Saturday, January 19, 2013

REVIEW: (in brief) Minsk 2011: A Reply To Kelly Acker

Belarus Free Theatre

Theatre is a local art, but Belarus Free Theatre is one of the few companies with a truly world-wide reach. The reason is because they hail from Belarus, commonly known as Europe's last dictatorship, performing in secret at home to avoid censorship, and touring abroad to try and attract attention to the country's plight.

I spent a semester in the Czech Republic a few years back, and I remember at least once a Czech person wondering if art is better under dictatorships, because people can only perform what they need -- the truly crucial, truly truthful work that simply can't be suppressed. (Regardless, given the choice, I think it's risking art for life...)

Whether or not that's true, Minsk 2011 gets at what's vital in understanding Minsk today. (Or yesterday; it's been a couple years since 2011, since the piece is on tour). The piece is a series of moments constructed about how the human body responds to physical oppression. From the moment the performers take the stage, they take on images of physical despondency and distress, and of power and abuse.

There's a moment in the performance where one of the ensemble screams, and it's not a scream you've ever heard before onstage. It's physically torn out of a human being going through a collapse. Meanwhile, the performers explore the scars of sexuality, and oppression. It's hard, sometimes, to know whether the oppression is coming from The State, or simply from other people -- from the neighbors dressed up in uniform, or the men you meet on the internet who you just want to dance with.

The press material says, "If scars are sexy, Minsk is the sexiest city in the world." But there's a big difference between "sexy" and "sexual." The ensemble is more than willing to strip down and dance, but it's not an experience of pleasure; it's an exploration of despair.

If you get a chance, see them.