfully, the 45-minute conclusion proves to be a much-needed balm, in large part because it begins and ends with Jermaine Spivey’s beautiful, effortless, fluid dancing. He opens this last section with his own, silken, “no bones” B-boy moves. In his solo that ends this work, he stands on one foot and slowly revolves, then runs in place, his body stretched forward with the finishing line in sight. Then, he jumps and seems suspended in mid-air, free of the gravity of worldly trauma.
What: “Betroffenheit,” by Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, July 15
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center
Tickets: 919-680-2878 or go to www.americandancefestival.org