32 RUE VANDENBRANDEN
November 21, 2019
The Belgian dance theater troupe Peeping Tom was founded by Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier in 2000 and has toured the show 32 rue Vandenbranden for ten of those years. The production simultaneously received its North American premiere and three farewell performances as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival 2019. And what an experience it was!
In the mold of Pina Bausch’s ground-breaking tanz theater, 32 rue was a series of deeply emotional, at times disturbing, and sometimes hilarious vignettes, that took place in and out of three trailer homes with big windows. Set in a snowy, desolate landscape designed by Peeping Tom, Nele Dirckx, Yves Leirs, and Frederick Liekens, the space was as vast as it was confining.
From the very beginning characters came and went but were somehow trapped, unable to escape their physical or psychological entrapments. A soundscape that ranged from gale force winds to strains of Stravinsky’s Firebird by Juan Carlos Tolosa and Glenn Vervliet kept the mood shifting, and surreal lighting by Filip Timmerman and Yves Leirs kept the mysterious and bleak atmosphere throughout.
One quickly realizes all is not well when the silhouetted figure of a woman in heels and a big fur coat appears from behind a trailer, moments later, she discovers a tiny baby in the snow, and to our surprise and shock, covers it up with more snow and shoves it under the trailer. She spends the rest of the time, among other things, rubbing her pregnant belly, linear time now uncertain. From then on, every strange moment of magical realism washed over us, continually demolishing expectations.
From a squabbling couple’s rag-doll duet, where the woman’s extreme flexibility is manipulated by her macho man, to the moment when a tender guy in love tears out his own heart, still pumping and bleeding, every second is full of surprises, tensions and unpredictability. Pushing boundaries and sometimes the limits of taste, one “neighbor” stepped outside and sang into a mike while masturbating out in the open in his underwear as others watch from their windows.
At another time, everyone frolicked in the snow, and the spectacular Eurudike de Beul ended up on the ground with two men suckling at her breasts. Later, she belted out the most glorious aria and then climbed up to the rooftop of a trailer for seemingly no reason. The dancers were acrobatic, consummate actors, dancers and singers, sustaining over an hour and a half of high intensity interactions as an afflicted and disconnected community: prisoners of their own making. Sometimes jumping off walls, rolling in the snow, confronting each other or walking away, each moment rose to a manic pitch, then simmered down, in a strange retreat.
32 rue Vanden-branden kept the audience on the edge of its seat the entire time and received a warm standing ovation. One wishes that New York had seen more of this troupe since its founding; but thanks to BAM at least we caught the last shows of this work – strange, mystifying, unnerving, capable of making us both grateful and paranoid at the same time.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Nicole Duffy Robertson