Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Tale of Two Siblings: Critique of Tarikh and Ziarah at the Fringe Festival

          On Monday, September 8th Tarikh and Ziarah, a sibling dance theater troop, performed a drama titled “Metmijgaathetgoed.” The show was entirely in Dutch, making it a tad bit difficult for the English speakers in the audience (such as myself) to understand exactly what was occurring in the performance. However, there were other fascinating features, such as facial and body gestures, the use of multi-media, the involvement of the audience, and the combinations between dance and drama aspects, that enhanced the performance and rendered it enjoyable.
            Before describing the performance, I must present a depiction of the space. The most striking detail of the venue was the proximity between the audience and the performers. The benches where the crowd sat were practically on the stage, and there were (physically) no barriers to performance. As I found out later, this closeness greatly facilitated the artist-crowd interactions. The benches themselves were extremely artsy, adorned with red, yellow, and grey cloth that exhibited different letters, chopped up and mashed together in diverse ways. These benches presented a kind of optical illusion to the eyes, and were both pleasing to view and difficult to comprehend. A black curtain surrounded the space, significantly contributing to a black-box feel and amplifying the intimacy of the event. The stage was dimly lit, and was incredibly simplistic: a wooden bench was situated in the foreground, a photograph of Tarikh hung in the back, and props were scattered randomly on a miniature table next to the bench. The back wall was adorned with plain white tiles, which also added to ideas of cleanliness and simplicity. All these factors described above put me at ease, and allowed me to feel an intimate connection with the performers (despite me not speaking Dutch).
            The performance began with Tarikh walking on stage towards the picture of him, set to Gregorian chant. This was a comical introduction, and the audience laughed a great deal as Tarikh exalted himself. As the audience laughed, Tarikh glanced back with an amused look on his face. This gaze towards the crowd of laughers established the connection between the audience and actors, and signified that these interactions would be important aspects of the performance. This initial scene also set up the notion that comedy would play an integral role, and that the audience would laugh to a great extent throughout the play. After this, Tarikh dove into his opening monologue, whipping the audience into a hysterical frenzy with his words. As I was not able to understand what he was saying, his monologue did not have the same effect on me. However, it was extremely aesthetically pleasing to watch him perform. He exhibited a powerful look, and his eyes pierced the audience as he spoke. His facial and body features seemed to match perfectly what he was saying, and allowed me to understand somewhat the subject matter being discussed (sex). He moved around the stage naturally and established a commanding stage presence, rendering it difficult to take my eyes off him. He spoke with a clear diction, and his words seemed to roll off his tongue, evidence that he had practiced a great deal. This amped up his credibility as a performer, a development that was much appreciated.
            After a short while, Ziarah entered the picture sporting short jean shorts, a long sleeve pink shirt that left her midriff exposed, and incredibly tall high heels. Her hands on her hips, she walked with an air or authority and a touch of sassiness, like she knew she was a big deal. She approached the photo of Tarikh and laughed, signaling that she was not above making fun of her older brother in some capacity. They exchanged barbs for a while, with Ziarah matching Tarikh in her confidence and stage presence. About halfway through, Ziarah broke into an incredibly passionate and enthralling contemporary dance. The transition between the acting drama and the dance was seamless, and provided a remarkable contrast to what had been occurring. She gracefully floated around stage, and crafted a series of high octane, intensively athletic moves: leaps, jumps, skips, flips, and the like. The stage lights dimmed as she danced, and consequently one could see the outline of her performance on the while tiles. This was a beautiful effect, as the power of her dance coincided with the elegance of the purely white tiles. As she performed, Tarikh sat on the bench off to the side, allowing Ziarah to have her moment. This was a subtle, but a valued action, as it allowed me to focus on Ziarah and not get distracted by Tarikh’s actions. It showed that he was a true performer, and that he understood the principle of letting others have their moments.
            Other attention-grabbing aspects of the performance followed. Two songs with English lyrics were played over the audio speakers; in fact, all the songs played were in English, while all the dialogue amongst the performers, and between the performers and the audience, was all in Dutch. This was quite the jarring occurrence, as it may have made more sense for all of the performance to be in Dutch. Nevertheless, I relished these opportunities, as I could understand what the lyrics meant. Three times, Tarikh directly spoke with members of the audience and had them answer questions. Luckily, he did not speak to me (it would have been extremely awkward for me to explain that I didn’t speak Dutch!). These audience interactions elicited more laughter from the crowd, and I myself found myself amused at the brevity of the answers the embarrassed viewers gave. Towards the end of the performance, the stage crew played a power point presentation, showcasing the performers when they were younger and their family. It was a touching moment, and was followed by a slow dance set to jazz between the two siblings. While I couldn’t understand what was going on, the power point together with the subdued dance aroused powerful emotions, and I could feel the intensity of the moment. Tarikh suddenly moved towards the back, the stage lit up the brightest it had all night, and then went to black. With that, the show ended to glorious applause and standing ovations from the crowd.

            While the subject matter was not understandable due to the language barrier, I greatly enjoyed the performance. It was clear that the siblings were incredibly talented in their crafts, and witnessing them perform their art was a joy. The choices they made, in terms of dancing, audience interaction, and the use of multi-media, greatly contributed to the performance, and added an extra layer of quality. The performance was a rousing success, and I would recommend anyone to see them live (even if you don’t speak Dutch).

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