The title may be a mouthful for English speakers, but translated from German, the concept is clear. “Betroffenheit” means “shock.” The 2015 work created by director/choreographer Crystal Pite of the contemporary dance company Kidd Pivot and actor/writer Jonathon Young of Electric Company Theatre explores trauma, addiction and the ever-elusive healing process.
It’s a stunning creation from these Vancouver-based artists, filled with indelible imagery culled from the stuff of dreams and nightmares alike.
Presented Tuesday evening by the Northrop (continuing Wednesday), “Betroffenheit” depicts a harrowing journey into a damaged psyche, one haunted by a terrible accident involving loved ones. It is a piercingly real theatrical experience that speaks to perseverance and survival when all hope seems lost.
Young is a dynamic performer in the central role. Every ounce of his physicality is directed toward the tussle within his mind — a place signified by the set, a stark room where other beings come and go, audio voices are disembodied (and then reinterpreted fluently through the dancers’ movement). There seems to be no way out, only adherence to repetition with hopes of quashing the encroaching insanity. Young is well matched by the remarkable Kidd Pivot dancer Jermaine Spivey, who moves like beautifully animated cursive writing and serves as Young’s alter ego.
The coping mechanism explored in “Betroffenheit” is the act of performing a “show,” meaning that performance is Young’s vice. He’s swept up in the dance by the marvelously gifted Kidd Pivot performers, who do everything from creep with Bob-Fosse-jazz-panache (complete with bowler hats), salsa exuberantly or tap dance with a touch of menace in their step. Pite effortlessly weaves these styles with her own elegant postmodern craft.
Of particular note is Kidd Pivot dancer Tiffany Tregarthen, an alternately sad and demonic clown figure. Her movements are slithery and insectlike, seductive at some points but more often skittish. At one point she brings a cartoon-style detonator onstage to figuratively blow up everything.
When the dancers are not tormenting Young they coalesce into a sort of crisis (mis)management team who try to keep him regulated. However, they are similarly harried. They are the scattered echoes of alarm bouncing around inside his head. In the final act the team serves as more of a buffer. “You’re the disaster waiting to happen,” a voice intones. “Not on our watch,” they seem to reply, sweeping up Young in the whirling — and, yes, healing — splendor of Pite’s choreographic vision.
Caroline Palmer is a Twin Cities dance critic.