Needcompany’s The Time Between Two Mistakes

TIFA 2017 logoNational Theatre, Taipei
April 14, 2017

David Mead

Conceived by Grace Ellen Barkey and Jan Lauwers, Needcompany’s The Time Between Two Mistakes is a comment on Peter Brooks’ book, The Empty Space. As they looked through Needcompany’s archive, Barkey and Lauwers question how and when art is created, and how the content of memories and images change when later reassessed. At the same time, they and dramaturg Elke Janssens question the role of the artist and the position of art in society and, indeed, what is art.

The Time Between Two Mistakes is a work in constant evolution. Each production engages with young performers in the host city in an extended workshop. The twelve actors, choreographers and dancers chosen in Taipei, worked on the production on and off for a year before joining the ten Needcompany members as full partners in the stage presentation. It’s an interesting approach that guarantees new questions are raised, or at least old ones are answered in a new way, and a new dynamic every time.

The Time Between Two Mistakes in TaipeiPhoto Zhou Jia-hui
Local performers join Needcompany in The Time Between Two Mistakes in Taipei
Photo Zhou Jia-hui

Don’t worry of you are not familiar with Brooks’ book. All that you need to know is explained by Maarten Seghers in an engaging prologue muses on Brook’ reckoning that “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage,” and that even a man simply walking across that stage constitutes an act of theatre. Another speech by Anneke Bonnema talks about us all being in the space and our thoughts – good, bad, right, wrong – occupying the space, mingling, colliding and making connections. All, of course true. If you’re starting to think The Time Between Two Mistakes is some deeply philosophical trip, stop now. I guess it can be if you want it to be but, really, it’s anything but.

Seghers’ explanation comes after a follow my-leader dance that first snakes down the aisle before weaving its pattern on stage. It may be structured after a fashion, but unison, definitely not. We’re smiling already. As theatre, dance, music, video, storytelling and other text is tossed into the giant melting pot that follows, the colourful and sometimes chaotic result blurs the boundaries between art and entertainment, at least as seen by some (as if there should be a boundary anyway).

Local performers join Needcompany in The Time Between Two Mistakes in TaipeiPhoto Zhou Jia-hui
The Time Between Two Mistakes in Taipei
Photo Zhou Jia-hui

There’s not much chance of the attention wandering as the stage fills with performers in colourful hoop skirts; props including neon party lights, a chandelier and speakers on trucks; often strident rock music; powerful ensemble dance; and a lot of glitter. As the props are shunted around, the space is invaded, compressed and expanded again. Agitation, conflict and uncertainty are rife. Being an artist often was a turbulent life. Scenes are played out right, left and centre. Sometimes so much is going on, you don’t quite know where to look.

The idea is that the cast, artists, are making their home in the space. But is the chaos art? A figure in white seems increasingly agitated and upset at what is going on. But does art have to be “nice, so you can understand,” as one repeated phrase goes.

A set of sorts is built out of giant playing card-shaped panels, and like a house of cards it is desperately fragile. It’s eventually ‘eaten’ by a giant army field tent that munches its way across the stage, again leaving a near empty space for us to cogitate upon. To increasing amusement, clothes are tossed through a flap in its roof. The laughter is very quickly nipped in the bud, however, as the tent reverses, disgorging bodies and other detritus, leaving the stage looking like the aftermath of some natural disaster. Pretty no, effective, yes. Bodies are collected, shaking like the two fish sliced in half and standing on end on the video. Art? Nice?

But as if to prove that art can be found in every situation, the pile of bodies is reassembled centre stage to create the most striking ‘wall’, their faces facing the audience.

It all ends on a surprisingly upbeat note. Some of the performers get to show some marvellous individual talents, best of which was Mohamed Toukabri’s hip-hop, which included some of the fastest, prolonged headspins I’ve ever seen (talking of which, isn’t it about time TIFA had a really good hip hop programme?). Later, the performers affirm that any number of things are “good,” to which one might add, “The Time Between Two Mistakes is good.” Even our figure in white is convinced.