Peeping Tom ‘Diptych’ review

Words by Giordana Patumi.

It’s been almost four years since I watched and interviewed Peeping Tom choreographers’ Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Charter in the occasion of their American debut with 32 rue Vandenbranden, winner of Britain’s prestigious Olivier Award for Best Dance Performance 2015.

Fast forward to January 12, 2023, I was in Baden (Switzerland) to watch Peeping Tom’s double bill Diptych. The show stems from the re-elaboration of cult pieces from the past.

The visionary and hallucinatory poetics of Peeping Tom play here on the evocation of a submerged, a Freudian traumatic repressed, which remains concealed but from which the humans on stage – without a name, without a defined identity but evidently marked by a history – are continually upset.

Five doors in a row on a panel at an obtuse angle, in the first piece; cupboard doors in a hotel room or perhaps a ship’s cabin, in the second. What lies between the one and the other is not known, but it is certainly something horrendous and unspeakable from which these figures are catapulted onto the scene or are sucked into it with their lost, terrified gaze, living fragments of stories whose overall vision escapes us: a romantic encounter, a murder, a son torn from his mother’s arms; madness, desire, fear.

The show opens with a man slumped over a small table on the right side of the stage, on the floor a woman lying in a lake of blood will be dragged away, a man washes the floor, while a maid dusts a large armchair. A cinematic set design, an overwhelming and enveloping dance, a work full of implicit and iconic meanings about the transience of human relationships. Peeping Tom’s Diptych is this and much more. A work built on an observational, relational and action space that acts as a ‘metronome’ to a suspended, labyrinthine, and retrospective time. A performance of about 55 minutes that immobilises the audience to the armchair, anchors them to their emotions, amazes them, disorients them, wears them out, terrifies them. Already terror, because the work could be placed, in ‘nerd’ terms, between fantasy and horror, with clear magical and macabre references reminiscent of films or games for lovers of the genre.

A thriller.

The eight phenomenal performers lend a portentous mastery of gesture – the most imperceptible, like the shuddering of a breath, as well as the open and ample contortions of two bodies dancing an embrace – to the tale of these humans imprisoned in a hell of Sartrian absurdity, but which also evokes the abysmal magma of pain and suffering of Dante’s inferno. Thus, an illogical and cruel law of counterbalance obliges them to exist – hard to say live – and resist in a hostile dimension in which objects escape, crush with their weight, suck in. A rag escapes the urgency of hands that want to wash away the blood that stains the floor; shoes rebel against feet that want to put them on; suitcases, piles of sheets crush a maid; a bed hides behind its comfortable appearance a cannibal nature, swallowing bodies into a dark abyss. Even the body rebels against control, prevents voluntary gestures, rapes itself, forced into a perverse dependence on the same energy that slams, rattles, shakes those cursed doors. In the space of an undefined room – a hotel corridor? of a train? – as well as in the apparent warmth of a bedroom, the eight figures move like damned monads but at the same time bound, nay, chained; but not by an explicit relationship but by being part of the same evil and absurd design in which they are puppets deprived of self-determination and continually shaken, tossed, dragged, thrown onto the stage by an unknown force that has no pity or compassion.

Spatial-temporal nightmares, distortions of reality, encroachments between the real and the unreal become the reflection of the human mind, tangled, psychedelic and obscure. First, they are revealed in the enclosure of a room with multiple doors, immense and cramped spaces, blurry, and macabre lights, then they are amplified in the cabin of a ship that sails the seas of the human soul, crossing storms, cold and icy times, intimate moments, choices. In between, an ‘open-air’ scene changes in the general hypnosis that leads from The Missing Door to The Lost Room.

It may seem far-fetched to compare Diptych to an elegy, yet to the viewer this work comes as an intimate, subjective poem, totally indifferent to a ‘politically correct’ transposition of human relationships. Moreover, everything has a firm, high and severe tone that opensinterpretative and reflective spaces almost always in an ‘out-of-reality’ that turns out to be an honest lens on emotions, on love, on relationships.

Diptych is therefore a contemporary elegy because it proposes ‘relational heroisms’ free from simplistic and involved readings. It expresses the insecurities and fears that lurk in the blackest and most improbable holes in the rooms of our minds, but it faces them with dynamism, passion, and vitality, it does not shy away from them but stands epically as a model.

Love is one of the work’s paradoxical themes: it is in the dark care of the blood to be cleaned, in the windows to be closed, in throwing oneself off the ship’s dock, in facing the monsters in the wardrobe and in every subtle interaction. Diptych expresses the suffering, the anguish, the sense of escapism from reality, the fear of the everyday, the habit of the human. In this sense, the gothic, meditative and melancholic tone is a winner: the work is a choral mourning, which brutally mirrors the emotional desolation of our time, offering, however, the possibility of closing and opening doors, of choosing to act, at least to try.

How do you get out of this? Like returning from a journey to another dimension where everything might be normal but is not. Another universe that shocks for its rawness and at the same time hypnotises for its perfection. Once again, the Belgian company Peeping Tom, confirm itself as one of the most incisive dance theatre companies on the international scene, creating universes that you cannot stop watching.

Photo credit: im Dateinamen