Performers of Betroffenheit. ©Wendy D Photography.

The Vancouver Playhouse, Vancouver – March 15, 2018

Since it’s first performance in Vancouver in 2016, Betroffenheit, choreographed and directed by the renowned Crystal Pite, and written by Vancouver based actor Jonathon Young, has toured to four continents and over 40 cities. Last year, this co-production between Kidd Pivot, the dance company founded by Pite, and Electric Company Theatre, the theatre company co-founded by Young, snapped up an Olivier Award in London and a Dora Award in Toronto. This month, it returned to the Vancouver Playhouse for a sold-out run.

Other than one casting change – Christopher Hernandez replaced Bryan Arias as half of the salsa dancing duo – the show is as impactful as I remember it. Betroffenheit tells of Young’s personal experience with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction by meandering through manifestations of Young’s mental and emotional states. The piece retains an impressive clarity as it engages dance, theatre and text to express these difficult themes.

The piece opens in an unremarkable and clinical room, before electric cables begin to creep and snake up the wall. As Young talks his way through what seems to be a script delivered by a therapist, the dancers slink in the shadows with costumes in hand and hint at rousing events to come. Scenes like these keep the show hinged at an eerie point between reality and delusion. The addiction that taunts Young is expressed as a tawdry and darkly enticing variety show co-hosted by Young and Jermaine Spivey as his alter ego.

Young performs and even dances alongside five diversely talented dancers (Tiffany Tregarthen, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey and Christopher Hernandez); Young is noticeably more at ease with the dance choreography this time around. Each dancer portrays a distinct character and shows the breadth and clarity of Pite’s choreographic vocabulary. In a masterclass taught by Betroffenheit rehearsal director, Eric Beauchesne, I learned that one of the techniques Pite uses is the isolation of specific parts of the body, such as the spine, feet or arms, to lead the body’s movement. In the piece, I saw how this enables the expression of vastly different impetuses. Spivey’s character slithers through his duets with Young and seemed to constantly change the part of the body that would lead him. He suggests an elusive character that is just beyond Young’s control. The second act goes deeper into Young’s mental state. When the dancers tumbled together in intricate partnering, they seemed to always be reaching for one another with their arms, expressing an intrinsic connectivity between them.

Betroffenheit is a raw and witty hybrid of dance theatre that examines the dark themes of trauma in ways that no other medium can do. Anyone still questioning the value of art needs to see it.