Betroffenheit, a co-production of Kidd Pivot and the Electric Company Theatre, is an uncomfortably revealing and farcical portrayal of one man's experience of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction. 

Choreographed and directed by Crystal Pite, Betroffenheit's narrative tells nothing of the time and place, only that the protagonist, played by Jonathan Young (actor and current Artistic Director of the Electric Company Theatre, who also wrote the text in this piece), is still traumatized by an event that had occurred in the past. Instead, the story's arc is a curious and foreboding journey through Young's emotions, from his haunting dialogue with himself to the enticing and menacing forms of his addiction – manifested as a tawdry variety show performed by five dancers of Pite's Kidd Pivot company.      

© Wendy D Photography
© Wendy D Photography
The first half of the piece is set in a drab, white-walled room with two doors, from which Young doesn't seem able to leave. Flickering fluorescent lighting suggests a worn, clinical space, yet the slinking electric cables bring it far from ordinary reality. Pacing or sitting, Young launches into cyclical dialogue with a male voice from a speaker in an attempt to rationalize his current state – the prescriptive sequence of words grasp at logic that altogether give no meaning, but the carefully chosen verbs direct Young, into or from action, with anxiety-inducing momentum.  

This script is disconnected from Young's emotional state, and he seeks the antidote in a cast of vaudeville characters who sell good times. Immensely theatrical, David Raymond shuffles into the room as a menacing tap dancer who tempts Young with his rhythms. Salsa dancing duo Brian Arias and Cindy Salgado, who oozes showgirl charm, are a glitzy pair, while Tiffany Tregarthen's tragically emotional clown bids one's sympathy. Young's alter-ego, played by Jermaine Spivey, expresses the duality in Young's mind, and his physical duet and lip-synched banter with Young hits every note and punch-line. He melts into his movements with silky fluidity and cartoonish manner, yet can quickly snap into a joust with Young. Played out as a show within the performance, the display includes a pink-feathered Carnevale number, a seventies-style variety show with Young and Spivey wearing blue jumpsuits and feigned smiles, and a splashy tap dancing number. As the big band drum beats became louder, the antics become more and more exaggerated and aggressive, tipping the scene into turbulence.  

This piece marks Pite's first collaboration with a playwright and also shows her vivid integration of text and choreography. Throughout, the dancers dance to the constructed rhythms of the text, articulately narrating with their bodies and lip synching with the dialogue. Meanwhile, Young tap dances and tumbles with the dancers in Pite's complex duets and ensemble numbers. Blurring the distinctions between the mediums, Pite serves the narrative with a theatricality that dance or theatre alone would not be able to do. Calculated and emotive sound effects and music (by composers and sound designers Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe) and lighting by Tom Visser enhanced the theatricality while keeping the delicate balance between the narrative's heavy themes and its comedic elements.

© Michael Sobodian
© Michael Sobodian
Against a simple black curtain for the backdrop, the dancers return for the second half of the performance dressed in dark grey, blue and black toned leggings, t-shirts and tank tops. The tumultuous, cinematic soundtrack plunges the scene into a state of torment. Dancers hurl across the stage and at one another in full force; the energy of that momentum pushes them into dynamic partnering phrases and cycles of tension and release. Mouths in silent screams further express their agony. Among this, Young finds a moment of solace in which he doesn't need the prescriptive dialogue of the first act, nor to escape into glittery spectacle. Spivey showed great command of his emotional range, building momentum towards a moment of elation. 

Young's personal experience formed the back bone of this piece, yet Betroffenheit is not a personal narrative. Rather, it invites one to experience Young's emotional journey, and perhaps, between the lingering impressions of Tregarthen's loveable clown and Spivey's poignant characterizations, one might reflect on one's own experience, or empathize with someone else's.