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Betroffenheit review at Sadler’s Wells – ‘electrifying dance-theatre’

The cast of Betroffenheit at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Michael Slobodian The cast of Betroffenheit at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Michael Slobodian
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Tragedy plays like an endless loop. The struggle to come to terms with it makes the survivor repeat the event over and over again, continuously probing for that moment when he might have been able to prevent it. This lies at the heart of Jonathon Young’s theatre piece, written in the aftermath of the death of his teenage daughter and her two cousins in a fire. Allied to the expressive dance of choreographer Crystal Pite his words become flesh, a potent examination of a mind disordered by psychological suffering.

Young himself exists both in a fugue state and its precise opposite – dissociated and engaged. In a seedily ascetic room in some kid of institution, Young and what seems to be his inner self, repeats questions, reliving the horror of the moment. Shadowy figures wander through doors. Lighting spritzes and buzzes, sounds of tearing, roaring and collapsing masonry are stretched into a soundscape. As he journeys deeper into his subconscious elements become more surreal; a Las Vegas cabaret show with frothing pink ostrich feathers and a cheesy MC give way to a troupe of bowler-hatted and strangely intimidating tap dancers.

Crystal Pite unites movement with text in endlessly inventive ways to scrub away all extraneous material; sharp, jerky gestures amplify shards of speech, duets deploy every inch of the body from foot to follicle; she deploys jazz, tap, contemporary and even salsa yet everything is under control, every gesture and form has purpose.

With echoes of early David Lynch movies, Edvard Munch and even a touch of Hieronymous Bosch in the agonised groupings, this raises dance-theatre to an entirely new level. Not so much an entertainment as an exorcism.

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Electrifying exploration of the long-term effects of trauma raises the bar for dance-theatre