A lot of love surrounded the premiere of Love❤️ by Club Guy & Roni on Saturday October 17 at Stadsschouwburg Groningen. The composition of the audience seemed like one big reunion (more people seemed to know each other than not), which made for many warm greetings. There was the heartfelt standing ovation at the end of the performance. While walking back towards the train station I crossed Nieuwstad – Groningen’s red light district – which also offers a type of love. But the love presented in Love ❤️ itself may take a different form than you might expect.
A few years ago, Guy Weizman and Roni Haver started an ambitious project: The Human Odyssey. It is an attempt to ‘trace and capture human existential pillars, the building stones of our collective histories’. Or, put in slightly simpler terms, ‘what does it mean to be human in this day and age’?
For each installment Weizman and Haver seek out exciting new partners. Their first piece was Happiness, with a company of amateur dancers, then came Phobia with Slovenian dance company En-Knap, and Freiheit (Freedom) with the TanzMainz ensemble. Now piece number 4 has arrived: Love ❤️, a collaboration with GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. The piece consists of eighteen performers in all, six from Club Guy & Roni (and its regular partner Noord Nederlands Toneel), six from Göteborg, and four musicians (three from Slagwerk Den Haag, one from Asko|Schönberg). At least three further projects are in pre-production (Youth, Fortune and Beauty) with maybe even more to come. Who knows, it took Odysseus ten years to finish his ordeals…
You would be hard pressed, though, to call the chaos and turmoil enacted on stage ‘love’. The heart emoji in the title offers an important clue. In a social media dominated world filled with digital likes and loves, actual analogue love has lost much of its meaning. That is why the Goddess of Love (a fabulous Bien de Moor) has traipsed down from Mount Olympus, dressed in rich pinks and a gigantic hat that would put Queen Maxima’s to shame, to get the performers to reconnect with each other and themselves.
This is not an easy job. If our idealized vision of love – an unrealistic concept in itself – is all pink fluffy clouds and happiness, here, on the stage, it feels like we are in purgatory or at the very least an insane asylum (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest springs to mind). Everyone has gone a bit cuckoo searching for something that they think is love. ‘You don’t know what love is,’ De Moor admonishes the performers, and thereby also us.
Roni Haver, one of the show’s creators, is even more specific in a short interview (available on the website) ‘We don’t know what it (love) is or how to reach it and once we reach it, we search for something better.’ All the performers are afflicted with a chronic case of FOMO (fear of missing out). There are plenty of ‘romantic’ duets, with even brief moments of tenderness. But the sense of disconnect prevails. None of the performers ever manage to hold onto the other’s attention or body for long. They are always shopping around, looking for the next big thing.
Or for easy distractions, as becomes apparent in the scenes where the other performers are way too busy giving thumbs-ups and loves to a performing cat (Rachel McNamee) and dog (Harold Luya). The hollow comfort of temporary adulation is more important than actual love, especially for battered housewife Behrends Benjamin, who is sociopathically trying to get the perfect Christmas pic to send around on social media.
In this universe there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between a man (Hiroki Ichinose) wearing a collar with selfie-cameras performing for likes and loves and a crack whore (Angela Herenda) working for money.
Weizman and Haver may have done too good a job recreating this constant overstimulation. Frequently there is just so much happening on stage – De Moor is monologuing, the musicians are playing dress-up (one of them, percussionist Niels Meliefste, is a cupid; another, singer Jonathan Bonny, walks around in garters, a jacket and – sometimes – a gimp mask), the set pieces (by Ascon de Nijs) are being moved about, dancers are dancing in the most colourful and distracting costumes (Maison the Faux) – that it all gets jumbled up in the process.
I myself got distracted by the small things. Why is Igor Podsiadly wearing a yarmulke with ringlets (peyot) attached? What is the symbolism of the blue bull (Jesse Bechard)? And why are there tendrils in the windowpane? The performance itself gets lost. Only fragments stayed with me, such as a scene in which a man (Adam Peterson) was chasing a heart on a stick, or a disturbing duet between a black, swanlike ballerina (Sofiko Nachkebiya) and the blue bull. Tellingly, if you watch a fragment of the rehearsals (also on the website) without any of the visual add-ons, the dance has much more of an impact. But then again, all this visual and auditory static is on purpose, so it is a bit of a Catch-22 situation.
Only in the end do the performers find some sense of release, and we the audience, some sense of a coherent dance choreography. The Goddess of Love finally accomplishes her mission: the performers let go of their inhibitions, and together they share an exhilarating dance orgy, without even touching. It touches on a scene in Beautiful Days of Aranjuez, the play by Peter Handke that also served as inspiration. In it, a woman recounts her first pre-sexual sexual experience as a ten-year-old, just swinging on a swing, on her own, feeling free.
For one fleeting moment, the performers, too, are liberated.
Seen: October 19, Stadsschouwburg Groningen.