Joy Enjoy Joy is a double-edged ode to the joy of life, with a sharp edge
Acht dansers verbeeEight dancers embody the Eight dancers embody the stress of always wanting to keep the party going, the paradoxical obsession with having fun.
Rainbow-colored costumes: things haven’t been this cheerful in a long time in choreographer Ann Van den Broek’s work. The last few years, she has explored in depth the helplessness and despair people with dementia and Alzheimer’s experience in a penetrating trilogy, a film, and an installation.
Black, as opposed to clinical white, predominated. This time the Flemish choreographer has changed her tune.
In Joy Enjoy Joy, Van den Broek celebrates the flow of life. Although the brightly lit display cases and treatment tables on stage still have an air of a cold, sterile research lab, the disco ball, the shiny heels, and the bright red lips add a glittering cheerful touch. Eight dancers go all out swinging and swaying with the mobile tables, though underneath it all one senses the stress of always wanting to keep the party going. It is no coincidence that at the start we hear a recording of Tom Barman, the lead singer of the Belgian band dEUS, repeatedly saying that you shouldn’t trust people who are cheerful all the time. Joy Enjoy Joy also comes across as a paradoxical obsession with having fun. It’s that duplicity that gives this ode to the joy of life its sharp edge.
Meanwhile the dancers parade around in circles faster and faster, biting their nails, stomping their feet, and slamming their shoulders. Like in a relay race, they pass a handheld camera to each other. They film themselves with pursed lips. ‘Joy’ is the word they mouth in the process. In close-ups seen on a screen we see their gloating faces. By now Van den Broek knows exactly when to switch from the screen to the floor, from a major chord to a rousing march. Step by step she builds a controlled, yet pumping, rhythmic vitality that begs the question: Will this energy keep bubbling forever, or will it hit a minor chord at some point?
Annette Embrechts, de Volkskrant February 23, 2022
Ann Van den Broek’s ode to joy is very composed, making it unbelievably thrilling
After a series of intense and dark productions about loss and dementia, Ann Van den Broek takes aim at a completely different emotion in Joy Enjoy Joy. Her ode to joy bubbles and sparkles. However, the strict Flemish choreographer is careful not to fall into the trap of soppy positivism.
Color and movement. Those are the elements that first catch your eye as you’re watching Joy Enjoy Joy. The eight dancers wear pants, T-shirts, dresses, skirts, and dress shirts in the colors you would find in a candy store. And for the glitter effect there is a disco ball. Everything is constantly moving. Not only the dancers, but the transparent flight cases displaying cheerful outfits and party shoes as well. Equally mobile is the massage table, where a camera mounted underneath shows the ecstatic face of the person getting a massage.
Those closeups are also projected on the backdrop, just like the many other shots of dancers’ faces taken with a camera placed here and there on stage. Van den Broek together with video and lighting designer Bernie van Velzen have perfected this intermingling of live dance and on-the-spot filming since they started using it in The Black Piece (2014).
The pulse of life
Intriguing, for instance, is the long tracking shot created by the dancers during one of the few quieter moments in the production. The flight cases are set up like a train. The performers lie on top of them and pass the camera to each other. The long shot shows how they sing along – lip-synching perfectly – with the constantly repeating title. While the camera nonchalantly glides past the dancers’ bodies, we get furtive glimpses of the content of the display cases. You see it all happening live. And yet time and time again your eye is caught by the projected images.
In Joy Enjoy Joy everything and everyone is wirelessly connected to the pulse of life. So why not let it bubble and sparkle – within reasonable parameters, of course. In the Memory Loss Collection (2018-2020) dedicated to dementia and loss, Van den Broek and her dancers stepped into a black hole with abandonment, unsparingly dragging the audience along with them.
Unconditionally embrace the joy as well? Not with these creators. We repeatedly hear the tape of Tom Barman – the lead singer of dEUS who contributed to the initial research for the production – admonishing us that you must never trust people who are always happy.
But once in a while the dancers let their hair down anyway, like Frauke Mariën in her exalted version of Donna Summer’s disco classic I Feel Love. However, the most impressive parts are the ones in which this zest for life is confined by Van den Broek’s specific movement vocabulary: a torso leaning backward only to whip around again and stomp forward. Like a huffing horse that must be reined in.
Fritz de Jong, Het Parool March 21, 2022
Enjoy, enjoyment, enjoyed: Laugh ‘til it hurts in Joy Enjoy Joy
In Joy Enjoy Joy, choreographer Ann Van den Broek’s latest production, she studies and dissects enjoyment and pleasure like psychoanalysis in movement. For this production dEUS lead singer, rockstar and filmmaker Tom Barman supplied the source material. It concerns the posture, dance steps, and gestures he uses during gigs, as well as statements like ‘Trying to be louder than death.’ Eros, with the cold undercurrent of Thanatos.
