When I think of Peeping Tom, I think of Misko Suvakovic’s statement that ‘dance is born in the midst of a “language”, or an “atmosphere of language”, as well as a language that pledges the unsayability of the dancing body regarding verbal language.’ (TkH 18 2010: 12). The work of Peeping Tom very much places itself in the midst of this interference; we are dealing with virtuosic, expressive bodies, but at the same time, with contexts that disrupt this. 32 rue Vandernbranden is, in this manner, a discursive work, one that explores boundaries between speculation and reality, and the nature of contemporary isolation.
Our gaze rests on a remote place, covered in snow, peaks in the distance and clouds that sometimes give way to a cold, winter sun. A small conglomeration of paper-thin caravans populate this otherwise silent, contemplative mountain-top. A stranger arrives, relationships form, identities are lost and gained. 32 rue Vandenbranden presents us with a series of vignettes that explore the tension between migration, displacement and identity. Peeping Tom use the virtuosic body to shift between the fantastic and the playful, constructing scenes with narrative glimpse and filled with the weight of atmosphere and emotion. It’s a haunting series of internal landscapes, physically articulated, messy and loud.
The performance is inspired by Shohei Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama, a 1983 Japanese film that is in turn, an adaptation of a novel by Shichiro Fukazawa. The film reflects on the alleged (and mythological) tradition of ubasute, in which an eldery person is guided into the mountains, where they are left to die as their final rite of passage. Through this lens, the film explores life in a small rural village, meditating on rites of passage, punishment and isolation.
The film acts as a narrative anchor for the performance, which considers the relationship between conditions of habitation, cultural identities and displacement. It deploys an allegorical thinking, and draws us intimately into the seemingly surreal lives taking shape in this remote area. The suggestiveness of the vignettes lies in both the physicality of the performers, and the aesthetics of the show; falls, lifts, spins, exhaustion, cycles, arrivals and banishments, all take shape in the small, snow-covered square at the centre of the trailers. Operatic interludes intervene in moments of play, spoken word intersperses in dramatic images of a frozen baby covered in snow, heavy winds move and confront bodies that play and rest, cry and run.
If there is one affect that dominates, it’s instability, which is both dramaturgical structure and narrative device. Here there are no mothers, siblings, parents , no doctors, writers and artists. Here, there are just people, remembering or trying to forget, running away or learning to arrive. In that sense, the show presents us with a contemporary parable, one in which isolation acts as a space of confrontation and release. Instability allows us to not construct specific narratives, but reflect on actions that we encounter with our gaze; it allows us to not pin-point meaning, but consider it through the allegories constituted on stage. In this manner, 32 rue Vandenbranden is a show on and about the contemporary condition: globalization and identity displacement, migration and settlement.
The bodies before us perform, drawing on a multiplicity of cultural identities presented onstage- Belgian, Korean, Brazilian, to name a few. Artistic Directors Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier, together with the cast, have devised a performance that reflects structurally as well as poetically on issues at the heart of social and performance practice today.
Peeping Tom have demonstrated, with 32 rue Vandenbranden, that reflecting on our contemporary condition, on the question of displacement and migration, is liberated through an allegorical poetics, one that meditates and questions, rather than pin-points. It’s a remarkable achievement, working with such virtuosic choreography without allowing the body to become the object of spectacle. In this sense, the confrontation is both on stage, and with our own gaze, trying to position itself in the unfolding vignettes of desire, loneliness, wilderness and fears.