New York

Jan Lauwers and Needcompany

Morning Song, a 100-minute work directed by Jan Lauwers for his multilingual troupe Needcompany, is a pristine theatrical depiction of the present tense. His aesthetic of “now,” however, does not contain a single reference to virtual reality, nor is there any use of high-tech media; rather, Lauwers’s inherent intelligence is about the nature of the stage itself, which he uses to construct a layered space where everyday late-’90s conversation (sex, food, and politics predominate), music, and movement all circulate and bombard one another like currents of air. But this piece is not abstractly rendered—instead, it is as though the viewer were privy to an all-night gathering of eight good friends. They chat, they cook, they dance, they wander from room to room. They hold each other and push one another away; they are bored or friendly, distant, desperate, or enthralled. Life on stage is like life itself.

And it is a highly sophisticated life that we witness, achieved through an amalgam of precise and savvy theatrical choices: found furniture (a couch, a kitchen, a collection of stools), masterful actors (Belgian stage actress Viviane De Muynck and Gonzalo Cunill from Argentina), and mesmerizing dancers (Spaniard Eduardo Torroja, Anglo-Turkish Tijen Lawton, and Italian-born Carlotta Sagna, who also choreographed Morning Song). Even well-known Amsterdam-based producer and theater pioneer Ritsaert ten Cate crisscrosses the stage wearing a bear costume. Lauwers’s own background in fine arts and political street theater, combined with his eye for European and American performance material, from Pina Bausch to the Wooster Group and Robert Wilson, and his participation in the remarkable “Belgian Wave” (a collection of choreographers, stage directors, and artists that emerged in the ’80s) results in a work that tugs at the edges of several disciplines at once.

In the tradition of theater, the stories that make up Morning Song are populated by identifiable charactersa wealthy matron, her brother the chef, and a revolutionary whom she adores but who will marry her daughteryet the total is less a narrative than a kaleidoscope of abbreviated scenarios among these characters. References are made to literature (Camus and Flemish author Guido van Heulendonk), politics (Salvador Allende), and film (the butter scene in The Last Tango), each of which functions as a point of departure for movement. In fact, dance serves "to create images that provoke memory,” in Lauwers’s words. One dancer pirouettes and glides in half-light, her hand to her head, as if lost in thought; another bangs the reinforced balls of her toe shoes ferociously on the floorboards, as though in a violent argument. Now and then, it is silence that fixes these images indelibly in the mind; then it bursts into a music mix that pins the action to our times. The music of Iva Bittova, Brise Glace, Calexico, Can, Fred Frith, Mogwai, Pluramon, and Atahualpa Yupanki provides a matrix for Lauwers’s sensuality and sense of humor. “It is the secret of the work’s contemporaneity,” Lauwers admits. It is also a sampling of his startling talents as a mix-master of disciplines and ideas.

RoseLee Goldberg