“Black” at MDT

by Örjan Abrahamsson

Review of Black, MDT, 26 March 2011, Stockholm.

Anonymously dressed in everyday black jeans, grey cardigan and black sneakers, Mette Edvardsen slinks in from the right between the black curtains that surround MDT’s deserted, empty stage. The lighting is neutral. Indifferent.

The stage is nothing more than a black box in Edvardsen’s performance ”Black”. So with the artist herself on stage, is the scene set for a piece of theatrical magic?

Well, yes and no. As if disorientated, Mette Edvardsen finds her position on stage and begins to say, no, intone, a list of words: table, chair, lamp…

Each word is repeated monotonously eight times, as if to ensure that the table and the chair and the lamp and everything else she names will really appear. And so the monotonous repetitions continue for the twenty-five minutes that “Black” lasts.

God neede to say things just once in Genesis – and it was so. Human demiurges clearly have to repeat themselves.

Norwegian-born Mette Edvardsen has her base in Brussels, Europe as her playground and a past in Les Ballets C. de la B. Her new performance ”Black” is very much in keeping with her previous, pure, conceptual investigations of the basic preconditions for stage art, such as ”Every now and then” (at Weld last autumn).

In ”Black”, theatrical form is pared down to a minimum but nevertheless not to nothing. She is, after all, standing there on the stage. Palpable, real. And even if the words are meagre, rudimentary and stutteringly monotonous, there gradually emerges a kind of skeletal action between words such as water, flower, corner, door and knocking. The table and the chair, moreover, are clearly of key significance in ”Black” – the words return and are accompanied, albeit modestly, by illustrative hand movements.

In ”Black” Edvardsen resolutely washes away all sense of theatre-magical nonsense and creative wooing of the audience in order to explore the most basic preconditions of stage art, which are those of life itself.

Where does the world begin and where our perception of it? The last word in ”Black” is exactly that: ”Black”, the only word that is not repeated. Black here means curtains. The end. But without a real curtain or a blackout, a moment of uncertainty spreads through the audience at MDT (as the Modern Dance Theatre is now to be called. Well it does rhyme in English with their slogan ”the place to be”).

Is the performance really over? Only when Edvardsen clearly signals the end to the public – by relaxing her face and smiling crookedly – does the audience begin to applaud. A fascinating illustration of our difficulties in distinguishing the world and our perception of it.

And now that really is the end of this review.

Article published in Dagens Nyheter, 29 March 2011. Translated from Swedish by Neil Howard.