Devastating, powerful, ambitious. Betroffenheit follows the psychic struggle of a man felled by trauma. A high voltage descent into the abyss. Nightmarish and harrowing.
Chaos. Consternation. A man traumatized by a terrible accident. How can body and soul withstand the shock? The actor and playwright Jonathon Young and the electrifying choreographer Crystal Pite have co-created a high voltage performance, a plunge into the infernal spiral of a character haunted by loss, an echo that resonates with all survivors. A hard-hitting masterpiece.
An emotional and artistic thunderbolt, Betroffenheit, (German for paralyzing stupor) catapults the spectator into the obsessive, nightmarish quest of a person suffering from post-traumatic stress. Theatre and dance mingle together to create a brilliant, convulsive performance that explores a hallucinatory world. This hypnotic journey into the extreme zones of the painful process of recovery is propelled by virtuoso movement and powerful performance, taking on the allure of an expressionist cabaret teeming with macabre clowns and carnival dancers. Ironic, sombre and laced with dark humour, Betroffenheit bewitches and bewilders.
Produced by Kidd Pivot + Electric Company Theatre
Created by Crystal Pite + Jonathon Young
Written by Jonathon Young
Choreographed and directed by Crystal Pite
Performed by Christopher Hernandez + David Raymond + Cindy Salgado + Jermaine Spivey + Tiffany Tregarthen + Jonathon Young
Set Design Jay Gower Taylor
Composition and Sound Design Owen Belton + Alessandro Juliani + Meg Roe
Costume Design Nancy Bryant
Lighting Design Tom Visser
Presented by Havas
Co-produced by PANAMANIA – Arts and Culture Program of the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am Parapan Am Games + Sadler’s Wells (London) + The Banff Centre as part of the 2015 Performing Arts Residency Program through the support of The Stollery Family and Andrea Brussa + On the Boards and Seattle Theatre Group through the support of Glenn Kawasaki + National Arts Centre (Ottawa) + CanDance Network – Canadian Stage (Toronto) + Agora de la danse + Brian Webb Dance Company (Edmonton) + Dance Victoria
Premiered at PANAMANIA, Pan American and Parapan American Games, Toronto, on July 23, 2015
Crystal Pite + Jonathon Young (Vancouver) Kidd Pivot + Electric Company Theatre
Her dance is magnetic, emotionally intimate and inspired by themes of loss, solidarity and love. Her distinctive choreographic language fuses classical elements with improvisation, recklessness and rigour.
A leading figure in contemporary dance, Crystal Pite is a dynamic international ambassador for the Canadian arts scene. She began her dance career at Ballet British Columbia before joining Ballet Frankfurt, under the tutelage of William Forsythe. In 2002 she founded her own company, Kidd Pivot, in Vancouver. Her choreography is experimental, theatrical, irreverent. As a guest choreographer, she has created some forty works for renowned artists and dance companies, including Ballet de l’Opéra in Paris, the Royal Ballet in London and the Nederlands Dans Theater, where she was associate choreographer. Her dance is magnetic, emotionally intimate and inspired by themes of loss, solidarity and love. Her distinctive choreographic language fuses classical elements with improvisation, recklessness and rigour. In Montreal, where she presented Solo Echo (2017), In the Event (2016), Tempest Replica (2012) and The You Show (FTA, 2011), her work is much admired. She is back at the FTA with Betroffenheit, a piece about shock, grief and torment in the wake of disaster. Written and performed by Jonathon Young, it examines the aftermath of his own personal tragedy. It marks the second collaboration, after The Statement (2015), between Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre, a Vancouver company co-founded by Young in 1996.
An actor, dancer and playwright, he has collaborated on some twenty of his company’s productions, notably Tear the Curtain!, No Exit and Studies in Motion (FTA, 2009), the latter a theatrical panorama, a moving rumination on time that was choreographed by Crystal Pite. Renowned as an actor for his role as Nikola Tesla in the series Sanctuary, Young’s recent theatre productions include All But Gone, The Waiting Room, The Great Gatsby and Hamlet. He is the recipient of a UK National Dance Award and several Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards for his work as an actor and as a playwright.
