This is the End - post-végétal horror until we die from laughing
by Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt
As three vertical spotlights slowly dim their existence out of the darkness, the three performers Tommy Noonan, Jean-Baptiste Veyret-Logerias and Dennis Deter unfold from small crouches on the white dance carpet into fully stretched standing bodies, wearing brown skirts and coloured sweatshirts. Accompanied by an overwhelming soundscape of singing birds, we see a deleuzian “devenir-végétal” performed by three dancers in orange, purple and green. Yet no more than five minutes have passed in this early Eden, where men become plants and the incarnation or rather inherbation of nature seems possible for mankind, then the End is announced by the sound of fat flies and hungry vultures flying out of the loudspeakers: the aging starts, the plants get weaker, the performers let go of all tension in their upper bodies and stand with hanging heads and lifeless arms. Already 10 minutes after the performance’s beginning we’ve reached the End. And what is now to come? A post-végétal era of loss, humiliation, exposure and death of the fruits.
In the post-végétal era on the white stage in Sophiensæle’s calm, neutral Hochzeitssaal the performers undergo a mutation from dead plants into humming robots; from humming robots into singing monks recalling the lost harmony; from singing monks into Gods starting the apocalypse with thunder and lightning; and finally, from Gods into war criminals executing a routine mission. I see two ways of explaining the first encounter between men and fruits around the 23rd minute of the performance:
The first one goes like this:
After the apocalyptic storm sent from God’s angry hands, a small boat appears on the sea and the locals help the strangers, refugees from an abandoned land, on shore. This encounter turns out to be the beginning of a brutal genocide.
And here is the second one:
After a nice light show combined with fog, conducted by Jean-Baptiste Veyret-Logerias’ precise hand gestures and strident-shredding screams, a fruit bowl with fruits is drawn diagonally over the fog filled stage. The performers, who have already been on stage for more than 20 minutes, pull a string fastened to the boat to get it to the right front corner of the stage. Shortly after, the fruits are cut into small pieces and turned into juice.
The problem of the human mind is that we can imagine killing, German playwright Heiner Müller once wrote. The performance “Frucht und Schrecken” is a playground for this kind of imagination. Throughout the last third of the performance, where the three performers are cutting and smashing the fruits from the fruit bowl, my reservoir of fictional and documented violence unfolds live on stage. Being nearly ignorant towards the quotes from horror movies, which are named as important references in the program of the performance, I project my own narratives into the very profane and simple events on the white dance carpet. The most thrilling thing about the experience – and now solely on the level of aesthetic experience – is that I realize that my imagination is necessary for completing the horror. As a passive sitting spectator I am highly active. The mere means on stage are poor. But the composition triggers my mind:
I see the local men stabbing the refugees; and not only stabbing, also slicing, fist-fucking, undressing their victims in public, making them smile while squeezing the juices out of them. The faces of these brutal acts show no affects. These tree men are ice-cold murderers. OR: these men are not killing, they are mere puppeteers frigidly demonstrating the history of torture in the last two decades. OR: these men are re-enacting a group violation in Rwanda, in Congo, from a movie I once saw. OR: these men are happy-slappers executing weak beings, and as a spectator watching I am completing the humiliation through my very gaze.
A fruit is a fruit is a fruit, I memorize notoriously. And yet I see friends being separated, children and mothers torn apart, I see exposed hostages. They are in the brutal hands of powerful men, literally thirty times larger than them.
Coming back to the quote of Heiner Müller, I ask myself what kind of spectators practice I undertake with “Frucht und Schrecken”. I would not say that I practice my imagination of killing and thereby strengthen the brutality of thought. Rather, I recall the many layers of witnessed violence, I have displaced outside the theatre. For others who were on the day of the performance occupied with ecological worries, the post-végétal era might have become a pro-vegan experience. Yet the absence of interpretation and acting from the side of the performers allows an ambiguous combination of laughter and fright: cheap tricks and heavy associations are complementing each other in this queasy fruit salad.