A family revealed: The Return by Felix Landerer and Of Curious Nature

Ballhof Eins, Hannover
November 12, 2021

The Return by Felix Landerer and the ensemble Of Curious Nature portrays the dynamics of a family, and the construction and deconstruction of familiar realities. Six members, who can be seen as mother, three sons and two daughters, fill the space with their personalities and behaviour.

The work was originally created and based on the close relationships Landerer has with his own family, where there is much physical contact and affection. Changes have necessary to accommodate pandemic regulations, however; changes that have made physical interaction and contact between the performers almost disappear.

The Return by Felix Landerer and of Curious Nature
(front: Aron Nowak and Anila Mazhari)
Photo Katrin Ribbe

In this new light, the piece moves around the physical and mental distance while retaining familiar proximity. Silent questions, repressed emotions and withheld vulnerabilities explode in corporeal strong reactions with edgy movements, upside down positions, melancholic solos, and strong floorwork.

A nostalgic and gloomy adult male voice, presumably the father, accompanies the dances, narrating reflections and memories related to his mother, father and grandfather. He refers to them as treasures, yet also a burden. These memories are passed on to the other members of the family who each react in their own particular way.

The musical accompaniment and verbal narration reflect the impactful force of familiar history and the uneasy dynamics of the present. Part of the downbeat text says: “I remember – this corridor – and these possibilities – and my father saying – you have to mention – you are supposed not to disturb – it could all fall apart so easily – everything simultaneously – possibilities, fears – that moment of silence on that table – unspoken love and pain, lingering – filling up those rooms – running through the cracks of my children islands – that table – my mother – is this enough.” Then, “smile, smile, smile…” repeats the grave voice seemingly trapped in his own past.

Anila Mazhari (on floor), Sara Enrich Bertran and Luigi Sardone
in The Return by Felix Landerer and of Curious Nature
Photo Katrin Ribbe

The Return depicts a peculiar constellation of people; a united yet detached family. As the distinctive characters of each performer emerge, you wonder about the effect of time, radical incompatibilities, and intolerance between members of the same flesh and blood. You ponder the delicate balance that keep it functional but that at other times cause it to go adrift.

As what appears the oldest son, Aron Norwak seems burdened by the responsibility of his role, fatigued and unwilling to communicate, closed in his own world. The mother, Jin Young Won (a replacement for Sara Enrich Bertran), looks thoughtful, grounded and constrained in her dreary existence, yet attempts to re-discover herself and her needs after a life entirely dedicated to the family.

Felix Bossard, the youngest of the sons, appears reluctant and a rebel who tries to impose himself as he pushes against familiar conventions, paradigms and rules. Luigi Sardone, the mild one, is helpful and supportive, yet with a strong personality and somewhat emotionally detached. The two girls, Anila Mazhari and Aurélie Robichon seem to be the youngest twins, seemingly yet falsely light-hearted and cheerful sisters who appear as a counterbalance to the bleak picture elsewhere.

They all interact with a table that has one leg shorter than the others. They constantly move and manage it, trying to make it stable but never finding the balance. I see it as an effective metaphor for the dysfunctional family.

Other metalwork is assembled and dismantled during the performance, often by Aron Norwak in the shadowed spots on stage. One form alludes to a large tree, perhaps a representation of an expanded family-tree; a family that’s hard to handle, physically and emotionally. Another form resembles a person, maybe the ghostly father figure, or possibly the family lineage more generally.

A piercing moment comes when Norwak holds the figured stick and uses it to hit himself painfully on the chest. It’s suggestive of pain caused by suffering regrets or out of some severe paternalistic imprint.

Repeated melting falls, backwards rolls and twisted spirals on the floor give a sense of a gravitational vortex. The heaviness of the scene is emphasised by the shady stage designed of Till Kuhnert, austere costumes by Theresa Klement, and strongly accentuated by Christof Littmann’s music that accompanies the unsettling scenario.

The family seems to have a secret: something undeniable but that cannot be discussed. It’s clearly perceivable on their faces as they look at each other in a compliant silence.

The Return made me think of the complex nature of families: how they mould and the deep and long-term impact that has; how unchangeable and inescapable heritage deeply pervades; and how unhealthy dynamics from the past tend to reappear in the present and future.

The impressive level of detail helps the viewer perceive the pain caused by the unspeakable and claustrophobic realm we see, the strong need of the actors to step out from given and familiar patterns, and to get rid of the emotional cage and roles imposed by the family setting.

The adjustments made as a result of the pandemic may have forced Landerer to work differently from his original plan and distinctive signature of corporeal interactions, physical support and contrast between the dancers’ bodies, but The Return is filled with intensity, emotional charge and beautiful images. That’s all thanks to the acute sensibility and mindful investigation of the choreographer, and to the virtuoso dancers who give great form and soul to the complex, stratified and uneasy story revealed.