A figure on rollerblades welcomes us into the space. Its huge, tangled blond wig seems to match the tangled pieces of fabric hanging from the ceiling. With an enormous mouth and an assertive attitude, this being starts talking to the audience, something about making things spectacular. Know hows, one of the latest works by Carte Blanche, the Norwegian national company of contemporary dance which came to Theater Rotterdam on Saturday, 21 September, promises to be wild.
Without giving us the time to fully understand where we are and what are we seeing, another creature appears. A body with two big bouncing balls attached to its back and its front. This reconfigured body bounces and falls with ease. Soon after, another critter arrives, and another, and another. Steadily, a team of odd superheroes floods the stage, sporting octopus hands, kilometres of hair, overdeveloped muscles, stilted legs, branched arms…You are never sure if you have wrecked your boat and crashed into a land of broken mermaids and demented pixies, sad centaurs and outcast superhumans, or if you are witnessing a sectarian exorcism involving all of us.
The costumes are simple yet sophisticated, a tasteful DIY where taped props and good theatre meet to create a fantastic world with ever-changing rules. Is it a nightmare machine or just a fairy tale happening in 2019? Perhaps magical beings also get burnouts and anxiety about taxes…
Within this dystopian chaos, a certain sense of harmony surfaces. Seamlessly, the group synchs in, guiding the viewers into a narrative whose true secret they seem to withhold. The entangled fabrics hanging from the ceiling open up smoothly to completely change the landscape of this playground. A clever shadow play unveils, set to the tune of what could be incantations or sailor songs. The tribe unites, and the circus of freaks and human oddities dissipates into the tents and caves formed by the floating fabrics.
We are gifted with a moment of pure storytelling, with images appearing and disappearing, a dimmed atmosphere that comforts us in this world with unfamiliar rules. To historically contextualize what is happening seems irrelevant: prehistorical winds and raving rituals co-exist unapologetically.
At times over the top and not necessarily clear, the dramaturgy of this piece is largely saved by the cast of extremely experienced performers who wonderfully personify this deluge of outlandish beings and scenes. The attention to detail and craft are to be saluted.
With the mandatory mix of mystic tales, singing creatures, grotesque humour and carefully curated, unpolished aesthetics that are so often part of Scandinavian works, Know Hows transports you without even noticing or needing to know where to.
Seen: September 21, Theater Rotterdam.