La Libération 28-03-2019
Exploring these past years’ attacks and disasters, the Dutch Lotte Van den Berg brings an immersive and interactive experience to Nanterre-Amandiers
You don’t get to look death in the eye every day and pull through without a scratch. Addressing an issue largely ignored in our frantic lives, the Dutch artist Lotte Van den Berg takes us through this experience at the theater and at the same time makes a point of distancing herself from the theater. As it turns out, one Sunday in March, you are at the Kaaitheater in Brussels, and among the 99 people present you are about to endure a plane crash in the French Alps together, the sinking of a makeshift boat off Lampedusa, and a shooting at a Paris concert hall. Among our fellow attendees, a group of performers gradually invite us to join “constellations” in order to watch, sensitively but at a distance, the system of specific relationships that falls into place in such circumstances. As such, we go through three experiences of collective death with the idea that this may result in attaining a different perspective on how we live together.
The idea of Dying Together, an interactive performance art piece performed at Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers this week-end, came about in March 2015. Back then, the crash of a Germanwings flight – presumably caused by the suicidal act of the copilot and resulting in 149 casualties – was making headlines. Responding to an awe-struck population, the media massively supported the assumption that the man had been craving post-mortem fame. Lotte Van den Berg views this as an oversimplification and argues instead for a last-ditch attempt, possibly a quest for a kind of ultimate connection. “I thought, soldiers at war probably agree things like “if we die, we die together”. And in suicide bombings, victims and attackers die together in a different way. We are used to looking at death as something we go through alone and as the most intimate thing in the world. And yet at the same time, we share the fact that we are all mortal. So we could also tell ourselves that we always die together. Only time separates the moments when it happens.” For the director, who has regrettably gained little exposure in France so far, theater means interaction. She broke through in 2004 with creations at the edge of dance and visual experience, painstakingly blurring the lines between performers and spectators. She believes that first and foremost we share time and space, and we hope to be present, together. And act. The space to which she brings her “visitors” (she’d rather not call them spectators) through a behind the scenes corridor is bare and on one level, suffused with white light that is neither warm nor cold. This is a space where you “think with your body” and are invited to find a suitable spot and reposition at any time. An actor plainly reads out the facts and names of the people more and less directly involved: the copilot on the Germanwings plane, different travelers, the New York lawyer who sued the airline on behalf of the families. He then questions the value ascribed to eight minutes of terror. More performers stand before us one by one and ask us to represent the person previously mentioned. We are free to accept or decline. To stay there as observers or eyewitnesses, or to explore wordlessly how we would interact with the others, one minute before the tragedy, some time later, or a hundred years later. In this space, group dynamics come together and apart. Some “victims” stare at the “culprits” of the tragedy being explored. “Dead people” lie on the floor, sit, freeze or keep moving around. And we end up feeling confused about who is who as each step brings more soul-searching, both unsettling and fascinating.
Would we have agreed to represent the wall erected between Hungary and Serbia to block off migrants (which two visitors next to us staunchly refuse to “embody”)? How much of ourselves do we project onto others as we empathize with them? What does our unease say about how we relate to a group and the world in general? How important to our societies is the death of a Syrian child killed by the computer-based strikes of the international coalition one week after the Bataclan attack? Evidently, Lotte Van den Berg is not afraid of emptiness. She offers a pared-down setting, taps into documented research, delivers precise and unsentimental words, makes room for silence, lays out the rules and limits of this practice. That’s probably the reason why Dying Together takes us into an out-of-time dimension where our most fleeting sensations get fleshed out, at the intersection of our internal conflicts and hundreds of lives that are made ever more tangible. The lives of 360 migrants who drowned to death off Lampedusa on October 3rd, 2013 and were buried in Sicily three weeks later, receiving Italian citizenship posthumously. Or the 155 survivors who had to pay a 5000 euro fine for illegal immigration. Here solitude is part of the game. “Togetherness is not about harmony, Lotte Van den Berg concludes. It’s about realizing that we are in this together, whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, whether it kills us or not.”
The original text in French can be found here.