Walking on Glass
Karin Fischer - Deutschlandfunk (23 August 2019)

A lot of glass, musical poetry and current global topics: the artistic collective Needcompany wows audiences with this exuberant, bewildering but nevertheless delightful show in the former machine hall of the Zweckel coal mine in Gladbeck.

The most dominant thing on stage is a rotatable structure hung with round glass objects. It could be a tree, a sea creature with tentacles... or perhaps the tears of Allah. No one can say for sure. The 800 baubles represent fragility, indeterminacy and beauty, themes that Needcompany return to over and over again in their pieces.

The glass comes from Jan Lauwers’s travels around Hebron, where he met the last active glassblower there. Lauwers’s stage sets are work and art spaces that open up possibilities to explore human excesses, the fairytale-esque and the incomprehensible. Above all, Lauwers creates spaces that engage with the personal. No wonder, then, that his whole family — wife, daughter, son and cousin — appears in this production. It also goes some way to explain why a former Israeli soldier Lauwers once met, Elik Niv, appears on stage to tell his own incredible tale. Niv used to belong to a task force with a secret mission: to kill members of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the performance, he plays the boyfriend of Lauwers’s daughter, Romy. Having retrained as a dancer, Niv has effectively reinvented himself, but that doesn’t stop the mother, Grace Ellen Barkey, from interrogating him about how many people he killed and what it felt like. The 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels provide reference points: Lauwers and his Needcompany are based in the district of Molenbeek, where the terrorists came from.

All the world’s a stage 

That said, "All the Good" is not a political performance per se. It’s not really about the conflict in the Middle East, nor is it about religion. Instead, it tackles themes of love and sorrow, suffering and art. It’s about identity, and begs the question of who is permitted to tell what stories. “All the Good” is also a self-portrait of the artist as a "grumpy old man" on the search for meaning and expression. Lauwers himself only plays a small role; the larger-than-life actor Benoît Gob plays his double. Art history is explored to evoke strong, long-forgotten women, including Camille Claudel and the “abused muse” Artemisia Gentileschi. One actress harms herself repeatedly — art, like war, draws blood. Some of the players wear fantastic headgear. One musician is dressed as a fluffy grey pigeon; an American with beaver teeth plays the voice of reason and political correctness.

The superimposition of art and life is far from subtle. Gustave Courbet’s "L’Origine du monde" — the painting shows the genitals and abdomen of a naked woman and sparked a scandal at the time — finds a parallel in the images of Romy’s vagina, which she innocently examines with the help of a miniature camera. And in a gloriously awkward scene, Lauwers's wife has the first one-night-stand of her life thanks to Tinder. 

A poetic picture-puzzle

The audience would be forgiven for feeling exasperation in the face of Lauwers’s idiosyncratic, loud and overwhelming collision of family and art. In the end, however, awe wins out. "All the Good" contains so many stories, so much chaos and art, so much of the world. Not only that, it raises so many pertinent questions while still being entertaining. Not to mention poetic, especially where the music is concerned. A piece exploring the complexity of the world, “All the Good” is a vast, two-hour-long picture-puzzles. It expresses what life is all about far more thoroughly, and with much more panache, than conceptual art has the power to do. At the end, Rogier van der Weyden’s famous 15th century painting "The Descent From the Cross" makes an appearance. Lauwers explains that the painter was fighting a cause far greater than himself. It’s precisely this sentiment that provides the key to a piece as wild and highly-charged, one that makes its point with such force and warmth, as "All the Good".

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