Co-created by: Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young
Choreography and Direction: Crystal Pite
Performers: Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jeamaine Spivey, Triffany Tregarthen, and Jonathon Young
Bluma Appel Theatre
February 18-21 2016
Betroffenheit was co-created by Jonathon Young, who is the Co-Founder (with Kim Collier), of Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver, and Choreographer Crystal Pite,  Artistic Director of Kidd Pivot, also based in Vancouver.
The central character of Betroffenheit suffers from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), a condition where an individual has experienced a life-altering event that he relives through nightmares and flashbacks.
Betroffenheit is a German word meaning being in a state of shock, and stopped in one's tracks.
Young was unable to save his teenaged daughter and her two cousins in a cabin fire. This caused him intense suffering. It did not lead to the full-blown PTSD that the central character he plays in this show has. To avoid confusion, I will refer to him as Young's character.
Like many trauma victims, he suffers from drug abuse. At the beginning, we see him enclosed within a room in what appears to be an abandoned warehouse. There are coils of electrical cords lying around, one of which slithers across the floor, the plug its head. When it plugs itself in, it's welcome to his nightmares time. Recall is triggered, throwing light on the traumatic events when he was first responder to an awful car crash.
He is assailed by a harlequinn clown and disembodied voices, some urging him to not see himself as a victim and not give in to other nightmarish creatures who encourage his abuse and his escape into fantasies of being a TV show host-- or co-hosting with his alter ego. The costumes in this burlesque vaudevillian music-hall TV cabaret are brightly coloured and, with audience laughter, convey the sense of all being well. This cheeriness counterpoints the darkness within, and recalled to my mind Bob Fosse's choreography for Cabaret, and lyrics like "life is a cabaret, old chum." And we know the nasty undercurrents running through that. For the main character, anything can trigger this. And this old TV show re-runs, over and over and over.
Pite's choreography really captures the feel of dancers moving in off-kilter unbalance. Bodies sag and sway back and down, like marionettes who have had the strings of their lifelines cut. At one point, the alter ego becomes a deflated puppet that the main character is trying to resuscitate.
The visuals are compelling. In one scene he is attacked by a warehouse wall that has turned into a sheet creature out to wrap him up and devour him. There is a cinematic feel to this-- like a scene from an old movie, like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He is a small human figure before it, trying, hands stretched out, to ward off his fate.
In the second half the curtain opens with the whole stage in darkness that is permeated with a lightness cutting through. A pole in the centre holds up-- what? Remove this pole and it would be a catastrophe. It is also a safe place to lean against when comfort is threatened. The dancers move around it as if it were a wheel, twisting, spinning, interacting, helping each other, supporting each other. This is a different mood from the first act.
There are two solos at the end. One with Young; the other with the alter ego. Both give a sense of healing and closure.
In the end, the solo character and all the real and unreal creatures within disappear. Into the world? Will the PTSD return? As in life, Betroffenheit offers no answers.