The Time Between Two Mistakes at the National Theater last weekend was a bizarre, chaotic mess: a head-on collision between theater and dance, storytelling and ... I’m not sure what the hell they were going on about. However, it was delivered with total and tireless commitment by each performer.
It is a show that challenges audiences’ preconceptions about art and performance, and whether you love it, hate it or fall somewhere in-between, it is a show that is hard to get out of your head.
That is usually a good thing. Theater, as with any art form, can be pretty and light and an enjoyable escape, but it is often best when it forces viewers to confront their expectations.
Anyone who took the Taipei MRT to see the show were given fair warning of the Brussels-based Needcompany’s take-no-prisoners approach. The massive wall poster that greeted people entering or leaving the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station exit closest to the theater, had the show title’s in huge Chinese characters and smaller English letters, and immediately underneath the phrase: “If Art Is My Lover Then Who The F… Are You?”
Conceived by Needcompany cofounders Jan Lauwers and Grace Ellen Barkey (who was also one of the performers) as a meditation on or response to British director Peter Brooks’ The Empty Space, each production has had a cast that is half local performers, who bring their own training and perspectives, meaning that the show seen in Taipei last weekend was different than the previous incarnations at the Steirischer Herbst Festival in Austria in 2014 and then in Berlin.
The idea is that each cast has to create its own home on the stage. Just like any home, sometimes it was neat and clean, other times it was a disaster zone.
The audience is greeted by a bare, fully exposed stage as they take their seats, the half-raised orchestra pit home to a piano, drum kit, guitar, videocamera and props.
A cacophony of sound erupts from the back of the theater and the cast, attired in a colorful variety of T-shirts, shorts and swimwear bounce down the steps on the left aisle and onto the stage, shouting lyrics like a squad of pumped-up military recruits and proceed to weave back and forth around the stage several times before departing.
In the silence that follows, Maarten Seghers, in a white sequined and satin master of ceremonies outfit, explains the starting point of the show — Brooks’ book — as a translation of his comments is projected onto the back of the stage, and then proceeds to explain where Brooks went wrong, hence the two mistakes in the show’s title.
What follows is a series of vignettes, with no particular rhyme or reason and very little connecting them except a full-on assault on the eyes — and often the ears — of the watchers. Some are fun, while others are in need of editing.
A swirl of bright hoop-clad dancers bob and weave around the stage as others push a variety of props and lighting and sound equipment. It looks like fun — and then it devolves into a bacchanalia of sexual couplings or individual onanism, sometimes with props, as a large white clown figure wanders around asking questions and growing increasingly distressed.
If this part is supposed to demonstrate the questions of what is right or wrong or good, it is hard to tell. What is does demonstrate is that the segment needs to be cut by several minutes.