The existence of something else

Mette Edvardsen presents her new group piece 'or else nobody will know' in Kaaitheater (Brussels)

by Jeroen Peeters

“A main focus in my works till now is ‘there’ness and an emphasized interest in or attention to presence and the present. Although the pieces seem to contemplate emptiness and absence, this is only there as a consequence of the existence of something else. I want to draw attention to little things, to other things, to attentiveness as such. I am interested in how our perception works, to find different ways of expanding our perceptive fields.

In a few lines, the Norwegian, Brussels-based choreographer Mette Edvardsen introduces her body of work in the programme sheet. What follows are some more reflections, clear and to the point; yet her work can’t be wrapped up in a few lines, it has an irreducible quality. The works’ hyperformulation, sense of detail and witty character make them particular stage events, insist on the event’s particular character per se: embedded in time and space, witnessed by embodied spectators, and so on. But the conceptual resistance of Edvardsen’s new group piece or else nobody will know shows itself as much in the sheer banality of narrative suspense: it is in the scenario and the familiar quotidian action that Edvardsen seeks to evoke the mysteries of perception. Yes, “the existence of something else”!


Something else? As Edvardsen’s first group piece or else nobody will know elaborates further upon her solo works, it is worthwhile to go back in time a little. In her first work Private collection (2002), Edvardsen arranges and manipulates objects in a small space, as an installation that invites the eye to wander. More sculptural tropes seemed to guide the work, such as the idea of ‘moulding’: a negative space that witnesses a creation process as much as it casts potentiality. Pointing at once to past, present and future, Private collection was a mould in limbo, pointing toward the existence of something else, yet leaving its secrets intact. A live performance not quite mirrored in a manipulated video registration (something else!), Time will show (detail) (2004) focussed more on the material conditions of the event, such as the surrounding architecture (something else!), the entropic temporality of an irreversible chain of actions (something else!) and the spectator’s embodied perception (something else!). Add the evocative character of narrative (something else!) and an inquiry into the semiotics of the theatre space (behind the curtain … yet something else!) in Opening (2005–06), and we have a small compendium of Edvardsen’s choreographic world.

Something else? It might be clear that the work is not just the “consequence of the existence of something else”. Edvardsen seeks to deconstruct our daily perceptions and uncover the spectral realm that underpins it, haunts it, and endows it with a future. or else nobody will know is a fine continuation of Edvardsen’s trajectory, a body of work that deserves to be seen and known better.

Folding, unfolding

A table with a telephone, papers, a stapler and a stack of plastic cups. A fluorescent lamp above, a chair behind, a waste-paper basket next to it. As in an office space, be it that it only fills up a small corner, that the floor is covered with dance floor and the space delineated by black curtains – we are unmistakeably in a theatre. Five people enter, take up positions in the space, pause for a moment, then for a few minutes launch into an intricate scenario involving objects – such as keys, slips of paper, envelopes, bags, a bonnet, a chair, a telephone – and actions – such as drinking coffee, searching a bag, dropping keys, not answering the telephone, spraying an olfactory mark on the backdrop, writing a note. The scenario is executed with a strict timing, a sense for precision and detail; it suggests clandestine activity, yet in the end it is perfectly meaningless on a narrative level. The choreography wavers between stillness and a frenetic pace, highlighting in a peculiar way gestures of waiting, attention, expectation, address and transaction – all communicative actions with an uncertain destination.

The five performers (Philippe Beloul, Varinia Canto Vila, Mette Edvardsen, David Helbich and Kristine Øren) repeat this scenario no less than eight times. Each time you discover new details, start wondering whether they actually repeat the scenario or slightly alter it. The complexity of the scenario puts visual perception and memory to a test, which introduces a particular temporality. After half an hour the space has grown thick with traces, with memories and projections, but leaving the scenario in suspense. What are all these transactions about? What is all our witnessing actually about? or else nobody will know seems to short-circuit our expectations, leaving us with a set of holes and an awareness of our blind spots. Then follow a black-out and a pause of twenty minutes.

Sweeping, spilling

Part two. Another scenario, which may have happened before or after the other one. This time it is chopped up in five solos which are put together in the end, revealing the actual chain of events. With the superimposition of five solos the choreography falls into place, but again: does it reveal anything? It is interesting how Edvardsen and co. playfully literalise concepts in their solos. Edvardsen is sweeping the floor, as if she were collecting traces from before the break. Beloul seats himself at the desk and starts to fold papers, half-way through saying: “I don’t remember.” Folding without unfolding. Canto Vila enters bathed in sweat and out of breath – what happened during the break? And they are all busy with papers, with producing notes, handing them out, tearing them up, spilling them onto the floor or throwing them into the basket. In the last solo, Øren leaves the stage and comes back with a pile of envelopes, and then with yet another pile when they all repeat their solos.

Messages and slips of paper all over, two piles of envelopes. From the installation to the scenario, from entropy to memory, from the mould to the envelope, from witnessing to the potentiality of unaddressed mail: or else nobody will know is like a series of messages in a bottle. They are drifting in the theatre, waiting to arrive at uncertain destinies, testifying again the existence of something else. or else nobody will know does not so much embrace tautology as inquire into attention and communication, unbridling doubt in the theatre and creating myriad potential scenes of address.

First published in corpus 29 october 2007,