Whenever Jakob Ahlbom decides to unleash his inner film freak, I know I am in for a treat. With 2015’s Horror, Jakob Ahlbom Company brought an electrifying ode to horror movies. Knock-Out, a coproduction with ISH Dance Collective and DeLaMar that premiered on 28 August at DeLaMar Theater, is a sensational serenade to Kungfu films.
The interior design (by Thomas Rupert) has a decided seventies vibe, with large geometric windows, lush indoor greenery and panelled walls and ceilings. The house is home to a young married couple (Lisa Groothof and Freek Nieuwdorp), whose married life is far from picture perfect. They start off seated at opposite sides and levels of the house, silently drinking their whiskey and wine. Their stationary existence ends abruptly in the next scene, when they are joined by four other actors in an elaborate fight scene (choreography by Marco Gerris of ISH Dance Collective). So many things are happening at once that it is hard to know where to look, or how to make sense of it all. People are running, kicking, jumping, falling. Not one piece of furniture remains untouched. The fighting seems indiscriminate, with husbands hitting wives and vice versa. And what’s up with the black suitcase that moves from hand to hand? The confusion is deliberate. Thankfully, a singing cowboy (Alamo Race Track’s Leonard Lucieer) is on hand to help figure things out.
Knock-Out is a loving tribute to 1970s fight films, made great by Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee (whose picture is visible centre stage). Yet the piece never loses sight of their also very campy appeal, from the exaggerated sound effects, to the impossible-to-miss wires in a fight scene that has the husband and his main adversary (Patrick Karijowidjojo) practically flying through the air. Knock-Out also harkens back to more recent inspirations, such as the suitcase that glows from within from Pulp Fiction. Its ludicrous crime caper antics bring to mind the black comedies by the Coen Brothers, especially Fargo (with its double-crossing spouse) and The Big Lebowski, which also featured a cowboy narrator.
An Ahlbom feature would not be complete without its fair share of physical comedy and wizardry. Boxes seem bottomless; people exit upstairs right, to reappear downstairs left; a guy transforms into another guy. Some horror elements also resurface in a nightmarish scene where the husband is visited by a cross between Tina Turner and the vengeful spirit (Gwen Langenberg) from the aforementioned Horror. The performance features some great characters. The loveable loser husband, who manages to get up again, no matter how many times he is beaten down. The dissatisfied housewife, who despite her discontent doesn’t want her husband to get seriously hurt. The tough chick with a soft heart (Bodine Sutorius), the happy henchman (Arnold Put) and the indefatigably cheerful delivery guy (Tyrone Menig) who just doesn’t want to leave.
Knock-Out is a great marriage between Marco Gerris’ boundless energy and Jakop Ahlbom’s physical humour and strong storytelling technique. A special shout-out to dramaturge Judith Wendel is probably long overdue. Even during the most intricate and kinetic action scenes I knew exactly where my allegiances and sympathies were supposed to be. Ahlbom and Wendel never lose track of the through line. With Horror it was sisterly love, with Knock-Out, marital disillusion.
Photo: Bart Grietens