This Friday and Saturday, UMS will present Betroffenheit, a performance that combines theatre and dance to tell a grippingly honest story of trauma, loss and addiction. With five contemporary dancers and a single protagonist, Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre come together to create a project that mixes spoken word, recorded text and movement.

Betroffenheit is a German word that does not have an exact English translation, but it describes a state of extreme shock after an event. Due to the subject of this piece, it is not recommended for children.

Jonathan Young, cofounder and artistic director of Electric Company Theatre, has a large background in acting and is best known for his role of Nikola Tesla in Sanctuary. He started writing Betroffenheit in 2014 in collaboration with choreographer Crystal Pite, artistic director of the dance company Kidd Pivot.

“[Betroffenheit sits] somewhere between a piece of live theatre and a piece of contemporary dance,” Young said in an interview.

Betroffenheit takes place in the wake of a trauma, an accident that occurred sometime in the past of the male protagonist played by Jonathan Young. The narrative is about the recovery process, as he struggles to deal with what he has gone through.

“Voices seem to be attached to the fixtures, and the lights, and the walls and the doors,” Young said. “Audiences get the sense that the whole stage in a way has been affected by this accident and (the protagonist is) also, as it turns out, addicted to some kind of substance that he’s been using for relief from this trauma.”   

The inspiration behind the project stems from Young’s own personal traumatic experiences with the death of his daughter and two cousins in a fire.

“You don’t really have much choice but to put (that trauma) into words, in an attempt to express that because it’s on your mind all the time,” said Young about his project.

Instead of processing his own traumatic events privately, Young chose to share this experience with others through Betroffenheit.

“We kind of have a responsibility as artists I think to turn stuff that feels like it can’t be expressed into expression,” he said.

Though inspired by real events, Betroffenheit aims for balance between personal and universal experiences. The goal is for people to see themselves in the performance and for the piece to invoke compassion, empathy, fear and sadness. Young also recognizes that there is a considerable taboo surrounding this subject, and he wishes to erase the sensitivity that surrounds events such as death. People who have gone through a similar traumatic event will likely be able to relate well to the piece.  

“(Most people) are grateful for having seen it because it reminds them that they are not alone,” Young said.

But, surprisingly enough, humor plays an active role in Betroffenheit.

“Humor has a life force that is irrepressible. No matter how difficult things get in life, humor has a way of surviving and surprising, and mischief is a real driving force in creativity” Young said. Combining that which is traumatic and that which is amusing is something unique to the capabilities of human nature.

With so many layers, this is the type of show that should be seen more than once, in which audience members are sure to witness things that they missed the first time.

“I hope people will want to see it again … I’m just going to leave it at that,” Young concluded.

Currently, Young and Pite are working on another dance and theatre hybrid with Nederlands Dans Theater that takes the ideas of Betroffenheit a little further and is projected to be ready by 2019. 

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