PANAMANIA presents Betroffenheit, a hybrid of dance and theatre in Toronto
Betroffenheit makes its premiere in Toronto as part of PANAMANIA, the 35-day arts and culture festival presented as part of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. A collaboration between choreographer Crystal Pite and playwright Jonathon Young, the dance/theatre hybrid is created around the theme of trauma and loss. While the subject is weighty the execution is stunning.
I’ve been a fan of Crystal Pite, the prolific, young Canadian choreographer for a few years and make a point of seeing her work whenever I can. Her work feels audacious, bold and original, it consistently excites me.
In Betroffenheit, Pite’s choreography is elevated by a superb company of dancers; Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, and Tiffany Tregarthen.
Betroffenheit is a German word meaning extreme shock, bewilderment or impact; the protagonist (performed by playwright Jonathon Young) has suffered some unspecified trauma and finds himself trapped in a prison of his own mind, represented as a large, cell-like room, and visited by various characters that could represent different parts of his psyche as he tries to work through an extreme form of PTSD.
The first half of the performance has a manic quality to it. The tone swings wildly. It starts off tense and ominous. Figures in clown make-up visit our protagonist and they dance while lip synching to pre-recorded dialogue. Young’s script is an abstract cross between a traumatic flashback, a therapy session and a self-help tape.
Later the tone manically shifts to light and fun as company members salsa dance in Carnival costumes and then do a Broadway-style tap dance number before crashing back down again in a dark scene hinting at the lead character’s substance abuse and self medicating.
While the first half of the show can come off as random and scattershot, bear with it, it sets up a brilliant and thrilling second act.
After intermission the conceit of the first half is dropped and the curtain goes up on a stark, empty stage save for a lone steel pillar. The company (now appearing sans makeup) perform Pite’s choreography, a hip hop/contemporary dance fusion with an amazing sense of fluidity. The dancers’ expressions convey the anguish experienced after trauma.
The movement vocabulary Pite establishes in the first half is heavily referenced in the second but it’s performed with a greater sense of urgency and expressed as raw, guttural emotion. For example the choreography of the pas de deux between two men (Young and Spivey) that had been a light, almost comedic piece in the first half is repeated as a violent struggle. Young, primarily known as a writer and actor more than holds his own as a dancer, flowing seamlessly into Pite’s complex choreography.
The choreography and performances in the second half were enthralling, I was so engrossed I nearly forgot to breathe. That’s a quality I love in Pite’s shows. Combine it with a performance from Young that both centres the piece but also feels deeply personal, and it makes for an evening of dance/theatre that’s as thrilling as it is affecting.
- Betroffenheit is playing from July 23 to 25, 2015 and February 18 to 21, 2016 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E)
- Shows run July 23 and 25 at 8 p.m., July 24 at 7 p.m.
- Tickets $24 – $99
- Tickets are available available online, by phone at 416-368-3110 or in person at the Berkeley Street Theatre box office.
Photo of Jonathon Young, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, David Raymond, Tiffany Tregarthen and Bryan Arias by Wendy D Photography.