Our House is on Fire
It is common practice to accompany a performance with a small leaflet that offers some basic information on what you are about to see. The digital hand-out for Our House is on Fire by Nicole Beutler Projects, which was streamed live from Frascati Theater on 11 February, comes with a comprehensive syllabus. It includes links to online articles, podcasts, films and even offers suggestions for activities you can do with the whole family. Originally, Beutler made the performance for the Swedish dance company Norrdans, for its Dutch tour the piece features a Dutch cast.
Considering the subject matter, this call to action is not as surprising as it seems. The piece is a danced manifesto, inspired by the words of environmental activist Greta Thunberg. The sentence, “Our house is on fire”, is a recurring phrase in her speeches, and also the title of her autobiography.
These four words also form the main thread of the piece. It is spelled out several times in the eight dancers’ bodies, wearing three different getups. One of these outfits could best be described as ‘daily wear’, where the performers look like you or me, wearing the clothes they would wear when going shopping, or attending a protest march. At the end, all performers are wearing futuristic full-body suits in various animal prints. It is as if they were time travelers coming back from the future, imploring us – in eight different languages – to take action. NOW! ‘We can still fix this! It is not too late!’
The costumes the performers wear at the beginning are even more striking: red Hazmat-suits, with black protective gloves and boots. Red lights are flashing, the title of the performance is projected in white letters on a red background, the sounds of Morse code and alarms – soundscape by Gary Shepherd – can be heard over the speakers. With exaggerated gestures and signs the performers try to get our attention. Even if you are not quite sure what they are trying to tell you, the urgency of the message is clear. If the people in the animal prints are our ghosts from a far away future, the ones in the protective gear are from a future that is just around the corner, a future in which our children and our children’s children will grow up.
The different costumes and the signing offer some strong visuals, although near the end, when the performers start to painstakingly spell out all the words for the third time, it becomes a bit of a struggle not to zone out. Of course, this may be a sly reference to the way we start to get desensitized by all the repeated warnings. The fire alarm has been blaring for so long now, it has almost become background noise.
Two text segments cut through the static. One is an allegory, in which we are all seated in an airplane on a flight to no-one knows where. All the emergency exits are out of order – due to the intense heat outside – and each seat is equipped not with a life jacket, but with a protective suit. The most thought-provoking text segment is a mantra – written by Norrdans dancer Rebecka Berchtold, edited by Beutler. Here the text is recited by Christian Guerematchi, while the others are handling a huge inflated globe. ‘This is a house and you are guests.’ / ‘This is the star and you are the choir.’ / ‘This is the time and you are late.’ / ‘This is happening and you know it’. Here, the message really hits home: the world is so much bigger and more important than each of us individually, and even combined. But we can still make a difference. Don’t know how or where to start? This show’s hand-out has some viable suggestions.