Daring but beloved choreographer Crystal Pite brings “Betroffenheit” — about the shock of loss, free-fall into addiction and coming back from its abyss — to the Moore.
A scantily dressed harlequin-like character stands on a dimly lit stage, her tiny party hat in stark contrast to her grotesque facial expressions. She leans over and whistles to a kneeling man, who looks up as the harlequin pushes a detonator. The kneeling man is bowled over by the force of the blast.
So begins one video trailer for “Betroffenheit,” a deeply emotional collaboration between Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite (who founded the Vancouver-based company Kidd Pivot) and writer/actor Jonathan Young of Electric Company Theatre, also based in Vancouver.
In a 2015 video interview at Canada’s Banff Center, Young described “betroffenheit” as a German word without a precise English translation that describes living in a state of intense shock. “But it seems to describe a more expansive state that opens up in the wake of an event,” he added. “In English we say, ‘There are no words,’ or ‘I don’t know what to say.’ It’s that state of being.”
Kidd Pivot/Electric Company Theatre: ‘Betroffenheit’
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, March 18-19, at the Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle; $32.50 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
After an intense shock of his own — a horrific cabin fire that claimed the life of his daughter — Young wrote about his personal experience with betroffenheit, and a subsequent journey through addiction and recovery.
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Pite’s choreography uses a straightforward allegory to represent the allure of addiction — “Showtime,” a cabaret-like show-within-a-show. “We needed to show that pleasure and seduction of addiction, but it’s also a relief and distraction for both the protagonist [Young] and the audience,” Pite said in a phone interview.
“‘Showtime’ is the metaphor for that infinitely pleasing state that’s recognizable at first,” she said, “but as it takes over, we understand its destructive force.” Pite’s choreography in “Betroffenheit” is a big, dramatic, emotional trip for its audience.
The tap dancing and showgirl-style costumes in the “Showtime” segment bring viewers to a high, spirited away by grandeur and sparkles. Other scenes confront the despair Young faces, where dancers appear as specters, dim lights casting shadows over their eye sockets as they haul his prostrate body across the stage. Sometimes a simple monologue — “Wake up, sit up, get up, get up! You’re running, you’re running!” — guides the audience through a story; sometimes there is silence.
The goal of “Betroffenheit,” Pite explained, isn’t merely to communicate a personal tragedy, but to provoke its audiences to think about their own struggles.
“Even though Jonathan’s personal story was the engine for the creation of ‘Betroffenheit,’ we were committed to making that concept get to the universal question of survival,” she said. “We’re not wallowing, but asking questions.”
Turning real-life calamity into performance without being trite, or dissolving into self-pity, is a delicate project. But Pite, whose career includes performing with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt and choreographic creations for Dans Nederlands and National Ballet of Canada, has a unique grasp of dance language that incorporates the strongest human emotions without cheapening the movements or the subject matter. A 2011 On the Boards production of Pite’s “Dark Matters” and Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2013 performance of “Emergence” endeared her — and her thought-provoking choreography — to Seattle audiences.
Kidd Pivot’s dancers, Young said, “can do just about anything with their bodies.” As a mother herself, Pite said she is committed to “aim high in terms of content. As parents and humans, we’re vulnerable and afraid and scared to know what Jonathan knows, yet if we see ourselves reflected in him we are given a chance to hope that we could bear it and survive. That’s what we come to the theater to do.”