by Jeff Grygny
The sage Confucius allegedly said “I am the luckiest of men; whenever I’m wrong, I have many kind friends who will quickly let me know.” (It must take a sage to be at once so humble, humorous, and clear.) As a concept, “wrong” is vast; it covers everything from a mistake in arithmetic to the flawed human condition. aLL wRoNG is the title of latest original work presented by Cooperative Performance. It’s a testament to the artistic ambitions of co-directors Posey Knight, Kirk Thomsen, and Joëlle Worm, that not only do they endeavor to present the topic in eighty minutes, but they do it in an esoteric theater form called “tréteau.” Whether it’s due to the virtues of the form, or the creator’s artistry, or both, the show is remarkably lucid and engaging: with varied, interesting movements and rhythms, it creates distinct emotional narratives that, like poetry, communicate more than their literal meanings.
The tréteau form minimizes theater, eliminating props, costumes and scenery, restricting the players to a surface the size of a standard sheet of plywood. Economy, imagination, and full use of the actor’s bodies are the goals, to produce a stripped-down, eminently sustainable performance. The three tréteaus in aLL wRoNG riff on the theme of wrongness, more etudes than definitions, and more theatrical than your standard dance performance. Set to a score of energetic, feeling-rich music, the limber, game performers stuff themselves into cramped rectangles to play out interconnected vignettes in various degrees of abstraction.
Posy Knight’s piece opens the theme with scenes from family life, showing how authority figures constantly criticize little girls, imposing a kind of paranoia about making mistakes. Large men athletically swing a young dancer through the air, building the theme through repetition and variation like a musical composition, culminating in minor tragedy.
The tréteau directed by Kirk Thompson is more overtly theatrical, though nonlinear. A collage of episodes play out in a seriocomic mood with drill-team precision. Here, the sense of “wrong” extends to the world in general, as the characters seek, but never quite get, satisfaction.
The final piece by Joëlle Worm has four parts: first, a woman’s every gesture is “corrected” by a judgmental group; then a man symbolically brutalizes a woman to the sound of a plaintive Hebrew prayer; next a crowd of people packs into the cramped rectangle, roiling and rolling in uncomfortable unrest while we hear the sounds of a railroad train moving down tracks. Finally, leaving the confined space, they enact a finale of liberation, with reaching, striving gestures conveying feelings of triumphant release. And even though an interpretive dance based on the holocaust might sound like a dicey notion on many levels, Worm’s sculptural choreography and tasteful restraint gives a sense of warm detachment, like the figures carved on a monumental frieze, and the piece serves as a fitting finale for the evening.
One might reasonably ask whether these finely-executed pieces really do explore “making mistakes and failing over and over” as advertised, or the tangential but somewhat easier theme of being judged wrong by others. Which would make you…right? Is it possible to get “wrong” wrong? However that may be, aLL wRoNG is a thoughtful, deeply-felt and thoroughly entertaining theatrical experience that proves how much you can accomplish with passion and a sheet of plywood. And it sounds a marvelously hopeful note at a time when so much in the world seems “all wrong.”
Cooperative Performance presents
devised and directed by Joëlle Worm, Kirk Thomsen, & Posy Knight
“This performance will be in multiple venues with different start times.”
May 4th, 7:30pm at Best Place, 901 W Juneau Avenue
May 5th/7:30pm at Charles Allis, 801 N. Prospect Avenue