I put an apple on the table.
Then I can put myself in the apple.
Wasteland / Photography by Sanne Peper
THE BLUE HOUR (2003)
It is quiet. It is dark. A city in the night. Unreal, without noise. The squares without people, the slates long and motionless. The sound of a truck in the distance, bouncing over the cobblestones, a bell tower that hits five, a cat. Street lighting on poles, anchored in the sidewalk. The lines of a bridge that is busy during the day, reminds me of a very large beast in the dark. The facade of a house looks like a grinning face. The market square where people will soon pass, greet each other, run to the other side, or settle down on a terrace, now has something ominous. The streets are deserted. The trees are silent. People are sleeping behind the facades. What is coming is still far away. After a night time walk through the sleeping city, the audience reaches a dark part. In the middle of the street the children and grown-ups take place on wooden stools that they have picked up along the way. The woman who led them through the deserted streets hands out blue canvas blankets and pours tea. There is whispering, until a man with a lamp on his head walks into the street and lights the streetlights one by one. The audience listens to the silence and looks around. The houses, the trees, the cars, everything is quiet. It is a clear night. Out of the dark a newspaper boy is paddled on a silent moped. He goes from mailbox to mailbox, up the sidewalk, down the sidewalk, diagonally across the street. Until he reaches back to grab a newspaper from his newspaper bag and sees the audience in that movement. He stops, looks, looks away and disappears. In the distance, the sound of his moped fades. And again it is quiet. A cat sneaks closer and shoots into a garden when a party crosses the street at the end of the street. They are musicians, with red jackets with gold buttons and epaulettes. They walk behind the drum-major, right around the corner, but the majorett girl runs curiously on the audience and scares a woman in morning robe, who just runs to her mailbox for the morning paper. For a moment they are face to face, at a cross of probability and imagination. Gradually the morning rituals in the Antwerp street get disrupted.
A cold airflow carries off the day of yesterday. A black-blue glow marks the turning point.
It slowly becomes light, the sky turns blue, dark contours are colored with details. The fanfare has disappeared in the night and the day is starting. During the first try-out the performance gets wings. A wren flies through the fourth wall, settles down on a roof frame, makes the first sound and breaks open the day. The early bird provides the course of a turning point and shifts the perspective. The theatrical situation is caused by what happens in the moment, foreseen and unforeseen. The scenes interlock like the wheels of a mechanism. By leaving the initial narration the intentions become clear and the images strangely credible. Van den Berg lets the characters die and transforms the actors into acting figures. The assembly gets a natural incongruity. No explaination, move on. Immediately the chosen setting gives shape to the data that’s been given.
The blue hour takes place just before sunrise in a residential area outside on the street.
The concept stands like a house. While the night is clearing the field and the day is approaching, the performance shifts into the street as if it were a tilted reality. A tilt that shows how wonderful the reality is. The performance offers a framework of viewing. A framework for re-seeing everyday things and rituals. To observe and face them. Without judgment. As it is, life, here and now. The possibility and the impossibility. Freedom and responsibility. The framework is constructed from fragile images. They were made during the rehearsals (which is actually not a fitting word because it seems to suggest that it would involve practicing a fixed pattern and approaching a thought-out story or statement). In the run-up to the performance, the actors will have room for maneuver to respond with actions within the framework constructed by Lotte van den Berg. This creates small events that stand for more, sensitive moments that show an attitude. Van den Berg distils the details that are most real, by filtering them and removing the anecdotal.
Her observations are flawless. Immediately she sees the moments where it happens.
Intuitive and experienced she makes professional choices. By looking at the work of a featured part of an action, she finds the visual language with which she proportionates the parts within the whole. She points out at a glance, an unconscious movement with a hand, a hesitant sitting down, a half open mouth. Very good, it sounds then, and now that piece with peace around it, walk, not pretend you walk. She must find it credible, what the actors show, how they are present, how they present in the picture. The body can not lie. Sometimes she lets an actor do nothing very accurately. As a subtle manifestation of the small body with the big thought.
The blue hour was also played as a school performance at the end of the summer of 2003 and 2005. One of the breakfast mothers had seen the performance three times. At first she thought it was a great fuss to let her family stand up for five. But during the preparing of the sandwiches in the classroom, she talks about the conversations that her children carry on about the meaning of The Blue Hour. About whether the neighbour played or was real, and whether the man with his dog belonged in the play, and the cat and the bird with the fabulous timing, were they also directed? And that neighbour on a garden chair on the sidewalk in front of her house sat down and looked. Each constructs his own story and seizes Het blauwe uur (The blue hour) to see the performance as a made reality and its own existence as part of a miraculous orchestration. “Mommy,” asks a little boy, “who made the show? And who made the world?”
