Peeping Tom’s Olivier Award-winning production 32 Rue Vandenbranden is a set in a strange, dystopian trailer park in the mountains, where characters are left holding little but their own loneliness. A huge cyclorama towers over the space, and snow covers the stage, softening the metal lines of tiny caravans. Characters emerge from and retreat into their mobile homes, searching for intimacy and belonging but rarely finding it.
32 Rue Vandenbranden is an ambitious work, and one that perhaps tries to do too much. All of the dancers (Jos Baker, Marie Dyselbrecht, Seoljin Jim, Hun-mok Jung and Maria Carolina Vieira) are talented, with their bodies moving with ease and grace in the strange abstract style in which they perform. As an ensemble, they work beautifully, evoking the deep strangeness inherent within their town, exploring both their isolation and their inability to break away from one another.
The set, designed by Nele Dirckx, Yves Leirs and Frederik Liekens, is stunning, evoking the enormity of the world while also capturing the pain and loneliness of the tiny community. Lighting design by Filip Timmerman and Yves Leirs is also beautiful, and the deeply strange sound composition from Juan Carlos Tolosa and Glenn Vervliet is unsettling and evocative.
There is plenty to look at in this piece. Characters who are not dancing retreat to their caravans, and the eye is often drawn to someone peeking out from a window or leaning against a wall. It is these moments that are often the most interesting, as they add nuance and colour in the stories of these characters.
There are many, many elements at play here. There is theatrical trickery of floating men and disappearing women; there is a heart literally held in a hand, there is slapstick and speaking and dance and song. The presence of mezzo-soprano Eurudike de Beul, who spends much of the piece wandering the stage like a ghost haunting cathedral, is never really explained, but she performs with humour and pathos.
The highlight of the piece was a solo from Maria Carolina Vieira, who performed with strength and vulnerability, embodying a heart-breaking balance between the two. She performs again with her partner, Jos Baker; their relationship is in turmoil and they dance a visceral and gut-wrenching duet, during which Baker holds Vierira by her throat throughout.
The most compelling narratives are the ones in which reality is thrown into question. Lines between characters are blurred, and fantasies are played out onstage, until there is little or no line between what really exists and what is simply a figment of someone’s imagination. Are we in a dream? Or a nightmare? The past or the future? Does any of this actually exist?
32 Rue Vandenbranden piece jolts through genres without any real rhyme or reason, from classical singing to spoken word to abstract dance to slapstick. The scope of this piece is huge; it is an admirable attempt and one that has been acclaimed across the world.
Throughout all of this, though, there is never a clear line of thinking or feeling in which to settle. The result is a piece that is visually stunning and very accomplished, but one with which it is difficult to find a deeper connection.