Before/After

On this last day of April, amid the strange pandemic environment we currently find ourselves in, I entered the online platform NITE Hotel. NITE is Noord Nederlands Toneel + Club Guy & Roni + Asko|Schönberg + Slagwerk Den Haag. It is an acronym for National Interdisciplinary Theater Ensemble, which brings together actors, dancers, and musicians. Being a die-hard live art lover, I admit, I was reluctant to click to witness yet another online initiative.

I was in for a pleasantly diverse experience.

We are invited to enter the “lobby” of the hotel, a virtual space that leads through to the “rooms”, the “theater” or the “bar”. I wander through the rooms first: 23 squares to click and meander through. Each room features a different artist or group of artists, who has taken up residency within an environment of different videos and images. We access each resident’s world of references and input, soaking our senses in a plethora of atmospheres. The rooms go live at different times, giving us an opportunity to join in on Zoom and have a one-off experience with the artist(s) in question, together with other viewers. Interactive and user friendly, this area of the hotel is a platform for Slow Art. It seems to defy the usual pace online life imposes. Drifting through a catalog of practices and a lineup of happenings, it can keep you entertained for hours.

After an introduction by artistic director Guy Weizman who is visibly excited, it is time for the premiere of Before/After. Based on the play Vorher/Nachher by Roland Schimmelpfennig, a myriad of stories combine to create one big, hectic narrative. The central figure is an elderly woman (Bien de Moor) who is digging up memories from her past life. From her bathroom we are transported into different rooms and settings via multiple cameras and evocative music.

Photos: Andreas Etter

The stories are largely relatable in their rather pedestrian topics, but the sophisticated way of staging and editing immerses the audiences in an interdisciplinary fest whose different storytelling modes complete, juxtapose, confront, and reinforce each other. From Busby Berkeley-type group choreographies filmed from above, to lovers undressing and quarreling in close quarters, to soulfully singing nuns appearing in blue and red light, the show is a patchwork of scenes, inviting us to find the thrill in the everyday. Actors, musicians, and dancers co-exist in parallel worlds. Huge screens on stage transpose what we see from one setting to another. There is a scientist (Veerle van Overloop) hunting down an unknown organism. With the turn of a camera she becomes one half of a couple lying among green flowered sheets, battling the demons of the night. All of life is here.

The mise en abyme of seeing the film on stage and the stage on film is well executed although not always necessary. And yet at this moment in time it is, now that we cannot be physically there, in the auditorium, for the experience. The complex overarching choreography of 37 actors, dancers, musicians, and cinematographers is precise and thought through to the last detail. Never disappointing in the polished craft of pretty much anything this collective brings together, sometimes the flexing of their combined muscle power can come across as extravagant. But, if it’s well done, why not?

The technical aspects are almost beyond reproach, especially knowing this was filmed with very short notice. Guy Weizman explains in the after-talk that the team decided from one day to the other to film the whole thing when it became clear the lockdown was imminent. While the project was already meant to have a video component, the plan became to not “only” do it as a registration but to integrate the cinematographic component into the piece.

The explosive combination of all the NITE parties results in an ambitious interdisciplinary bang. Perhaps the story could have benefitted from a little more subtlety, as the overflow of stimuli sometimes sometimes runs away with the experience. But out of all the online experiences I have been a part of so far, this one succeeds best at integrating our current context into the work of art. There is a sense of exchange, there are real-time facial expressions all around, and the set-up offers considerable freedom: we choose independently where, when, and what to be a part of.

While a DJ took over the lobby, my night ended with a little detour to the “bar” that offered chat about art, face-masks and the weather. People were buying beers, donating, and even browsing the merchandise from this fictitious place. I almost can’t wait for the physical opening of this exciting new performing arts forum!

 

Performers: Bien De Moor, Adam Peterson, Berber Heerema (cello), Cloë Abbott (trumpet), Daan van Koppen (saxophone), Igor Podsiadly, Joost Bolt, Joost Geevers (trombone), Niels Meliefste (percussion), Olaf Ait Tami,  Sarah Janneh  Sofiko Nachkebiya, Veerle van Overloop, Vitaly Medvedev (percussion), Wilco Oomkes (accordeon) | 

Poetic Disasters Club: Aglaia Fedotova, Alis Robine, Beatrice Pellizzato, Bo Jacobs, Chiara Aldorisio, Erik Wilken, Georgia Lyell, ilaria Rivetti, Ivar Draaisma, Karolina Caruso, Lara Muller, Lisa Neef, Mitch Essers, Naomi den Breejen, Nora Eek, Suzanne Vis, Valentina Buoninconti, Verena Herterich, Veronica Lillo, Zaneta Kesik. 

Text: Roland Schimmelpfennig | direction: Guy Weizman | choreography: Roni Haver | musical composition: Luke Dean | costume design: MAISON the FAUX | set design: Ascon de Nijs | lighting design: Maarten van Rossem | sound design: Peter Zwart | dramaturgy: Robbert van Heuven | musical dramaturgy: David Dramm.