Weltschmerz on Stage
Wiebke Hüster - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (25 August 2019)

Needcompany’s new dance piece, which premiered at the Ruhrtriennale, shows the world we live in as it really is, without disparaging it. It’s austere, entertaining, political — and, above all, reassuring.

"Real life is far more ridiculous that a TV series could ever be." A review of the fabulous Netflix show "How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast)" recently debunked the notion that the story is purely fictional. A teenager who becomes a millionaire thanks to online drug trafficking? True story. Parents of young adults, watch out: the show’s in-your-face language is not for the weak-hearted. It’s explicit to say the least, especially when it comes to anything to do with sex.

And yet, "How to Sell Drugs" avoids being distasteful. It's heartening to see how the show’s young protagonists move unfazed and unscathed through a world they didn't choose to live in, one in which parents scream at one another and abandon each other — and their children, too.

It’s entertainment that grapples with morality, and “All the Good”, the fantastic new piece by the Flemish Needcompany, founded in 1986, is no different. “All the Good”, which premiered at the Ruhrtriennale in the former machine hall of the Zweckel coal mine in Gladbeck, defies categorisation. It oscillates between theater, dance, concert, pre-recorded installation and lecture. It’s even better than "How to Sell Drugs Online” — not to mention funnier and more liberating — for two good reasons. Firstly, it’s live. Live! Secondly, "All the Good" refrains from depicting adults who are self-proclaimed victims of their middle-class ennui. On the contrary, the people on stage have agency; they're making something of their lives.

Like dining with old and new friends

Author and director Jan Lauwers, who also appears on the periphery of the stage action, masterfully sets the audience on edge. He's not the only one: alongside other talented actors, he’s joined by his partner, the artist, choreographer and dancer Grace Ellen Barkey, and their two adult children, Victor and Romy Louise Lauwers. The action takes place in what could be a workshop, and the actors play themselves — or rather, a fictionalised version of their open-hearted and endlessly loving theatre family. The on-stage boyfriend of Lauwers's daughter, Elik Niv, plays an interesting role. When the former Israeli soldier is questioned as to how he brought himself to kill, he cites one of several coping mechanisms: the soldiers used language to distance themselves from an act they referred to as "collecting ears".

The actors are naked for two hours. Their nudity, a proxy for other taboo acts, is variously playful, tender and violent. On occasion, it becomes obscene. What’s more, the family doesn't shy away from discussing sexuality and love. The piece shows a family striving for and ultimately reaching “all the good”: a greater level of familial intimacy. Discussions about military conflicts do not dominate the evening, whereas art plays a central role. "The Descent From the Cross", a painting by Rogier van der Weydens from the early 15th century, is one of several artworks featured in "All the Good". The painting is interpreted as a self-portrait of an artist who sacrificed his life for art: van der Weydens does not rest until he finds the perfect artistic expression of Weltschmerz, the suffering of the world. Needcompany's credo: all art, whatever the form, should be doing the same. And although it should be political, it should by no means be as dull as politics.

Much of the performance is serious, questioning our place in the world. Others parts are comedic and silly; often, the piece is delightfully, poetically nonsensical. Music by the composer Maarten Seghers keeps time, holding the evening together rhythmically and emotionally. It also provides a musical backdrop to the captivating dances. Watching the show is a uniquely beautiful experience, not unlike spending an evening at a long table having dinner with friends old and new. Everyone gets to have their say, no matter how unconventional. And while not everyone agrees, there’s not one person at the table who doesn’t appreciate sharing all the good.   


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