Nederlands Dans Theater 1: “The Statement” by Crystal Pite
Filmed in 2018 in co-production with Mezzo and La Belle Télé, directed by Tommy Pascal
What is the friction between words and movement? What does one give us that the other doesn’t? If there is an intelligence in movement and physicality that cannot be expressed through words, do we look down on that intelligence?
While many choreographers might shy away from words, either out of a sense of loyalty to pure movement or an aversion to narrative, Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young happily collide the two worlds together. Pite has spoken of how language can open up new possibilities for her as a choreographer.
“The Statement” sees four officials in nondescript suits caught in the orbit of a monolithic central table, perhaps in a windowless room in the basement of some government or corporate building. Two of the characters are from a department where blame for a conflict, that is spiralling out of control, shall fall: the other two are there to get a crucial ‘statement.’
Guilt, accountability, and the (malevolent) opacity of bureaucratic structures are recurrent themes in Pite and Young’s collaborations. Halfway through the dance, as insinuation, provocation and on—and off—the record statements are bandied about through voiceovers, the stakes are upturned: one investigator is instead deemed the scapegoat.
In these fraught plays with Young, Pite works with everyday recognisable gestures: hands cradling bowed heads, arms pushing against protesting colleagues, backs arching in desperation. Pite breaks them down, isolates each beat; she repeats, backtracks, varies, and builds on each brick of movement. But the quality is also soft; feet sliding across the floor, limbs rippling into extensions. We see the bare bones of an expression, our very mechanics laid bare, but emotion is never lost. If anything, it is heightened, written in strained, emphatic strokes. The alternating and often surprising rhythm of the choreography is always breathtaking to watch.
There’s a risk that the themes of distortion and displacement in “The Statement” translates into an evasive script: a risk in showing a constant deferral of responsibility and an infinite web of unnamed deceit, which can lose sight of the particular reality that Pite and Young want to depict. Each dancer’s specific characterisation holds this at bay, particularly Aram Hasler’s guilt-ridden official. A brilliant sequence where all four lash and move with frenzied calculation at opposite sides of the table is chillingly officious, yet physically desperate.
I watched this performance online. We can all agree on the irreplaceable experience of a live performance but this piece, beautifully and conscientiously filmed by Tommy Pascal, does not suffer. If anything, seeing the increasingly pleading faces of the performers up close, their joints clicking into tortured configurations, only adds to the tension of this impressive work.