Reviews Blueprint on Memory

Gripping movement theatre about dementia

Blueprint on Memory is the first panel of a triptych by the Flemish choreographer Ann van den Broek about memory loss. What provoked the work was her mother’s dementia.

In her inimitable way, Van den Broek designed a strict, consistent structure in black & white for this emotional theme. A structure that, due to the nature of the subject, must inevitably fall apart. Initially, four men and two women march across the stage in straight lines. White cables in straight lines connect several ‘islands’. There they can operate the sound samples with pedals that play an ebb and flow of sound in two tones or total cacophony.

Devastating, but not sentimental
Due to the strange, aberrant behavior of the individuals, the unity of the group begins to crack. Meanwhile, much like during a neurological consult, Van den Broek asks questions to the patients who become more and more confused and insecure. At the same time, the pattern of cables on the floor deteriorates into a mess of loose ends.

The symbolism is as clear as it is devastating without ever becoming sentimental. People familiar with the impact of dementia and Alzheimer’s will find plenty to relate to. Blueprint on Memory is impressive and gripping movement theatre.

Francine van der Wiel, NRC Handelsblad, October 15, 2018

Penetrating, hip dance about memory loss

Blueprint on Memory is a hip, stylized translation of a disease you usually associate with old age and stuffiness.

With Blueprint on Memory, Ann Van den Broek has made a penetrating live mix of movement, film, sound and spoken word about the dark, unknown world of a progressively faltering memory. It is familiar territory now that Alzheimer’s is becoming the number one most common disease. Van den Broek’s recently deceased mother also slowly faded into a universe where others can’t reach you.

In her mind, Van den Broek creeps into the performance without losing direction. With clusters of cables and pedals that are used to manipulate sound and imagery, the floor resembles a gnarly brain. Dressed in elegant and sober, funereal black, like the procession of dancers with guitar player Sjoerd Bruil in their midst, she sets the whole thing in motion by pressing a button. On a large screen Gregory Frateur sings about the mysteries in the mind. She sits down at a table and regularly asks her cast the classic list of question devised by psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer. What’s your name? ‘Auguste.’ What’s your husband’s name? ‘Auguste.’ The answers filmed in close-up – a nice detail – are given by the patients.

Here too the heart of the dance is ‘simple’: walking in unison, staring beyond the horizon. The automatic pilot is on, just like the wandering dementia patients in the corridors of a nursing home. Slowly at first, step by step, sometimes a brief stop, apparently without reason. Later the pace increases, which accentuates the compulsiveness and causes a growing sense of restlessness and fear. The electric guitar now reverbs and growls ominously, the elegant shoes are kicked off, a foot is caught in a cable.

Blueprint on Memory is a hip, stylized translation of a disease you usually associate with old age and stuffiness. There is a pleasant distance befitting the approach Van den Broek selected and yet the devastation slowly grows. Step by step daily activities like turning on a lamp, writing something down or drinking a glass of water are reduced to mere incidents, details. They become unimportant and, in the end, practically impossible.

Mirjam van der Linden, De Volkskrant, October 15, 2018

Blueprint on Memory

Ann Van den Broek’s work is a textbook case of the new dance practice where artists no longer think in terms of categories or national borders. During the Dutch Dance Festival the choreographer presented her latest work Blueprint on Memory, part of which was researched at London’s arts center The Barbican: an overwhelming mixture of installation, visual arts, video and movement.

In her work, Van den Broek always grabs the subject that touches her personally by the horns, cutting to the uncomfortable essence. It gives Blueprint on Memory an enormous urgency. In this case it is about dementia, memory loss: what is that like and what do you do when forced to deal with it?

Like a spider in a web, Van den Broek sits in a space that looks like a control room, a high-tech nerve center with cables lying around carelessly and where are microphones and camera are set up. Six performers walk along established lines through the space, but their step becomes increasingly wobbly. At times the group falls apart, to walk to mirror or a light source, their purpose less and less apparent.

Catwalk-like elevations conceal switches used to manipulate the rhythm of the musical beats, and on a livestream we can see the performers in close-up becoming more and more inaccessible. Movement, lighting, sound, imagery, music and text fragments meld into one big dissociative slush – terrifying and inescapable.

Van den Broek puts the material together magnificently; however, at times her use of texts about the theme are needlessly literal. But as part of the total experience, the spoken words do prick up your ears.

Alexander Hiskemuller, Trouw, October 15, 2018

A visit to Dr. Alzheimer

“What is your name? How long have you been here? What year is it? How many fingers do you have?” A random selection of questions the neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer posed in November 1901. Questions his patient Auguste D. could not answer. Sometimes she tried to evade a question: “What street do you live in?” “I can tell you, but I must wait a bit.”

That answer keeps coming up in Blueprint on Memory: I must wait a bit. That wait is an eternity, because the answer has faded away, disappeared along with countless other memories that make a person who she or he is. The dancers walk around ceaselessly on stage is search of an answer.

The music – sung by Gregory Frateur on the gigantic screen at the back of the stage, driven by guitarist Sjoerd Bruil – is made up of short recurring themes. There are sound-effect pedals all over the stage. The wanderers step on them in passing, more and more frequently and maniacally. It conjures reverb and distortion. But no answers.

Occasionally, a few of the performers march into the auditorium, behind the audience, lit by bright construction lights. It causes the audience to feel almost as uncomfortable as the wandering souls on stage. One at the time, the personages sit at the table across from choreographer Ann van den Broek who, as usual, directs the performance on stage. This time as the alter ego of Dr. Alzheimer, asking the patients basic questions that they can’t possibly answer. We see them struggle in merciless close-ups on screen.

Van den Broek decided to make Blueprint on Memory when her mother contracted dementia. Out of this personal involvement, Van den Broek and her co-creators constructed a universal production about memory and identity – a penetrating, severe and focused movement exercise that will haunt you long after you have left the theatre.

Fritz de Jong, Het Parool, October 22, 2018

Reviews Blueprint on Memory
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