Part 1 of Kidd Pivot’s’Betroffenheit’ — in which we experience ‘All That Jazz’ as a bad acid trip.
But an astonishing, entertaining bad acid trip.
“Betroffenheit” is German for ‘distress’ or ‘consternation.’ It’s an ironically mild term for what happens in this piece of dance/movement theater. Suffering from some serious post-traumatic stress, our main character (writer/actor Jonathon Young) is emotionally sapped and suffering. He sits listlessly in what looks like a disused mental ward. He talks to the hunks of machinery lying around. They reply with advice from therapy sessions (“Come to terms,” “Take no action,” “The show is not a happy event”).
This does not help. His psychoses, his obsessions, pile in through the doors: aggressive tap dancers, feathery show girls, a tango duo.
It’s showtime, folks! This is dance as dull frenzy. Techno music throbs and drones. A fiendish imp clown blows up everything with a cartoon detonator. All the inchoate rage flying around our main character doesn’t prevent him from, of course, wanting to re-join that show, that not-happy event. Sure! says the idiot machinery. Go ahead! It’ll do you good!
So our narrator turns into a schmoozing lounge host. But perhaps showbiz is one way to keep a lid on his pain and emotional chaos: smooth everything out into dancing and riffing. Who knew Las Vegas shtick was an effective defense against psychological trauma? But then the narrator is immediately doubled. His partner perfectly mimics his jokey phrasings, his split-second routines. He’s an alter ego, a mocking shadow. Then a tiny puppet act barges in. There’s all this rubbery, comic energy going on. Yet a sad desolation prevails.
We get the art of theater as neurosis, a seizure, a wretched script you can’t escape. In fact, trying to escape is just another trigger for the trauma to start all over. And this time it’ll come back with pink sequins — and more dancing! The show’s start-stop pattern makes the narrator seem like he’s practicing his own twitchy self-destruction. Let’s do that bit again and again. This time, make us feel the self-pity. It is irritating. It is spellbinding.
Characteristic routine: Choreographer Crystal Pite has her performers time their moves meticulously to a prerecorded voiceover. The precision is unbelievable, non-stop, uncompromising. They will suddenly erupt into herky-jerky tics back and forth as the voiceover glitches. It’s funny, it’s creepy, it’s neurosis personified. It’s like the entire show reduced to a five-second spasm.
Part 2 of ‘Betroffenheit’ — in which we get a change of pace. Funny frenzy becomes desperate collapse.
Think of Samuel Beckett — suffering from a nervous breakdown — attempting to express himself through interpretive dance. Translation: We get a stark melee in a darkened mist. Six performers collide but with everything crafted down to the last micro-isolation and salsa spin.
Our character’s externalized silent warfare is panicked, futile and beautiful. The narrator’s mind is literally spinning apart and re-assembling. The walls of the mental ward flutter away like the insubstantial scrims they always were. The droning, therapeutic phrases from the machinery in the first half make a return, a litany of ineffectiveness. The performers (Young, Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey and Tiffany Tregarthen) are all very different, all relentlessly good. There is no compromise here; every grab, every pivot, every sprawl is countered, topped, extended, escaped, not escaped.
This is the painful struggle of recovery turned into muscle and bone, music and twitch. Rarely has movement theater assaulted an audience with such heartbreak and precision. And the ending is actually touching. But without promising much of anything.
If only dreams were this devastating, this intermittently consoling.
In a case study in obsessive-compulsion, Kidd Pivot will repeat everything Friday night. The show is not a happy event. It is an unforgettable nightmare. It is phenomenal. Make it a date night. Take your therapist.