Triptych – Peeping Tom

ITA – International Theatre Amsterdam – has been one of the frontrunners where livestreams are concerned. Dance, sadly, was often relegated to a backseat. On 3 April ITA finally went down the rabbit hole with their first livestream dance performance Triptych by Belgian dance company Peeping Tom.

Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier, Peeping Tom’s artistic directors, have a language completely their own. It is a moody mixture of dance, theatre, acrobatics, and dark humour. Jakob Ahlbom feels like a kindred spirit, but their closest contemporary is probably filmmaker David Lynch. All three manage to conjure up the uncanny in the seemingly mundane.

Which is definitely the case with Triptych, a trilogy of pieces Carrizo and Chartier originally made for NDT: The missing door (2013), The lost room (2015) – which won a Swan for Best Dance Production – and The hidden floor (2017).

The missing door may be the most clear-cut of the three pieces. The audience is witness to the last haunting moments in the life of a dying man (Konan Dayot). The servants (Wan-Lu Yu, Panos Malactos) set the scene: Malactos escorts the dead body of the dying man’s wife (Lauren Langois) off the premises, and starts dusting the floor, but his dust cloth has a mind of its own. The man awakens, but something is off. There are faces in the mirror beckoning him. Even his wife returns, but things are not the same. Time and motion keep getting stuck, like a broken record. Most frighteningly: even though there are way too many doors for such a small space, the man can’t seem to leave the room he is in.

Where The missing door was about the final moments of a man, The lost room, which takes place in the master bedroom inside a ship, seems to center around the wife, who, after searching for the source of the sound of a crying baby, finds a cupboard filled with dead bodies instead. Distraught, she flings herself over the railing. Things only go downhill from there.

Chartier and Carrizo up the ante on the nightmarish and the uncanny. Suddenly, all the doors, even the ones leading to the balcony, now only lead into cupboards. There is a bed that swallows anyone who lies down whole. We hear the sound of eerie birdcalls long before we locate its original source: dancer Fanny Sage, whose head doesn’t seem to be entirely connected to the rest of her body. It is one of the scenes that lingers long after the performance is over.

If the first two pieces feel like purgatory, The hidden floor gives us a succinct glimpse of the nine circles of hell. Or in this case, the three levels down into the bowels of a waterlogged ghost ship. ‘I can’t remember it, something happened’, our protagonist (the wife from the previous two pieces) mutters, all the while lugging around the lifeless body of her husband, who just died of an overdose. The deeper she goes, the more grotesque the scenes she encounters become. There’s a half-naked woman (Sage) gorging herself on invisible food, using too many limbs. One creature seems to have crawled straight out of a Jheronimus Bosch painting.

Although I still feel slightly partial to the version with the NDT-dancers, Triptych remains a strong trilogy, a slow descent into damnation and madness.

The only real letdown however, is the registration itself. Don’t get me wrong: it is thrilling to have the trilogy actually take place live at the theatre and to watch the sets being transformed right before my eyes. Chartier and Carrizo have incorporated clever little touches that bleed from one piece into the next, like the tears of an old man at the end of The lost room that have completely covered the stage in The hidden floor.

My main concern lies with the camera choices, which, at times, seem a bit haphazard. There is the recurring image of a dark silhouette in the foreground in The missing door, which just ends up being one of the dancers waiting for their cue. Likewise, the bird’s eye view of the naked dancers writhing in the water in The hidden floor might have led to something interesting, but such moments are too fleeting to leave a strong impression.

In fact, Triptych may actually be one of the few instances where different camera angles detract from the overall experience. Peeping Tom shows are like intricately detailed show-boxes, which are best watched from a single – fixed – viewpoint (or peeping hole). The use of different vantage points inadvertently lays bare the mechanics behind some of the visual trickery of Triptych. By zooming in on Fanny Sage while she is mimicking the bird calls we can see that the body and the face actually belong to two different people; we see the hand moving the light that creates the illusion of a descending freight elevator in The hidden floor and the black rope that pulls the man from the woman’s grasp at the end.

In these haunted spaces filled with nightmarish magic, these moments cut through the illusion.

ITA Live

Tourdates Triptych

photo: Fabian Calis