For the creative process of Joy Enjoy Joy Ann Van den Broek and her dancers minutely researched the posture, dance steps, and gestures of Tom Barman, the performer. The hands to his ears; how he shakes back the shoulder strap of his guitar; an outstretched, raised arm; jumping with his feet together; his cocked head; counting one-two-three with his fingers – they studied them all. During the research phase of the choreography Van den Broek and Barman also talked about what joy meant to them and what the source of their joy was. Fragments of those conversations are used in numerous ways throughout the performance.
The performers turned this basic vocabulary inside out and used it extensively. Frauke Mariën in particular goes wild in her intense interpretation of Barman’s movements. She uses every fiber in her body. This tremendous precision transforms her completely. Not that she becomes Barman, fortunately, but she clearly becomes a more masculine version of herself. Self-confidence and self-importance take possession of her posture and facial expressions. She immediately delineates the difference between to imitate and to embody.
“Trying to be louder than death,” states the voice of Barman. The urge to die is the urge to live. However, the carnal aspect you would expect from that is not pursued in this production.Instead, there is a kind of rage or beat that forces her to carry on without stopping. An underlying nervous, rational agenda dictates this segment and continuously pushes the dancers toward their next assignment: A microphone here, folding a garment and putting it away there, passing along the camera, roll away the flight case.
This neurotic schedule of assignments, the counts, the cues, and the tasks leave little room for the dancers to lose themselves, but also deprives the viewer of the opportunity to sit back and relax. The instances when the performers do go wild, their enjoyment unrelentingly becomes something else.
In one of the most powerful scenes in the piece, dancer Isaiah Selleslaghs moved me when her raucous laughter convincingly turns into hysterical fear and back again. As if she takes me with her in one of those outrageous attractions or thrill rides in amusement parks with names like ‘Sky Screamer’ or ‘Drop of Doom.’ People pay for the kick the fear gives them. They can scream all they want until the buzzer goes off and the safety harness is raised again. Very realistic, but not quite. Which is a good thing at an amusement park. But in this production, this artificiality leaves me with an empty feeling after a while.
These kicks, moments of artificial excitement or synthetic joy, are the prime formula of this production. Everything feels real but isn’t. Except for a few scenes. Like when Isaiah Selleslaghs is lying on the massage table and lets me feel that there is a real abyss down there that I could fall into without a safety harness. Another powerful scene recites the lyrics of I Feel Love by disco queen Donna Summer: ‘Ooh it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good, it’s so good it’s so good.’ Frauke Mariën dances and sings to it as if she inhaled laughing gas from a balloon – ‘till she drops, completely out of breath.
The ending of the piece is much like the ending of a pop concert. While the eight performers walk one by one on the catwalk, the audience is encouraged to clap to their rhythm. The dancers approach the footlights as if they want to make contact with us, the audience. They blow kisses at us, make eye contact, or point at people as if to say, ‘I see you!’ But then the dancers turn around anyway, like artists in front of an adoring audience that is begging for an encore, and they walk away.
I felt caught because I found myself clapping along – and I stopped. Clapping along is a problem for me, I often feel a bit awkward. I did here too, especially when I realized that it was a well-choreographed applause. So well done that it worked. Or rather, the form worked, but it did not catch on.
It did catch on right before the final scene. The performers attempt to keep jumping, higher and higher, while they encourage each other, give each other energy, laughing, a little bit longer, everyone is exhausted, but come on, people, jump! The pure, natural, non-synthetic joy of performing. Despite, or perhaps because one can feel the passion, the power of survival, through the exhaustion. Eros -Thanatos: 1 – 0.
But generally, Joy Enjoy Joy is in no way dancing on a volcano. The undercurrent of the production is too frenetic and cold for that. According to choreographer Ann Van den Broek, the production is ‘not as heavy’ as usual. But that ‘lightness’ turns out to be a mirroring, glittering edge around a dark and heavy core. The dancers’ colorful costumes, initially sober but later exuberant, are enticing sweets in a clinical setting. The stage looks like a cold, white concept store annex club, including a disco ball and silver party shoes. Refitted flight cases become tables on wheels. With their glass lids they resemble Snow White’s coffin. As a massage table with a face hole, the effect of the massages becomes a mix of pleasure and pain.
“Joy comes after something,” we hear Tom Barman say in English with a Flemish accent. I could not detect anything profound in the text fragments that are woven into the entire production. Perhaps that was intentional. To accentuate the synthetic? Or to point at the familiar path, the tension between the temptation of pleasure and the emptiness that inevitably follows? Like the silence after the applause and a metaphor on the verge of being kitsch.
Endure, enjoy, dance ‘til you drop. Just like the performers we literally see laughing ‘til it hurts in a clever – typical for Ann Van den Broek – slow-motion scene. A collective laughing fit that becomes painful. With wide, dilated eyes the dancers gasp for breath, with faces that become macabre masks while they continue to move together, breathe together ‘til the bitter end.
Marina Kaptijn, PZAZZ.theater March 8, 2022