Last night at Julidans, Ann Van den Broek’s WArd/waRD came to perform Blueprint on Memory, an incisive multimedia exploration of Alzheimer’s disease and its repercussions on the body. It is the first part of a trilogy Van den Broek is creating about memory loss and originally premiered in 2018.
You could say we all have blueprints in the brain; routes and routines based on experience and memory for making life easier. The ease with which you move around your kitchen in the dull early morning, sidestepping the dog that jumps up to greet you, pouring water into the machine and counting the spoonfuls of ground coffee, reaching for the milk in the fridge door while staring at the dark rich drip drop. But when we lose the purpose behind these itineraries ingrained in the brain, they become eroded until they are nothing but hollow repeats.
It is like that for the six performers in this piece. They step onto the dance floor taking purposeful, well-coordinated and controlled strides, the six of them completely in sync. Long stride – pause – long stride – pause. They navigate the white electric cabling on the black floor, delineating rooms and routes. They lift their feet effortlessly in time to step onto or down from three low white platforms on the horizontal axis of the space. But slowly their gaze changes, magnified via camera onto the big screen that acts as a backdrop. The eyes searching, shiftily, asking: ‘What am I supposed to be doing, feeling, saying here, where is my blueprint for this situation?’
They take off their coats, or rather: they set in the upper body gestures to take off their coats. But they forget what they were doing, and their limp arms drop down by their sides. They look into a mirror and stare in puzzlement at the face staring back at them. A glass should go towards the mouth, yes, but what do lips, teeth, tongue do with it? They wade through the cabling, turning the strict geometric patterns into a bowl of noodles.
One of them, dancer Louis Combeaud, acts as a caregiver to the others. A husband, son, brother, friend, making his rounds ensuring that nobody trips over a forgotten shoe, helping others into chairs, if sometimes with a rudeness that stems from awkwardness. His tragedy is the one that reverberates with the audience; this is where we hurt, now, while we have our wits about us and must witness the mental decay of our loved ones. He works and works, knowing that things are only going to get worse. His line ‘You are too heavy’ a universal unspoken truth.
Underpinning the confusion and anxiety is a musical score composed by Nicolas Rombouts and Sjoerd Bruil with lyrics by Gregory Frateur. It is performed live by Bruil with the performers creating loops pressing guitar pedals scattered across the floor. It creates a layer of growing, palpable hurt and despondency. As it becomes more outspoken, the performers’ bodies become increasingly expressionless, eyes wandering, arms flailing, steps hesitant.
What is dance but bodies moving through space and time? Ann van den Broek is a master at using this view on dance to represent entire universes. Although her work rarely follows a clear narrative, her bodies moving through space always tell a deeply human story, underlined with powerful musical scores, compelling visuals and often, repetitive, abrasive lines of text. And always, Van den Broek herself is on the stage with her performers, her presence highlighting the fact that a performance is a construct, a letter from an artist to the world. ‘Here’s what happens to us,’ she writes, ‘do you see how experience affects us physically?’
Seen: July 4, 2019 at International Theatre Amsterdam, Julidans.