Going to the theatre has always been a singular experience. We voluntarily step out of our everyday lives and into a darkened theatre to watch something unfold on stage. This has never been more apparent than when visiting Spectrum, the latest installation by Boukje Schweigman and her company Schweigman&, which I attended on 6 August at the Brabanthallen in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The installation is part of Afzender Boulevard, the alternative corona proof programme presented this summer by Theaterfestival Boulevard.
Everything surrounding the visit seems designed – either intentionally or not – to make me hyper aware of the space I am in, starting with the echoing sounds my footsteps make when walking through the deserted hall of the 1931 conference centre. A lone production leader (Yola Parie) bids me, and my thirteen compatriots, welcome in a holding area, where everyone is asked for their name and their height. We are asked to leave our bags and purses behind – we can also take off our shoes. Everyone is issued a face mask (against Covid-19) and a neck pillow (for comfort). Once we are called in, Yola tells us, the journey will have started.
One by one we enter a dark tunnel where the walls are made of fabric. The tunnel leads to a circular space where a huge contraption lies waiting, with fourteen open cabins standing upright and facing outwards. Every visitor is to stand inside the cabin that bears his or her own name. Once everyone is in their assigned spot, the lights go out and the fourteen cabins are slowly moved into a horizontal position, even though it takes a while for the body (and mind) to realize that this is what is happening. It is as if you were seated in a dentist’s chair, watching the white ceiling.
Of course, this being Schweigman, this is no ordinary ceiling. A small disc – design by Cocky Eek – slowly begins to turn, and a halo of light (light design by Matthijs Munnik) – becomes visible around the rim, as if you are watching an unfolding eclipse. After each rotation another colour emerges. At first, the colours only come from behind the disc; later on, colour is reflected directly on the ceiling itself.
Photo: Bowie Verschuren
Spectrum offers a unique experience to which you just have to surrender yourself. Truthfully: I couldn’t, at least not all the time. Despite the beautiful visual spectacle and rich colours which seemed to burst straight into my skull, my mind kept drifting off to the more mundane tasks that lay ahead. For a big part, this is just me. When attending yoga class, the hardest part for me has always been the short meditation right at the start, where I inevitably spend ten minutes contemplating my feet (Were they always this big?).
For me, the letting go worked best at the beginning and at the end of the piece, when the room was pitch black and all that remained was the mesmerizing soundscape by Yannis Kyriakides and the curious sensation of gravity shifting. Kyriakides’ (who also composed the music for Schweigman’s performance Val and unmute by Keren Levi) composition is the one constant. It is there when you enter, and it’s there when you leave, an intriguing overlap of sounds where you can never be quite certain if you are listening to natural or electronic sounds; the humming of mechanical insects, the sounds of waves interspersed with industrial turbines. These sounds coloured (excuse the pun) my mood more than the actual colours did.
In the end, Spectrum did work as a reset of sorts. Afterwards, coming out in the open on an empty parking lot, I felt more attuned to the senses; to the wistful sound of a clock that strikes 9; to the beautiful colours of a setting sun. Until, slowly but surely, everyday life set back in.
Concept & direction: Boukje Schweigman | concept & design: Cocky Eek | concept & lighting design: Matthijs Munnik | musical composition: Yannis Kyriakides.
Photo cover: Karin Jonkers