Fallow land takes place in the open field, on a deserted terrain, an indefinite space, where the wind has free rein and grows marram grass. A stubborn piece of land. Gross sandy soil, deep ditches, worn pits. While the twilight falls, a creature is roaming in the distance. The man drags his body with difficulty. Until he can no longer, collapses and stays down. Out of nowhere comes a second man. Purposeless, as if he has completely lost sight of the sentence. A third man, a woman, another woman from a different direction. At the mercy of the wasteland. Without defence. They encounter the man who has succumbed and lashed to his body. One goes off with his coat, the others fight for his boots. The actions have no direction, the atrocities without cause and effect.
The images follow each other at an endless pace, along long lines in the landscape, painfully long lines that lead nowhere.
Wasteland is a bald narrative – without words, without a plot – from sober images and fragile, unexpectedly cruel moments. A story stripped to the bone, which is told very consistently. Precisely placed in the remote plain, accurately timed within the slow course of the performance. Acts are performed as in a trance. The atrocities that people do to each other betray a state of radical constriction of consciousness. They seem to be overwhelmed by a devouring indifference to which they are not resistant. The spectator is thrown back on the question of his own responsibility for his relationship with the world around him. The performance gives almost no room for a rational flight attempt, but lets shamelessly experience how disconcertingly desolate the human being can be if he is beyond hope. How to make theater matter? From an unublimed intuitive know for sure? By looking into one’s own fear and avoiding the conditioned action? By trying to grasp the things that we consider most important, but which we seldom dare to talk about? By showing small moments, a man who helps a woman in her shoes, a girl who keeps watch over a man sleeping on the street, a boy who drags with his left foot, moments behind which a way of looking or a mentality is hidden? By speculating through abstracted images about cultural shifts that seem to manifest but have not yet known words? By focusing attention on the circumstance in a concrete here and now, not segregated from everyday life, but right in the middle of it?
BEGIJNENSTRAAT 42 (2004)
During two summer months Van den Berg works together with nine detainees, four guards, three actors from the Toneelhuis and seven people behind the scenes, to create a performance: Begijnenstraat 42. In the arrest house of Antwerp are six hundred detainees waiting for their punishment, between conditional and lifelong. The wait can take months, sometimes years. During the making of the performance, the prison stronghold is under great pressure: the house of arrest is overcrowded and the penitentiary officials are planning a strike. Begijnenstraat 42 arises in a situation that nobody has in control. The continuity of the project is at risk on several fronts at the same time. Three inmates suddenly have to drop out – one is transferred, the other wants to fully concentrate on his court case, and the third is released. In a barred room with a podium, located at the courtyard, the group meets every afternoon. Personal stories, everyday experiences, great feelings are captured in silent actions and subtle gestures. A process of reluctant trust. And humanity. The quiet straightening of each other’s shirt. Holding a hand. Matching eye contact. Moving bodies in a tight cadence. They are calm images, executed with surrender and a fever that could turn into a cruel discharge at any moment.
The public gathered in front of the gate of the house of arrest. Bags, jackets, telephones are numbered and disappear in large bags. They go in turns, in squares. Everyone’s passport is scanned behind a desk with armed glass. Through an unfathomable system of highly secured corridors and elevators, the audience reaches the space where the group has worked for eight weeks. Keys in locks, and then it’s quiet. Six men enter, step past the first row, set themselves together. Eye to eye with the audience. Nothing to hide behind. An unsparing concentration. Begijnenstraat 42 shows the vulnerability with which the heavy boys show themselves to the public, and the strength with which each of them continues to believe in himself, even though he knows he is guilty and that he is at the mercy of an unpredictable environment, a reality in which freedom is not self-evident.
THE MONK AND THE GIRL (1999)
In the second year of her directing education at the Amsterdam School of the Arts, van den Berg makes The monk and the girl (1999) a sober solo performance at the time of the war in Kosovo. She plays a girl in the war. She tells us not to know how she should deal with the war and what to believe in. She conducts a conversation with a monk who is also played by herself. She considers his dignified words and belief in the good, examines the possibility of an open view of the big and the small things, people, events around them. She prays. She plays with his dolls. They are the puppets of her father, the beautiful hand puppets with which Jozef van den Berg played his performances before he devoted himself entirely to his faith. And she dances, revolves around her ashes, her arms outstretched above her swaying skirt. She wonders how to believe and live in the reality of existence. And through the conversation of the girl with the monk, she conducts a conversation with her father. About faith in truth, about her attempt to exercise truth and to face its own impotence. About the ability and the inability to love life as it is. She asks her most urgent questions. She makes them concrete, in simplicity, sincerely. Straight through her fear and shame. From an inner necessity and the realization that it is important to actually do this, without being able to oversee the impact on the public.
The audience has been touched. Because of her presence, because she stands with everything she is, the urgency, the vibrating.
The passion, the trying, the uncertainty. The audience draws comfort from her searching attitude. It is self-evident, as a result of the intimate existential questions, where both a personal urge and social involvement are expressed. It is captured by the way in which she alternates severity with perspective, with regard to her own vulnerable attitude and the relevance of theater. Starting point of The monk and the girl was making a performance about what really keeps her busy, what she really thinks is important. That the performance appeals to people makes her decide to keep on trying to make theater that really matters