T h e  g e o g r a p h y  o f  v i v a c i t y
 

by Koen Tachelet, dramaturge

January 2014


There is no play. There are characters though, or better: there are identities, creatures, beings. One of them has a name: Estamira. Estamira refers to a real woman who lives on a land fill in Brazil. She talks all the time. To her, to talk is to survive. She talks to the voices in her head, to the voice above her head. Estamira is haunted by her biography, by the demons inside her head, by the never ending struggle against herself and a world in which life has become pure survival. She tries to exorcise the negative energy piled up in her by reciting endlessly a series of formulas. “Stay in control! Stay in control!”
Estimara does not live alone. Creatures loom up in every corner, challenging her, forcing her to use her senses differently, to feel again, to watch and to listen. These creatures do not or no longer need spoken language. They were probably also seeking -as Estamira- control and balance. But they stopped fighting one day against themselves and the rest of the world and found an ally in the chaos of the dump. This peace gave room to imagination, to the creation of parallel worlds where everything is fluid, ready to be reobserved and identified again. A mental and physical recycling process.
 
Estamira has made a language of her own. The first letters are PTG. She speaks this language when she calls upon an invisible helping hand. “When she is making a phone call to God”, as Alain Platel says. The PTG language says a lot about Estamira's will to survive, but also about her loneliness. She is the only one to know what she is asking. The replies reflect nothing more than her own needs. Estamira calls herself in the dark. Until one of the dancers, Lisi Estaras, picks up the microphone and starts talking the same non-existing PTG language. And then, all of a sudden, the emptiness in Estamira's existence gets filled with understanding and empathy from another human being. We cannot understand the words, but we understand what they mean. It is a crucial step for Estamira in letting go her fears in favour of trust and surrender.
 
Alain Platel uses Estamira's story to tell another one: the story of spoken theatre and dance and their encounter. Platel does not ask himself in tauberbach: can dancers act and can actors dance? But rather: What does acting and dancing mean to the kind of person that comes into being while he is dancing and acting? When does a body image become a human image? And how can two body images get into a dialogue, when do they connect, blur and what happens then to the person inside that body?
An illustration. The actress (Elsie de Brauw/Estamira) stands in front of the stage, looks into the audience and makes a statement: “I do not agree with life”. Five dancers stick together in the back and two by two come forward in a straight line to Elsie/Estamira and back. They keep moving as if they were walking on a catwalk, they stop at Estamira's left and right side, throw a few words into the audience or make a strange face, leave again, come back as somebody else. In this scene, the dancers “play” in the purest sense of the word: they present themselves as “somebody else” to the audience, asking its attention for ever changing roles that they toss and catch like juggling balls. Elsie de Brauw's attitude reminds of the dramatic and static pose of a tragedienne who sends her discontent with life into the world. The dancers' vivacity tackles her pose and even questions it. In that way, they respond indirectly to Estamira's statement: “I do not agree with life”. Their response is: life is not something you accept or reject, it is a fluid, mouldable mass of which you can make a new human being at any time. This scene is an ode to vivacity, literally and figuratively. But the scene goes on. The dancers have enough of it after a while, they grab Elsie, drag her across the stage, show her every corner. It is a ritual dance in which the violence is both pretended and real. An initiation of a rigid body that is literally loosened up. An act of transgression, a gesture of liberation.
 
This scene is the starting point of a process in which Elsie/Estamira evolves from an outsider into a participant. It is a progressive transition. It starts with observing. Observing people who behave differently, who expose their individuality to others and by doing so generate a collective force. The second stage is insight, the acknowledgment of pain and grief. “Did you hear the storm? It was inside me.”, Estamira asks. The solo by dancer Bérengère Bodin that follows, gives a clear answer to that question. Her body tells a story of comfort and possible healing. It is an invitation to reconcile, the outside and the inside, the body and the soul. It opens the door to freedom. The liberation of the fire, the liberation of a collective dance movement in which the bodies move one on one at the rhythm of the beating heart.
 
tauberbachis a story about people who want to detach themselves from coded systems. In that process the body plays a crucial role. During our conversations in the rehearsal process, ‘nudity on stage’ was one of the topics. Some dancers asked: why do we turn our inner side inside out, and why not our body? The result of these talks was that not nakedness itself but shame became essential throughout the performance. Shame is not necessarily demeaning for it can also lead to beauty and self-awareness. After all, shame is related to the extent to which we choose to disclose information about ourselves. When Estamira looks at the world of creatures around her, she sees a world with no shame, no rules, and no morals. And then she witnesses two people performing a mating dance that is so intense that it erases every difference between men and animals. What she sees, is so authentic, that it goes beyond morality and has an effect of catharsis.
 
tauberbachis the story of a woman who is peeled off. A woman who lives in her mind and who gradually discovers her body. The story of resistance and how the environment can strip it away. Of life that goes on. 24 hours of dignity.