All we can say is, "Wow."
The Banff Centre, where Vancouver-bred star innovator-artists Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young have been working on their collaborative Betroffenheit before it makes its much-ballyhooed premiere at the PANAMANIA Arts and Culture Program in Toronto on Thursday (July 23) , has released several videos about the show.
And from the looks of them they not only plumb deeply painful true-life events but feature a surreal, fever-dream-dark world of creepy clowns, show girls, and chorus lines.
In the first behind-the-scenes video, Jonathon Young explains that the work grew out of the crippling spiral of grief he suffered after a personal tragedy six years ago-presumably the unimaginable loss of his daughter with theatre artist Kim Collier, 14-year-old Azra Young, along with her young cousins Fergus and Phoebe Conway, in a cabin fire in the Shuswap in 2009.
In fact, Betroffenheit is a German word that describes a state of shock and trauma so all-encompassing no words can do it justice.
In her interview, also shown here, with host Dominic Girard, choreographer Pite explains the piece follows the protagonist's (Young's) journey through the stages of grief and addiction in dealing with trauma. There are "stand-ins" for substance abuse, she explains—a "Showtime" that infiltrates the world of the production, a pleasure that takes over the pain.
Betroffenheit marks the first time that Kidd Pivot's Pite—in demand everywhere from the Paris Opera Ballet (where she debuts a work in the fall) to the cutting-edge Nederlands Dans Theatre and London's Sadler's Wells—has worked with a playwright. Young, of course, is well-known for the ground-breaking, multimedia work of his troupe Electric Company Theatre, as well as his acting around town.
In the video at one point, Young describes the work more as an "image language system" than a play, where he turns his ideas into action and imagery, building from his trauma without "using" it.
Last year, for his acclaimed role as Hamlet at Bard on the Beach, Young told the Straight he was also drawing on his own grief for that role—and gave some background on his fascination with the word betroffenheit: "I am in the state now that I call the betroffenheit, a word I found in an Anne Bogart book called And Then We Act," he told us then. "She’s talking about the States post–9/11. There’s a great quote attached to that: ‘We cannot afford inaction due to despair.’ Betroffenheit is the state of having been met by, or struck by, or perplexed by a cataclysmic event. In the space after, anything can happen, anything is possible: it’s a state of confusion and suspension that is difficult to get out of."
We await the reviews in Toronto. Meanwhile, Vancouver audiences will have to be patient: Betroffenheit won't debut locally till it stops here as part of a tour in February 2016 amid the DanceHouse season.