A floor, a door, four folding chairs, one megaphone, seven performers. The Norwegian choreographer, writer and director Alan Lucien Øyen proves you don’t need much to tell an engaging story. Or, in this case, multiple stories, and quite a few deaths, including one involving a hungry caterpillar-turned-rainbow-butterfly.
The setting is reminiscent of an amateur drama club, but one where every performer showcases their worst perceived flaws, instead of their greatest talents. Olivia (Aconca) is all self-doubt and self-hate, her body one big tightly wound coil. She keeps apologising for being there, for being seen, for moving, for breathing. ‘I love how my body hates me,’ she confides to the audience (for the texts Øyen collaborated closely with the dancers).
Zander (Constant) is the ultimate pleaser. In one scene he keeps offering people coffee, even his own, even though they have clearly and repeatedly stated they are not interested. ‘Did you like it? Did you love it? Do you like me?’ Zander wants to know, after performing a soliloquy on crows, flapping his hands excitedly. ‘My name is Zander and I like you!’
Lee-Yuan Tu is the only one who seems to be really comfortable in his own skin, playfully moving and lip-synching to sound recordings from classic Hollywood movies and musical numbers by Johnny Hartman and Billie Holiday.
The seemingly effortless way Øyen incorporates music and emotion in movement is mesmerising. It is especially potent in the duets, including the one where Zander keeps niftily and obtrusively inserting himself into Tom Weinberger’s personal space. Watching Aconca emoting the sounds of a drum set (an excerpt from the filmscore of Birdman, aptly called Claustrophobia) is one of the small, but definite highlights of the evening.
The performance works best when everything – text, music, and movement – comes together and you get to witness the pure joy of people simply expressing themselves. Like when Constant and Mai Lisa Guinoo re-enact the tale of the hungry caterpillar, as told by a child, and this version quickly and hilariously flies off the rails.
The piece is also helped by its choice of highly emotive music. It includes a fragment of Simeon ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato and a piece by Ólafur Arnalds, but also musical numbers from scores for films like Gone Girl, Victoria and The Neon Demon and even the jazzy tune from Twin Peaks.
Story, story, die. contains some really strong emotional, theatrical scenes – it is obvious why Øyen was asked by Tanzteater Wuppertal, the renowned dance theater company founded by the late artistic director Pina Bausch, to make a new piece for the company (one of the first after Bausch’s untimely death in 2009). A good case in point is another pivotal scene between Constant and Weinberger, where Weinberger – dressed in a bear costume – keeps luring Constant in with empty promises of love and companionship, only to brutally mock and belittle him, time and time again. He is like the little voice inside your head, your biggest critic.
Suddenly, at about two thirds in, I remembered what the work was actually supposed to be about: ‘truth and lies in times of likes and online love’. Seen that way, Weinberger isn’t an internal critic, but an actual one. The beauty of Story, story, die.is that it can still work both ways. The piece is both topical and timeless. We don’t need social media to feel insecure. But social media put it all out into the open, for everyone to see.
Seen: July 2 at International Theater Amsterdam, Julidans.