What a time to be alive

At the start of What a time to be alive, seen on 18 September at CC Amstel, the four female performers of dance collective MAN || CO are owning the stage. With assurance they claim their space; either lounging idly at the sloped back, as if they were at the beach, or just simply walking around. Confident smiles are plastered onto all of their faces.

Even if they have to move through a fly curtain made from safety belts, they do so with attitude; marching around as if they were the popular girl clique during school lunch. Here we are world! Make way!

Inevitably, the first cracks start to show. Smiles begin to falter; feet start to wobble. Furtive glances are cast over their shoulders, as if they feel they are constantly being watched. Increasingly, they begin looking at each other for comfort, for confirmation that everything is still alright. Right?

The seat belts hanging from the ceiling (design by Geartsje van der Zee) are a great conceit. The belts prove versatile too: when pulled slowly, they easily give way; when pulled taut, the performers can swing from them. At one point, Susan Hoogbergen is crawling underneath them, cautious not to touch them, as if they were sharp spikes that can cut to the quick.

Yet the strongest element in the piece, made in collaboration with Liat Waysbort, is the group dynamic of the collective – which has been nominated for the Dutch Dance Festival Young Audience Award 2021. It was almost as if I could hear what they were thinking just by looking at them, growing more and more frantic and desperate as time wore on. Each of the four performers also evokes a slightly different vibe. Roma Koolen is the most anxious of the four. Lisa Feij plays the part of ringleader, especially in a scene later on, where she forcefully directs everyone into position for the perfect group selfie. Look, everything is perfect! No, really! Sjifra IJpma is her most unwilling subject, being bullied into more and more ludicrous positions. The scene is the comical highlight of the piece, stopping just short of becoming really uncomfortable.

If there is one note I would want to give, it would probably be that. I would have liked for MAN || CO to explore these rough edges even further, especially in a piece that is all about the superficiality and fallacy of polished perfection; where the comforting embrace of your peers can easily turn into a conformist vice, and where a passive bystander (the audience) can become an active accomplice.

Photo: Bart Grietens