Skin of the Mind: Tell your mom you love your skin
NDT1 opened the season with the world premiere of Tell your mom you love your skin, the company’s first collaboration with international star Alan Lucien Øyen (Bergen, Norway). Working in close collaboration with the dancers, Øyen pokes holes into the audience’s dramatic expectations to reveal that reality, both in and out of the theatre, is first and foremost a fiction. Seen on 23 September in NDT’s new home Amare in The Hague, the programme Skin of the mind also includes an expanded re-staging of Eyal&Behar’s Bedroom Folk (premiered in 2015).
Dressed in a pyjama-like onesie with a printed skeleton, a character named Paxton (Paxton Ricketts) is one of the constants hoping to give Tell your mom you love your skin a sense of dramaturgic unity. He invites us in by means of a gentle movement solo in which he softly and repeatedly calls for his mother. Later, he has a hilarious conversation with Charlie Skuy (also dressed in a fluffy onesie, and revealing himself as a brilliant actor in his debut with NDT1) on the benefits of designing your own avatar: ‘Take what you know and “flip it in reverse!”’. Towards the end, Paxton reappears on the side of the stage, crouching in the shadows as another witness and letting our imagination drift away together with his.
There are more characters and more movement solos combined with spoken texts: Boston Gallagher’s, for example, whose electronically modified voice makes them an ominous constant every time they open their mouth; or Hope (Isla Clarke), who repeatedly wonders while dancing if she was because of what her mother did or what the kids at school said. Øyen’s use of this trendy physical textuality, which works with words as movement, is beautifully set and individually rendered, but after a while all the fragments end up feeling a bit the same.
This is also due to the role words play in the performance. Steep and open reflections on a post-internet world coexist with zingers and one-liners that throw punches at identity as an individual and collective construct. Senseless dialogues with unexpected twists appear from nowhere, only to lead us nowhere. Thousands of words, powerful, mind-blowing, chosen for a reason and said with clear intent. But they pile up. The disappointing result: I can hardly remember any.
In addition to the characters, who serve as loose references to navigate through this cacophony of fluid movements and strong ideas, the set design and music do provide some solid ground. Three tall and solid walls, each with a big window-like hole in them and standing separately, turn the stage into a house where nothing is fixed. They also underscore the in-betweenness Øyen loves to navigate. As for the music, it feels like a soundtrack to an immersive video-game, turning from mysterious to evocative to active and hugely benefitting the overall experience of the piece.
Before Øyen’s work and during intermission, NDT screened a short interview with him to make not moving more attractive to those of us not dying to go to the loo. One idea stood out: he spoke of his work as an invitation to suspend our disbelief. But, for all its moments of beauty and its discursive richness, Tell your mom you love your skin doesn’t allow us to ignore its structural incoherence. In order to leap forward, one needs to gauge the distance. Poking hole after hole in every suggested expectation, the overarching line ends up getting lost from sight. And holes without a line are just not visible.
Photos: Rahi Rezvani