Through tomorrow at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2010 Next Wave Festival, director Jan Lauwers and the dance collective Needcompany present the The Deer House, a compelling and completely confusing multidisciplinary work, in which text, dance, song, and environmental elements seem to prey on one another, creating a kind of anti-narrative. The work grapples towards a reconciliation with loss in a time of war, haunted equally by its brutal truths and greater unknowns.
This strangely constructed “story” is meant to investigate the mechanics of stories, the way we use personal testimony in both politics and theater. Lauwers calls upon the function of fiction to disrupt, rewind and re-route the cold hard facts: in this case, the facts concern the death of a Needcompany member’s brother as he worked as a photojournalist in Kosovo. Deer House tapestries whimsical costumes, set design and dance language with very graphic discussion of war, moving from a sickening delirium to something of a midsummer’s night’s dream in a matter of moments.
This constant teetering of mood is accomplished not only through the juxtaposition of different theatrical elements but by the performers’ various levels of undress. At the top of the show a man undresses a woman without ceremony; the two rub their fleshy behinds together while discussing a wartime photo of a dead woman and goat. A sexual charge ripples through individual and group dynamics; at one point bodies converge in what the performers refer to as a “love sculpture,” while still discussing mass graves and killings. As these contradictions unfold, they’re interrupted by dance language characterized by exploratory twists of the torso and arms, at times contemplative and sculptural. Group dance sequences, quick and steppy, often with partners hooking arms or eyes, are mockingly folksy, with presentational gestures of the hand conjuring a layer of magic over the matter-of-fact text.
What does any of this have to do with deer? They fall from the sky like confetti, as white rubbery carcasses drop down to the stage in squalls. They cloak the evening in a mystical and serene woodland fantasy, while simultaneously portending stupid, unavoidable death. They are homeless bodies this multilayered performance contemplatively inhabits.
An experience of sensory and thematic overload, The Deer House creates a dream-like world in which to process harsh realities. If you can keep your head above water, the combined hysteria does seem to compute, and the payoff is quite large: a small bit of hope.