anouk van dijk & falk richter – TRUST

The set is moody, gloomy, dark, chrome chairs and black leather sofa, matching seats, a stylist-industrial minimalist clutter extending back into the cubic-framed box rectangle making the second storey, and then into murk behind. Some structures and pieces, a white tulle dress on a rack never get touched. The vast space of the Schaubühne, late modernist but not post- amplifies this with low-level white light glare, barren walls and aesthetic functionality. It is a film set, perhaps for a music video.

They enter, there are ten of them altogether, well-dressed. The beginnings of movement, and I have this small thrill that perhaps I’m going to see something I really want to be in. She begins talking, into a microphone, “…das war so anstrengt… das ist alles meine…”, stutters often, repeatedly, “…das tut mir leid…”. She dances, a loose, boney, unravelling movement, both acutely technical and yet half-thought, growing from the ordinary. “…die Geschichte deine Korper… I wouldn’t change anything…”, phrases of doing and their opposite, finally come to, “yeah, I can’t trust you.”

I should also say there was much talking in this, many monologues of some length, and much repetitive phrases, reminiscent of Barbara Kruger. And almost all in German. So firstly my comprehension was not always great, and secondly because of that, I indulge in a degree of interpretation. Perhaps I write about a piece that wasn’t performed. Contra that, what I did understand and those sections that were in english corresponded closely enough for me to not feel that it is too likely I am inventing a work that didn’t happen.

Somehow it comes across as very straight. The couples are all heterosexual. Some short moments of two men together, falling into each other, being thrown flying onto the sofa, but the reading of this is not homo. It seems to exist as notable (by me) with all the male-female arrangements, but in itself means nothing. After a time, they all come to the sofa, writhing in dim light, not sex though. A guitar drones and crackles.

One falls, another reacts to save them. Too late. It evolves into three pairs all doing this, the movement itself is graceful in its catastrophe, but the metaphor placed on it in this context is something I’ve seen before. There is a desolation here that could attract me were it not for both the exclusionary narrative and the uncritical use of stock tanztheater devices.

In white open-neck shirt and black suit, he begins a monologue that builds into an hysterical, sharp, witty tirade, the kind of raconteurship that is brilliant just for its seemingly inevitable flow. One of three long texts, the second as irritating as this one was clever and ended both fittingly and unamusingly with her being buried in a packing crate, because that’s what men do with a woman who won’t shut up. The third darker, in Shanghai on the 27th floor, a tint of numerous pre-apocalyptic writers, the anaesthetised nihilism of Bret Easton Ellis, the techno-cool of William Gibson, the claustrophobia of Ballard.

After two hours, I was numb, I wanted it to stop long before, and unlike say, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s No Dice, which ran for four hours of which the second two were largely a repeat of the first, TRUST did not have enough to sustain itself for this duration. Most of the climax, the arguing in the upstairs room could have been cut with little effect on the piece. Indeed the typical narrative arc building to a climax could have been more successfully tampered with in the context of such a nihilistic work by leaving out precisely this crescendo.

Towards the end, she, now not wearing my Christmas lunch black sequined halter-neck top talks of two children, the stress of the day, each a repetition of the previous, how she goes through the routine and has to come up with something amazing, unique, profound, completely from her, yet universal, accessible, and maybe, as she writes the next funding application which is due and has to be equally all this, maybe she wonders what she’s got herself into. But she wanted children and all this, and I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh who cares? So what? With two billion people living in squalor, if the hardest thing in her life is that she has to stage another well-funded performance, then it’s no wonder Berlinerinnen have a habit of burning their autos.” But perhaps that was the point.

The difficulty in such a performance, the mechanics of creation in tanztheater make it complicated separating the performer from their role, especially when individuality and subjectivity are so prized. So I find myself loathing both Anouk and the other performers as well as the characters they embody. They are inseparable, and the mediocrity of the characters’ lives, writ large by their inherent privilege and centrality in western cultural imagination becomes the real identity of the performers themselves.

Performing such stereotypes, however grounded in the real they may be, begs a criticism then of how much they reify those roles, make them normal and perpetuate them. If however, these roles are just the product of the imagination of theatremakers, then why do they strive to portray what would obviously be fantastical as real? And what does the audience get from this? At best a sleek satisfaction knowing that however flawed they may be, they are not as bad as that, not as unhappy as that?

I read the programme notes…

[The ensemble] explore the shaky foundations and mechanisms of human bonds against the background of current crises. Relationships build up and break down in ever shorter time-scales; they become a resource in an increasingly intense competition. Binding, seperating. Buying, selling. A picture is presented of human beings who, over the years, have radically intensified modern individuality and celebrated independence as an ideal.

TRUST is a group of whiney, grown-up children of the baby-boom generation; spoilt middle class heterosexual wankers. I found it oppressive, and not in the way I suspect was intended. Which is to say, I suspect there is an implied sympathy to be felt towards these fraught people, who are snared and drowning in an ecology not fit for survival, that I should look for some intrinsic goodness that redeems their actions. Perhaps I am uncharitable in finding them wanting in this regard, that their selfish individualism is not deserving of sympathy. Which makes TRUST like a movie where you don’t care for any of the leading actors.

I struggle wanting to level the queer, feminist, cultural theory, identity politics big guns against a piece so evidently far from those (my) thoughts. A work that despite its darkness (metaphoric and literal) exists in a safe, small bubble, never too far from the normal, never too alien. Yes, dark. But recognisably so. Not the darkness of the radically other alterity, but that of the post-nuclear family relationships; small and familiar. I thought of American Psycho, prestige measured in g/m2 and fonts.

A question then, on the intended audience. Is it possible to say anything (of consequence) about a performance in which you are not the intended audience? In the same way watching a ballet of Giselle requires a different aesthetic, critical language and perspective that watching Forsythe, in part due to the temporal separation of the two works and the milieu from which they derive, I wonder if a performance in one theatre with one imagined, intended audience compared to a performance in another would also require these differences.

I cannot understand such a work because I am not the intended audience (irrespective of language difficulties). What might it say to those who exist within this sphere of intelligibility. What am I meant to draw from a performance that comes to no obvious conclusions, yet is weighted with implicit ‘truths’, a performance that exhibits an idea of western european materialism I am likely never to partake it, more likely to be ground up by and for if not completely ignored, that makes concrete and substantial such an idea of culture and relationships?

I shall say some other things. The performers were in their various ways beautiful. I could have watched the movement evolve for hours, and the first monologue, shot square at the audience is virtuoso in its own right. Carefully rehearsed also, the detail and internalised timing (I’m thinking of the sofa scene with one in red boxer shorts and a bald ape/monster mask where they all become afflicted by an irruption, a spasm of fear or revulsion which eventually hurls them across the room), the looping and snatches of text phrases and paragraphs, the lighting and exceptional timing of snap changes all I found much to keep entranced by. It’s simply that I didn’t believe the piece, and despite all this accomplishment of staging, I was bored.