Jasmin Vardimon Company
Sadler's Wells and touring
Israeli-born Jasmin Vardimon, a choreographer in the Pina Bausch mould, makes her long-awaited debut on the main stage at Sadler's Wells with her multi-layered thesis on 'the inheritance of pain and memory', 7734. The digital numbers when inverted spell hELL and carry the symbolic weight of the beyond comprehension Hieronymus Bosch world of the Holocaust, and represent the numbers tattooed on its victims' arms.
Vardimon's subject matter has gestated for twenty years since her visit to Poland and Auschwitz seeking traces of her ancestors. It matters to her. It matters because it is happening again in many forms, a point she makes in the beach scene when the young carefree holidaymakers imagine erasing the ugly and the irritating in their line of vision. It's our complicity she is highlighting, as well as bringing some colourful relief to a sombre sequence of strong stage pictures.
Vardimon talks in the programme notes of the memories we receive from our families and society. She makes this explicit in an amusing game of Chinese whispers. A valid point. The children of survivors often carry their parents' suffering. Even grandchildren are affected by the reflected emotions, though the facts may have dimmed or been distorted by repetition or incomprehension. The post-war generation has Auschwitz images seared on their brains, but what will fall through the sieve of time?
Unfortunately, it is repetition that undermines the power of 7734. Thought provoking and beautifully performed, but it is episodic and there is simply too much. Cut by half it would make more of an impact. So many good ideas, so many images, so hard to let go of them, I know, but a tighter structure would take out the tedium of the loosely linked and overlong scenes (a man trying to catch a piece of paper blowing in the wind with his mouth, a dominatrix bird of prey ). There is a danger of the 'banality' of evil infiltrating the dynamics of the dance.
Nine dancers - performers, as this is more dance theatre than dance - shift roles, and take on the good with the bad as easily as changing jackets. A victim becomes a Nazi guard by adding or shedding a layer. A powerful metaphor, and we get it, but it is repeated and repeated.
The metaphors, and the clichés, are both striking and obvious: the guards selecting people and throwing them to the left and right on to the bundles of clothes littering the floor; invisible people rising from these bundles; sacrificial bodies held aloft one by one and thrown on to clothes mountains from which smoke rises. These send shivers down the spine, but this comes in the second half of a two and a quarter hour evening. By the interval one has had enough. Many did not return, which is a pity, because the punch comes in the second half.
There are many pluses - the brooding set design of prison watch tower and scattered rags and full bin bags which spill red fabric (Guy Bar-Amotz and Jasmin Vardimon), and the eclectic music (Vardimon does her own sound design) from the opening Wagner and the conductor who only serves art and truth (reminds one of Furtwängler) to Gavin Bryars, Brian Eno, Schnittke, and many more.
And the international cast is superb. Their acrobatics and acting delight the audience, but the wit and humour (a photographer sabotaging wedding photos) that leaven the evening bring forth desperate sniggers. There are lovely tender moment, too, of nostalgia and beauty amongst the harshness of man's inhumanity to man. Four couples dancing to Shostakovich's Lyric Waltz from his Ballet Suite No. 1 Op. 84a refresh the soul after the dissonances.
But ultimately Vardimon needs an impartial editor for her imperative Gesamtkunstwerk. Then we would get a fluid masterful dramatic piece of dance theatre. Co-commissioned by Sadler's Wells in association with Soho Theatre, the show has two dramaturges, so there is no excuse for this flabbiness. Vardimon is a talent, but more can be less, and that is a hard lesson for all of us to learn.
Vardimon also believes in the imagination of the audience as the final brick in her edifice. I wonder what knowledge the giggly cliques of teenagers brought to this daunting subject that defines the twentieth century. I fear they and I saw quite a different production. I saw Golgotha and Georg Samsa as well as the reality of the past.
For tour dates visit www.jasminvardimon.com
Reviewer: Vera Liber