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Review: Betroffenheit

Adelaide Festival

Think Alice in Wonderland meets the Grim Reaper on a road trip to purgatory, marry this to the inescapable suffering of trauma and loss, and you have a glimpse of the tragedy that is Betroffenheit.

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It’s the human psyche trying to run from itself and managing instead to chase its own tail – an endless loop of anguish.

Simply translated, Betroffenheit means shock, bewilderment or impact. Created by Jonathon Young, one of Canada’s best-known actors and co-founder and artistic director of Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre, and internationally acclaimed Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite of dance company Kidd Pivot, this sublime fusion of dance and theatre surfs the tsunami of transformation in the wake of unbearable personal tragedy.

Opening onto a set resembling a disused warehouse room dissected with a steel pillar, lights flash intermittently to the accompaniment of voices as Young leads us into his surreal landscape of shock with cables buzzing ominously and snaking across the stage.

Eventually he moves to unplug the malevolence, only to replace it with the buzzing of his own repetitive self-lacerating accusations: “They’re in there. I try to get them out.”

Watching him is like observing an open wound, bleeding endlessly onto the stage. Young begs for epiphany. “You want some insight with that?” a voice sneers.

The dancers of Kidd Pivot – Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey and Tiffany Tregarthen – are brilliant as the tawdry cabaret artists doing a malicious tap dance inside his head. They faultlessly portray the crisis-management team of his mind that vigilantly replays the emergency situation, flagrantly tangoing to their own inner beat.

If the first act is deconstruction, the second is a reconstruction, of sorts. The kitsch and colour have disappeared, replaced by a smoky grey uncertainty, and Pite’s deliciously evocative choreography lures us away from repetition, denial and addiction towards possible redemption. This is dance theatre at its best – reminding us that art can be the conscience of humanity.

A danse macabre that can only be relieved by surrender. “At what point is accepting defeat the only way forward?”

The final Adelaide Festival performance of Betroffenheit is at the Dunstan Playhouse today (March 4).

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