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Interpreting Live Landscapes in Verdensteatret’s Hannah

By Christine Gwillim

Hannah isn’t about Vietnam, although the piece came out of a company trip to the Mekong Delta in 2017, a repetition of an earlier trip in 2007. Repetition and distortion weave through the piece, delightful objects covered in yellow felt vibrate, flop, and jitter across shiny metallic floors. Sinister shapes morph across a long white backdrop. And even though the work isn’t about Vietnam according to the artists, everything about it reminds me of Vietnam, and more importantly, the Vietnam war. The set looks like a post-modern mine field, wires and mechanical objects attached to shards of metal, the digital projections spread across the screen like a contagion, or a bomb. Operators (actors) hide behind mobile walls as they press buttons and pulls strings that trigger chain reactions on the opposite side of the stage. If not for the foreboding, deep base that shook the space, it might have seemed less dark. A shot of a high-rise apartment building, coupled with a deep, unsettling mechanical breath reminds me of the Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis, the biggest failure of modern American architecture. Somehow the breathy shaky image felt like every dilapidated high rise in the world, but also particularly familiar. The lexicon of images, sounds, and feelings seems so very local, contextual, historicized, but they were not tied to any of those things- just conduits for relating from our own perspective.

I don’t know what this performance meant, why it was called Hannah, or why I thought of war and my friend sitting next to me was turned on and thinking about sex. Maybe it was the abstraction, how the objects resembled other objects and also didn’t, or that the team of artists, designers, performers worked for two years to build the show from a kernel of something during a shared trip. Their memories of the trip fragmented, remembering also a trip ten years before that the same company but different people took, wires connecting, people tugging, felt vibrating, pixels morphing. I was getting anxious, my friend getting wet, others laughing loudly, still more in the back craning their necks to see tiny movements obscured by others’ heads. Hannah is the type of work that I’d like to follow on its tour- to see how it resonates in different cities and countries- and to talk with strangers to see what they see. There’s space in the work for a multitude of interpretations and desires.

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