Heartbreaking Betroffenheit Comes to The Broad Stage
At some point, everyone will experience tragedy in their life. It’s how we deal with that tragedy that will either make us stronger, or break us if we let it. Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre’s Betroffenheit takes this idea and creates a profoundly beautiful stage production at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
Betroffenheit can be defined as the “feeling of distress and disbelief one has when something bad happens accidentally” (Vocabulary.com). Director/Choreographer Crystal Pite takes Writer/Performer Jonathon Young’s personal story of suffering and loss and brings the heartbreaking narrative to the stage through dance, puppetry, and spoken word. The show dives into the broken mind of a man agonizing over a mix of survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress after an unfortunate accident. He hides from his feelings or runs from them, he masks them with drugs, and he shatters into a million pieces, all while trying to figure out how to come out the other side intact.
Using minimal sets, exquisite costumes, and only six amazing performers, Betroffenheit was fully realized and skillfully executed. From the moment the curtains rose in silence, I was captivated by what I witnessed on stage. The show opens with voices and distorted sounds alluding to the tragedy that has occurred. We watch sympathetically as Young talks himself into doing nothing about his anguish, hiding away in a dingy room inside his mind. Slowly, his other selves, or voices, begin to show themselves, sometimes literally tap dancing through his brain. He urges himself to “go over what happened,” to take himself back, to not only remember but to face his past, the accident he so wants to forget.
The physicality of the performers was astounding: from a clown that moved like a praying mantis (Tiffany Tregarthen) to a burly, hunched-over tap dancer (David Raymond); from polished ballroom dancing (by Cindy Salgado and Bryan Arias) to ragdoll-like motions. Even the bigger group numbers were not traditional; the soundtrack varied from whispers to screams, music to absolute silence. The performers were extraordinarily talented and seasoned, and their passion radiated from the stage. They breathed as one during specific, deftly synchronized staccato twitches through elegant, melting extensions. Act 2, in particular, featured some of the most moving dancing I have ever seen. It was also the quietest I’ve ever heard a theater audience. During the last solo number by Jermaine Maurice Spivey, we could hear his breath as he gracefully moved through the space, and we held ours as we found out whether he would learn to walk back into the light or give in to his despair and slam his walls around him.
“At What Point Is Accepting Defeat Moving Forward?”
Since Betroffenheit is what most would consider performance art, what people take away is dependent upon their own perception and analysis. While the basic themes and ideas were given to us, the how and why of it all were open to individual interpretation. For instance, my friend and I both had different ideas about what certain moments were meant to convey, but both translations were valid and held significance for us. Individuals experience and cope with tragedy in different ways, and Young’s Betroffenheit is no different. Heartbreaking and absolutely stunning, this performance will stay with me long after the curtains closed.