Reviews Memory Loss

Nominated for Zwaan (Swan) award impressive dance production

Memory Loss is a personal document: sincere and moving. Cruel and loving. With her trilogy, Ann Van den Broek fosters understanding for people with dementia and deserves all the credit for that. As one of the dancers says: “They are by no means crazy ”.

Jury VCSD dance prizes, October 2020

Memory Loss is an all-encompassing tour the force seething with buried emotions

‘A pitfall with no exit’, the penetrating voice of singer Gregory Frateur warns us on tape at the beginning of the performance. How deep and cruel the pitfall that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia fall into is, is something we can sympathize with during the performance of Memory Loss, the final part of a triptych about this disease of old age created by Ann Van den Broek.

The choreographer has collected and heavily condensed the best bits from the previous parts and filled it out to create an all-encompassing tour de force seething with buried emotions. Tightly directed by her from the center of the stage, the loss of decorum, identity and memories slowly creeps into your bones. The intense despair of the one who fields the lost answers to simple questions with a plea to be allowed to go home. The scientist who talks excitedly about vital brain functions. The powerlessness of the exhausted caregivers: one dancer dragging the other along on a sad treadmill. And the hard confrontation with the imposed tempo of care: Marion Bosetti’s long hair washed roughly again and again.

At first the fifteen performers are still well dressed, with handbags, skirts, heels and suits. Gradually and rhythmically they walk into the pitfall of desperation. On stage there is a steel square full of cameras, microphones and effect pedals. At its heart, Van den Broek dictates the order of things. She meticulously splices this ramble together. Everything looks black & white, costumes, lighting, video, the atmosphere. All color seeped away. That is how Van den Broek has found a terribly beautiful form for a terribly cruel disease. At the end, she dedicates Memory Loss to her mother and all her caregivers. And, rightfully so, to herself as well.

Annette Embrechts, de Volkskrant, January 26, 2020

Wandering through memory’s gaps.

A lamp goes on. And off. On. And off. A different one in every corner. The young people in long evening dresses, nylons and pumps follow the light like flies. Slowly; the light has almost faded by the time their eyes have located it.

They latch onto the scant light that softly shines on their faces, but quickly lose it again. Memory Loss by Ann Van den Broek depicts people with Alzheimer’s and other types of memory loss wandering, searching. For a fleeting moment they see the light, only to continue wandering through the gaps of their memory.

Memory Loss is the third and final installment of The Memory Loss Collection. The previous parts, Blueprint on Memory (2018) and Zooming in on Loss (2019), culminate in this concluding part. Memory Loss is a dark, penetrating production that mercilessly confronts its viewers not only with this hopeless condition, but also with the severe circumstances these patients find themselves in and the powerless position of their loved ones.

Van den Broek does this in the production by focusing on events from the perspective of bystanders, scientists and the sick, with video as a documentation instrument. Cameras on stage project on a screen what is going on live. In the center of the stage is a ‘confessional microphone’.

Feet land emphatically on the floor surrounding it a constant rhythm. The rhythm they walk in sounds firm, but if you look closely you realize that they are not going anywhere. Gradually the steps become more cautious, more searching and hesitant. Until they can no longer do it on their own and help each other, like the lame and the blind, and walk in circles in pairs. Going nowhere. ‘It’s happening in here. Breathe in, breathe out.’ A piercing voice keeps the forgetful people in line with this mantra. To no avail.

The director of all this is Van den Broek herself. She sits in the center. From there she directs the camera images and fires questions at her performers. She is the observer, like she was in real life: her mother suffered from the same sickness, she said in an interview in Dans Magazine.

Mercilessly she lays bare what is happening. ‘What did I ask you?’ and ‘How long have you been here?’ she asks her performers. ‘I don’t know’, is their helpless answer.

She confronts the audience with what is going on, puts it on camera and shines a light on it. It’s actually mean how she asks these people questions that they cannot answer, and lets them wander aimlessly instead of helping them find a safe place. You might ask some ethical questions, but then how else is it in real life?

In the end the scientist points out some hard facts. On the large screen she explains how memory loss can occur. This paints a gloomy, depressing picture of lonely people who can longer find anything in this darkness.

Carolien Verduijn, Theaterkrant, January 18, 2020

Memory Loss, gripping contemporary theater about dementia

Ann Van den Broek and her company WArd/waRD researched the movement vocabulary of people slowly succumbing to dementia. In a modern theatrical form and using expressive imagery her production Memory Loss shows the devastating effect that dementia has on the human soul. At the same time, the compassion emanating from this production is also a consolation for those dealing with the disease.

