Canadian Stage’s production of Betroffenheit is a theatrical rarity that shouldn’t be missed

Betroffenheit is a deeply personal theatre piece created by the multi-talented Jonathon Young, and the visionary choreographer Crystal Pite.  This dance piece which also incorporates spoken word, singing and poetry turns the tragic real life accident that Young and his family faced when he lost his teen aged daughter, and her two cousins in a cabin fire in 2009.  The word ‘betroffenheit’ means shock, bewilderment, or impact.  It’s hard to imagine how one would begin to wade through such an unimaginable event.  Perhaps because speech would be entirely insufficient to describe the pain after such an event, this might have been what inspired Young to tell this deeply personal story through dance.

I’m not sure how I can put voice to such an astoundingly beautiful, and moving piece of theatre but I know for certain that the entire audience felt the magnitude of what we had witnessed.  After the piece was completed, the audience erupted into a standing ovation that lasted five minutes, and had the performers return to the stage three times.

There were some sections in Betroffenheit where I couldn’t intellectually comprehend the piece, but as my friend pointed out, perhaps we weren’t meant to, because grappling with loss is loud, disconnected, fragmented—muddy. Despite these unintelligible moments, the pictures being painted by the extraordinary talent on stage elevated me to another plain.

I have always been a huge fan of Young’s work and this was so exception.  This piece was fluid, soulful, and fully realized.  He moved exquisitely, especially when moving with dancer Jermaine Spivey who played his second self.  The two were so in tune with one another, you truly believed they were cut from the same cloth.

A cast of five dancers Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Tiffany Tregarthen and the above mentioned Jermaine Spivey, played multiple roles and incorporated multiple dance styles including salsa, tap and lyrical.  The precision of these artists was breath-taking.  I wasn’t previously familiar with Pite’s work, but her choreography is inspired.  It seamlessly moved from hard-edged, and angular to flowing, and molten.

Betroffenheit was complemented by the dissonant soundscape created by Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe, the stark lighting of Tom Visser and the industrial set conceived by Jay Gower Taylor.

I do hope this piece is remounted, it deserves a full length run. Young and Pite have created something unique and extraordinary. Betroffenheit’s story is dark and haunting but I left the theatre feeling elevated.  In other hands, this piece may have felt suffocating, but these artists were able to explore immense suffering and anguish, and balance it with beauty and hope.  Theatre like this is a rarity, I am so glad I was able to witness it.


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