Betroffenheit is a German word for a state of shock after a disaster, similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. How did that concept inspire you?
Jonathon Young: I like the fact that the word has both positive and negative qualities. It is a sort of paralyzing yet fertile silence that occurs after a traumatic event where any response is possible, where the definitions we usually rely on have disappeared, replaced by a state of mind where everything must be redefined.
That can lead to a loss of value, which is dangerous and exacerbated, especially when addition is involved. There is something strange and mysterious about that word, particularly for an English speaker, given that English translations don’t fully do it justice. It conveys a traumatized condition of someone who feels quite alone in his or her world, incapable of expressing what he or she feels. They often have the impression that what is wrong with them is unique, that no one else has experienced it. It’s a dangerous word, a place where you really don’t want to go.
Crystal Pite: What resonated with me is the feeling that a trauma victim has one foot on the brakes and the other on the accelerator at the same time. I find that paradox to be a powerful image that I wished to convey in choreographic terms in the body: going at full speed while being stuck, that conflict and tension within the body that creates energy, ideas, movement. Another element that caught my attention was the idea of the mind being divided into may voices, some of them trying to protect them while others trying to escape, to change, to transcend.
Betroffenheit is inspired in part by a traumatic event, a personal tragedy in Jonathon’s life, but one where you found metaphorical resonance. Was it necessary for you to go beyond your own personal experience?
J.Y. : We’re constantly aiming for a balance between the personal and the universal dimensions of the topic; we wanted to avoid creating an autobiographical work. We were more interested in the forces that work at a deeper level. What is closest to my own experience is the structure of the piece, which takes into account what I felt during that ordeal. It is a sort of self-portrait but not quite, because I created it with Crystal Pite.
What I find magnificent is to feel that each spectator can relate to part of my story. I am now part of a work that goes beyond my own self, that requires the energy of the group. The piece generates its own momentum and life force. That is extraordinary, given that the subject is death, disappearance and self-destruction.
C.P. : It seems at times that the dancers are engaged in violent hand-to-hand combat, a struggle for survival, but one that is quickly transformed into a rescue operation. I like that duality. Those contrasting images evoke the tension between the voices, between divergent states in the body.
We created a situation of conflict between the text and the dancers’ bodies by staging a sort of combat between the contrasting voices in his head, with each performer allocated a certain number of voices. It is a portrait of living through the paralyzing post-traumatic stupor in all its beauty and complexity. The show is not a dark, depressing tale because it offers hope and beauty, humour and light.
Text plays a major role in the piece, even though one of the characteristics of a trauma victim is an inability to describe his or her state of being. Why did you make that choice?<
J.Y. : Many therapeutic approaches to mend the effects of trauma rely on language and repetition. Our staging portrays the messy disorder a trauma victim experiences. Language initially manages to clean up the trauma victim’s defective system but then fails because it is too rigid and restrictive.
What happens then, if the system is unsuccessful? What happens is that fear increases to a state of paranoia. We wanted to play with that tension between language and movement, with flexibility and rigidity, both of which are called on in response to chaos.
The show is a hybrid of theatre and dance. How did you join the two?
C.P. : One thing we wanted was to have theatre and dance so closely linked that the one cannot exist without the other. We tried to integrate the text and the movement so that it made for a fluid whole, so that it would be impossible to determine what my contribution was from that of Jonathon or the dancers. Dance and theatre are perfectly integrated. Sometimes it’s better to say things with words, and sometimes it’s better without words. Betroffenheit is a very good example.
“Betroffenheit is rare and staggering.”
Martha Schabas, The Globe and Mail, 2015-07-24
“[…] A brilliantly theatrical melding of dance and spoken word that probes the psychic scars of extreme trauma.”
Michael Crabb, Toronto Star, 2016-02-17
“Betroffenheit is a stunning testament to what can happen when life turns into art.”
Martha Schabas, The Globe and Mail, 2015-07-24
“Betroffenheit is one of those shows where you think you must have done something right to have been granted the privilege of seeing it.”
Rita Clarke, The Australian, 2017-02-27