People suffering from dementia are often witnesses of their own mental disintegration. The production focuses unflinchingly on the relentless process of memory loss. The illness leads to the loss of everything that one considers valuable in life: memories, recognition, appreciation of one’s contribution to the value and the dignity of others. This loss is inevitable: not only for one’s social circle, but mostly for the one suffering from dementia. The production is very straightforward about it, which makes it quite touching.

It is a production without dialogue, which is not to say that there is no text. But it is detached from this tragedy and the performance of the actors. In clinical tones we hear scientific explanations, and sentences with poetic descriptions are presented in song. These form a contrast with the hesitant reactions to the questions put to the actors. ‘Where are you?’ ‘Are you afraid?’ ‘Who are you?’ They only elicit answers like ‘I want to go home’.

The mercy of the other
Choosing this lean language is accurate. The ability to construct, combine and create sentences escapes people suffering from dementia. The twelve women and men on stage show that: there are no words for what is happening to them. It is fitting that the last scene of the production is set to music. It describes breathing, the sound of your breath which carries on while you are no longer aware that you are breathing. At that point the production moves into a new and positive direction. This is the last day and the last breath, the deliverance.

It takes courage to show the disappearance of the human presence in a production. Because the chance that we might end up in that same situation is something we would rather not face: no longer being considered a person. People suffering from dementia must hope for the mercy of others. The mercy that at the end of one’s life draws heavily and hopelessly on the energy and intellectual efforts of the mentally and socially active other. Nobody wants to go through that, wants to put their loved ones through that. This production confronts you with the thought that this could happen and that you might go through it. This is intensified by the actors regularly switching roles; they are everyone, sufferer and caregiver.

Full on theater
This is expressed visually and in sound by the choreography, the set design and the music. The musicians are present on stage, the microphones that the actors take turns using are dangling on long cables on stage and are an element of the set design. The choreography is a cross between a chorus line, the theater of Bob Wilson and the performance of the actors. They take turns putting in an appearance in small vignettes once they are allowed to briefly step out of the anonymity of the group settings. As a result Memory Loss creates a visually and dramaturgically suspenseful unity that is inextricably bound up with the content. In doing so, Ann Van den Broek serves up an experience none of us would want to go through, but which could happen to any of us. It is served full on, and that is the power of this gripping production.

Ada van Dijk, Rotterdam Vandaag & Morgen, January 21, 2020

In the Prison of the Head

This is a challenge. It is a tricky task to master. And yet, the Dutch-Flemish choreographer, Ann Van den Broek, has taken up that challenge. The dedication projected onto the big screen at the end reveals why: “In loving memory of my mother”.

Memory Loss, the last part of the The Memory Loss Collection trilogy, which had its German premiere in a unique guest performance in the main hall of the Theater Freiburg on Saturday, deals with the topic of dementia through dance, immediately preceded by the writer David Wagner reading from his book Der vergessliche Riese (The Forgetful Giant) – about his father suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It was the last day of a one-week supporting programme inspired by this production, which included discussions, a round table and a symposium on the increasingly pressing topic of Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Nursing and Culture.

What do the performing arts have to contribute in this case? Those who were perhaps sceptical at first were soon captivated by the 16 performers – certainly not just dancers, but also actors, musicians and amateur actors – of Van den Broek’s company, WArd /waRD. It was surprisingly well attended by an audience that not only sat in front of the stage but also on it, thus enclosing the event, which must be perceived by the sick person as losing the world, at least in the first phase, a state of affairs accompanied by great fear, which was also impressively reenacted on stage: you saw a dancer clinging to a glass of water as if it were the only thing that was still fixed in her life – and you heard the matter-of-fact medical question, that of asking her whether she is afraid. Part of the ensemble took over the part of those who lose their memory, the others the part of the helping, even loving environment. They moved in pairs – some leading, the others being led and allowing themselves to be led. In reality, this may not always be so harmonious, but Memory Loss doesn’t just want to represent the depressing side of dementia.

The restriction to black and white has an aesthetically impressive effect. As if the disease absorbs everything colourful. One imagines the area marked by narrow gateways and lines on the floor to be the prison of the head. The same frequencies reverberate in it again and again: first a swelling murmur of voices, then fragments of melody – the intense “Future has lost its history” becomes the leitmotif – and then electronic rumbling (composition: Nicolas Rombouts). The sound design is a supporting element of the performance, which leaves all genre boundaries behind: just as it gets stuck in recurring loops, the actors are caught in endless ritual repetitions that can only serve to prop up the stranded sense of self. At the end, one of them says in a fragile voice: Let’s go home. But where is that? Courage and sensitivity are a rare combination. And dance at the Theater Freiburg is always an event.

Bettina Schulte, Badische Zeitung (DE), January 27, 2020

Reviews Memory Loss
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