Posted on June 2, 2009
In the German Democratic Republic-inspired police state of monitored conversations and constant surveillance in Tilted Productions’ TrAPPED, a banana is not just a banana. Bitten into a phallic shape by a guard, it is then hypnotically wound round a woman’s neck and shoulders or used as a telephone and recording device before being finally unpeeled and force-fed to the victim, not as nourishment, but as slow, silencing poison.
Throughout Maresa von Stockert’s thought-provoking piece, props proved more than they initially seemed, and the stage of Laban’s Bonnie Bird Theatre metamorphosed as much as the dancers. The yellow files constantly present on set were resonant of the bricks that built the Berlin Wall, the definitive symbol of state control over human communication. The characters’ fate itself relates to the wall’s construction: Robert, an impressionable state official is a master builder, content to live within the caged boundaries of the state, while his song-writing brother Sam, a fascinating denim-clad anti-hero, whose volatile movements display his thirst for revolution, seems addicted to breaking them.
The task of interpreting the brothers’ narrative, related in a succession of concise vignettes, forces the audience to compose the scenario through glimpses and speculations. When Sam literally dazzles the auditorium with a bright light towards the end, one becomes aware of being implicated in the police-like activity of surmising and judging on partial information, as von Stockert’s work cleverly evades facile conclusions and polarising moral categories.
The subtlety of von Stockert’s treatment comes to light most in her portrayal of the authorities. As one might expect, these “toy soldiers” move on autopilot to a military beat; they mime assorted gestures of heroism and violence, a machine-gun drill ricocheting through their bodies. Yet, while lesser dancers would morph into robots, von Stockert’s soldiers are paradoxically enigmatic. The audience cannot resist relating to these creatures, who seek eye contact with them, and display a spectrum of emotions, including grief and amusement.
Von Stockert’s erasure of boundaries extends to her signature rupture of the periphery between tenderness and brutality, so striking in Grim(m) Desires. This manifests in the relationships between lovers, and rather uncannily, in those between state interrogator and interrogated. In the scene depicting Sam and his lover, which alternates between recorded snatches of conversation and movement, the lovers’ mutual attraction comes forth in the way their bodies literally felt together in a series of lifts and tumbles. But, Sam’s menacing manipulation of his lover’s head, which he rolls through his hands as though disembodied, all too clearly resembles the authorities’ definitive gesture of indoctrination and physical harm. Thus, even sexual relationships cannot elude the structures of power play.
Refreshing in its refusal to simplify the relations and modes of surveillance that inform reality, yet accessible and clear, TrAPPED was deservedly rewarded with the youthful audience’s fervent applause. Though the maintained atmosphere of surveillance and malignity ensured that the tension remained at boiling point throughout most of the production, it was saved from the status of melodrama by the surreal, often kitsch use of props and light projections, which appealed to one’s playful instincts.
Amy Bell and Phil Williams in Tilted Productions’ TrAPPED. Photograph by Merlin Hendy.