The following review is courtesy of Gulgun Kayim, Co-Artistic Director of Skewed Visions:
I chose to see Kommer because, as a practitioner, I’m always curious to see how other artists use media in their work. I am particularly interested in how they manage to negotiate the difficult territory of manipulating two, very different, mediums –film and theatre- into a unified work. Personally, I have found it very difficult to present filmed images in conjunction with live performance for the simple fact that the larger, two- dimensional image always manages to overwhelm live performers. I also find that even if the image isn’t large, the filmed medium has the power to draw the audience’s focus away, distracting from the live action in unintended ways. (There has to be an explanation as to why we find filmed image so mesmerizing, that we will ignore people standing in front of us, maybe it engages a different part of the brain?). Consequently I have restricted myself to using film as background, image embellishment, as detail, or as part of the larger, performed stage picture. The fact that the Kassys bill their work as 50% theatre and 50% film was very intriguing to me. So I proceeded to the performance with high hopes that Kommer would succeed where I had failed, or at least show me some interesting ways to create a single work utilizing these two mediums. I am sorry to report that last night’s performance was Kommer was a let down.
Kommer is an observation of human inadequacies. Kommer (translated, means grief’) is based on the premise that contemporary life has stripped society of the ritual systems that support us in times of stress. When faced with pain in the form of grief or suffering, we see the inherent flaws around us in our insecurities, embarrassment and awkwardness –not knowing what to say, how to behave or how to contextualize our relationships and ourselves. Translated onto the stage we see the meaninglessness of muttered platitudes and clichés behind stock phrases. The first part of the Kommer, performed live by six actors, portrayed a group of people responding to the unexpected news of the death of a loved one. The responses of the group ranged from absurd and meaningless to funny and playful. Their movement vocabulary composed of gestures and ticks merged subtle, poetic understated poses and movement with playful contortions and violent outbursts. I found the overall subtle humor in the work interesting, it drove the action forward, and in turns masked, then overwhelmed the grief’ behind the work providing a contrast which offset brief flashes of violence with awkward silences.
The filmed part of the work I found less successful. Midway through the performance a large screen descended from the Walker grid to reveal the same six actors on a filmed stage. At this point, the live performers exited leaving their filmed counterparts to bow to the audience’s applause. The camera then followed the performers as they retreated back stage and into their supposed real lives’ which we discover to be filled with other kinds, or varieties of grief’. One character looses himself in lonely contemplation in his little cramped apartment, another desperately seeks company, only to end the night getting drunk and his bag snatched, one is suicidal and vomits with despair, another exorcizes her rage in an airline bathroom, and another binges on junk food. Their private lives as revealed through film were mini soap operas in contrast to the subtle observations displayed on stage. As a result, the filmed events seemed forced and predictable flattening the poignancy of the preceding live performances.
In retrospect, Kommer felt flat and forced as a whole because the two mediums used to make it -film and live performance- were executed utilizing two entirely different approaches. The performed awkwardness of the live action succeeded because of the company’s attention to detail. They were subtly abstract and surreal building in tempo from quiet to loud, small to big, reasonable to ridiculous. The filmed images, in contrast, covered a lot of ground, the makers expecting the audience to fill in the details of who, why, what, where. In an effort to document and present the breadth and reality’ of the lives lived off stage the Kassys missed the depth and detail that made the stage action so engaging and moving.