The many faces of dance
Pieter T'Jonck - DE TIJD (22 October 2005)

In October the Kaaitheater in Brussels puts on a long series of dance and performance evenings. This confirms its unique position as a European meeting place for high-quality theatrical experiment. This was made apparent last week in Chunking, by Grace Ellen Barkey and Needcompany. Grace Ellen Barkey is a member of Jan Lauwers' Needcompany but since 1992 has also been doing her own work. In Few Things and (And) she found a tone that was undeniably her own. In these two plays she started out from Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin and Puccini's Turandot respectively, ending up with chaotic, almost farcical dance shows with a substantial dose of punk energy. Barkey was engaged in a contrary archaeology: she drew out the raw emotion that lay hidden beneath the polished surface of these well-known stories. With often disconcertingly direct images as a result. Chunking is also conspicuous for images that put you off your stroke, though this time Barkey did not draw her inspiration from opera but from Giacinto Scelsi's Quatuor ˆ cordes #3 and Kill Your Idols by the punk band Sonic Youth. Another source was the plastic arts, and especially the work of the American artist Mike Kelly. The stage setting, for example, which is by Lot Lemm and Barkey, is composed of plastic panels covered with wallpaper of dubious taste. They form a mobile labyrinth of industrially produced junk. It is precisely this sort of rubbish that also forms the background to Kelly's provocative work, which is intended to show up the falseness, perversity and violence of American society. The coarsely knitted costumes the five performers leap around in during the last part of the show are a more open reference to Kelly's work. They look just like his children's dolls, by which means he undermines the sugary fairytale of a happy childhood. Kelly's influence is also apparent in the action itself. To start with it looks like a pretty funny show, a postmodern Commedia dell'arte full of absurd characters headed by Benoit Gob. But this cheerfulness soon assumes a dark, uneasy edge. Barkey and Julien Faure mount each other like dogs. Tijen Lawton offers herself in spicy lingerie, but it has a sad face embroidered on it. Maarten Seghers runs around like a cephalopodal creature that grabs at Tijen Lawton's crotch. This sort of odd image with explicit sexual overtones recurs increasingly. The mention of Hieronymus Bosch in the programme, in addition to Mike Kelly, is no exaggeration. The thing about this piece that makes you uneasy is that this jolly circus and the collection of erotic-pornographic curiosities appear to exist alongside one another. The actors know perfectly how to play on and amuse the audience, but at the same time 'forget' to hide their obscenities or package them in an acceptable form. As if they were showing their delights and discomforts inadvertently. At the end of the show, while dressed as dolls, they even break up the set. This gives the final, 'comical', turn in the performance an odd flavour. The dolls come together to pose, like a row of dolls in a child's room. This is an extremely ambiguous image. One naturally sees childlike innocence in it, but as a result of what went before, you also get a taste of bizarre desires. The title of the play reveals a little. Chunking is a term from psychological jargon that refers to people's tendency to divide information into chunks in order to understand and remember them. In this way the world looks neat and comprehensible. This play does the opposite: it throws everything we think and feel into the same heap. As if one were to look inside someone's skull while they were off their guard. It turns out that stranger things are going on there than we like to believe.

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Jan Lauwers Grace Ellen Barkey Maarten Seghers performing arts visual arts Film
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