As I get my online ticket for Creating Joy by Ann Van den Broek on Thursday 1 April, I receive an email from associate producers Theater Rotterdam explaining that there will be two versions on display: one version with two dancers on stage and two dancers at home, and the other with the roles reversed. I watch the version with Gabriel Maury and Carla Guerra on stage and Marion Bosetti and Louis Combeaud on screen.
The stage design, by Niek Kortekaas, is sleek. An all metallic and white set that looks like a laboratory or an industrial kitchen. A big double-sided screen on a movable platform is in the centre, and underneath, a disco ball. On stage: two dancers, a master of ceremony (Gregory Frateur), a filming crew and the two “home-working” performers on Zoom.
Creating Joy is an online presentation, a registration of a performance-to-be that mixes real-time and pre-recorded videos. The performers, who maintain their distance at all times except during a massage scene between Maury and Frateur, mimic joyful moments here and there, such as salsa dancing or the politely distanced dance when passing a stranger on the street. Intercutting the stage action is a series of video intermezzos: different testimonies by the artistic team about what joy is to them. When do they feel it, what actions bring it, what other emotions come paired with it. Notably, Ann Van den Broek herself talks about finding joy in sadness or the great pleasure of baking bread. Bosetti and Combeaud respectively embroider and bake bread whilst sometimes joining in with the movements happening on the other side of the screen.
Frateur introduces the videos, stating if they were recorded or not. He shares parts of the creation process, as well as sings at times. The song A Part of us All by his band Dez Mona is a leitmotiv throughout the film; we see videos of different solo interpretations by the musicians on the team, on harp, lute, double bass, electric guitar or loop station, taking the song in a variety of directions.
Zoom calls, social distancing, bread making, embroidery, a stage, a home… all sprinkled with Van den Broek’s emblematic sharp gestural language, well-dressed performers, and songs visualized through sign language. Although the concept of this piece was in the making before the pandemic, the current situation gives it a more urgent layer.
The cocktail of elements in Creating Joy is a playful testament to what we can already safely consider “covid trends”. It is perhaps a commentary on what the performing arts have had to juggle with since March 2020, too. The technical precision behind this film is impeccable, although 90 minutes of this patchwork of images, movements, and songs, was a little too long. Rather than a performance, it’s a very well-documented process, an archive of well-constructed thoughts with relatable everyday bits, full of potential.
photo: Rio Staelens