directed by: Peeping Tom and Franck Chartier
performance time 90 min
Vader is set in the visiting area of an old-folks home. Its towering walls, painted a sterile, administrative turquoise, dwarf the characters and accentuate the fact that the action takes place deep underground. Peeping Tom has always been fond of investing elements of the décor with animate powers, and over the years we have seen beds and armchairs swallow up members of the cast, trailers rattle as if in warning, and an old theatre resound with a life of its own. At this level, the contrast with Vader is striking. Nothing in or about the décor is animate, and its combination of the monumental and the sparse suggests a pervading barrenness. The sole window condenses the strange netherworld these characters inhabit: too high up to see out of or even open, it stands as a sign for the vanishing line between life and death. In Vader, we have left the world of the living, but have not quite reached the world of the dead.
At the centre of this space stands the figure of the father, who seems to be loosening himself from us, to be distancing himself gradually from the human community. His fading is drawn, not from the story of one individual, but from the mythology of the father. Hence the setting, which combines different symbolic functions: it belongs to the father, after all, to be old, and to oscillate between oppressive presence and egotistic absence. The piece exploits the dramatic potential of an archetype by enacting some of the dimensions it occupies in our imaginary, and the often absurd, dramatic and humorous ways we have of dealing with it. As with other Peeping Tom productions, the aesthetic commitment is to extracting the emotional force of each situation, and in scenes that explode into action, and just as suddenly stop, the father appears at once as God-like and ridiculous, as possessed of empathy and a rich mental life, and as disconnected, distant, empty. Whether he is harbouring a deep secret or is simply mad or delusional, the other residents and the staff wonder at him, regarding him with amusement and hatred, affection and indifference.
Old age, more than simply a symbolic attribute of the father, offers its own theatrical possibilities. In particular, the scenes play on the widening gap between perception and reality in the decaying body and the senile mind. Time for the old appears to slow down, to correspond to the lagging rhythm of their gestures; articulate speech can be received as static mumbo-jumbo and music as noise; vision is blurred; and the world itself seems to make sense insofar as it is the embodiment of a memory or a projection. The father was, perhaps, a concert pianist, a choice that is not without implications, since we know that music underlies language and is deeply connected to the integration of our mental faculties. With poignancy and wit, Vader explores their disintegration, the moment when the imagination or the sickness of an old man, like a latter-day Don Quixote, constantly threatens to tip the realities of daily life at an old-folks home into fantasy.
“Peeping Tom is simultaneously surrealistic, crazy, cruel, tender and profound. No one else in the contemporary dance world is able or dares to do what this group does on stage.”
“It’s almost creepy how beautiful music and dance vibrate in this visual cosmos of Peeping Tom. Entirely in their own way they bring together all artistic, musical and literary aspects of theatre.”
In a little over ten years, Peeping Tom has grown from an ad hoc collective that met during a production by Alain Platel and, with scarce resources, created a surprising production (Caravane, 1999), to an established company with national and international renown. The trilogy consisting of ‘Le Jardin’ (2001), ‘Le Salon’ (2004) and ‘Le Sous Sol’ (2007), as well as ‘32 rue Vandenbranden’ (2009) and ‘A Louer’ (2011) are international co-productions that have been received with enthusiasm by press and audiences alike, and have toured extensively.
At the core of Peeping Tom are its artistic directors Gabriela Carrizo and Franck Chartier. Gathered around them is a group of highly diverse artists with whom they have formed long-term collaborative arrangements.
Their wide-ranging interests, together with the distinctiveness of their performers, create a highly original cross-disciplinary choreographic language giving rise to a closely interwoven oeuvre with a unique identity. Given their background in dance, movement and image are the most important means of involving the audience in the intimacy on stage. Carrizo and Chartier define this intimacy as the rendering visible of and zooming in upon that which is invisible, which at first sight appears insignificant, and which is essential but denied or glossed over. The human condition is at the core of Peeping Tom’s artistic project. The productions involve the staging of parallel worlds, discontinuous universes, in which the customary logic of time, space and atmosphere is disrupted.