Remnants review at the Print Room, London – ‘deeply affecting, sensitive and intelligent’
Remnants is a powerful exploration of literal and metaphorical excavation, skilfully rendered through a combination of electronic and Balkan folk music, dance and recorded speech.
Part memoir and part family chronicle, it’s based on Croatian-American writer Courtney Angela Brkic’s The Stone Fields, which traces her experience as a 23-year-old forensic archaeologist helping to unearth the mass graves at Srebrenica while also detailing her family’s struggles during the Second World War.
Recordings of Brkic’s voice – recalling harrowing mortuary work, describing her grandmother’s doomed relationship with a Jewish man – trace a path between 1996, the 1940s and the present day.
Four plainly-clad female singers and a dancer respond to Brkic’s words on a stage dominated by a glistening black rectangular trench, behind which lies clinical apparatus: an examination table and suspended plastic screen.
Suffusing the vocalists’ keening ribbons of Balkan song – with their unfurling lines of harmony and mournful modal intervals – are deep reservoirs of elegiac emotion, despair and joy. The latter is illuminated exquisitely when Brkic envisions the beginnings of her grandmother’s love affair. To a rising song, the dancer Fabiola Santana, previously watchful and wary, dissolves into dashes of sensual motion, earthily luxuriant phrases accented with head flicks and shoulder shrugs.
Later, Brkic’s gruesome dreams are evoked with a physical language of ragged anguish and dislocation, churning electronic music and sickly greenish light. Though one sung section in English – a rendition of a farewell love letter – veers towards jarring sentimentality, Remnants is a deeply affecting, sensitive and intelligent work.