Peeping Tom 32 rue Vandenbranden: Extreme bodies face human condition

Words by Giordana Patumi.

After nearly 200 shows and ten years on the road, 32 rue Vandenbranden by Peeping Tom premiered in the US, at BAM New York.

Originally opened on November 2009 in Koninklijke Vlaamse Schouwburg, and winner of the Olivier Prize 2015 for best dance production, 32 rue Vandenbranden is set in a small mountain community isolated from the rest of the world, whose inhabitants are confronted with the loneliness and crises which arise.

Under a winter sky in a desolate and snowy land, life and despair are spied on through the windows of three prefabricated buildings. Death and life live together in a becoming that takes your breath away, and where imagination can take over reality and relationships are prisons from which it is impossible to escape.

What happens on stage is nothing more than the combination of situations, where the purpose is not to narrate but rather present the conditions of existence. The crying of a child and the clear impression that the little one is suffocated in the snow opens 32 rue Vandenbranden.

Behind the window of the house on the left, a couple is shaking, made up of the woman in a tight blue satin dress with a conspicuous pregnancy and a mad boy. The sudden emptiness in the populated caravan on the right, or vice versa, arouses anxious attention. Between the exchanges of tenants, the space that separates them on the scene is assailed by snow, wind, thunder; a wild game of nature from the extreme north which they abandon infantilely on the wave of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” by Pink Floyd.

There is an astonishing elasticity: the body bends like the neck of a swan defying the anatomical resistance, falling, bumping into another as in the cutting of two birds of prey. There are slips, comic acrobatics, contortions and not only physical but vocal notes from Norma to blues sounds. Outstanding performers that need to be mentioned include: Jos Baker, Eurudike De Beul, Marie Gyselbrecht, Hun-Mok Jung, Maria Carolina Vieira, and Seoljin Kim.

Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Charter build a choreographic and expressive score of rare intensity. They make the bodies of the dancers/actors dig into the discomfort of the soul. We denounce loneliness and despair and burst into acts of violence. At the same time, we appear at the mercy of the world. I seemed to lose my breath when I watched 32 rue Vandenbranden. What happens before the eyes of the viewer has all the indeterminate and ferocious randomness of living to which we — out of pure desperation — try to assign meaning.

The show is dedicated to Maria Otal as she performed with Peeping Tom and passed away ten days before the premiere of the piece in 2009 and her photo hangs in every show inside the small caravan that the performers, while bowing, bring frontstage as symbol of remembrance.

Image: Julieta Cervantes.