By Timothy Braun, Guest Blogger, Former Editor-In-Chief of New and Social Media, Scared Dancer
It has been days upon days, weeks really, since the 2018 Fusebox Festival shut the dance hall doors, and at this time after each festival, certain shows, certain events, certain happenings come back to haunt me, shows I can’t shake, shows that often scare me, and I don’t mean “boo”, specters and spooks I can’t erase from the corner of my mind. Walter Bart and Marleen Scholten of the Dutch theatre group Wunderbaum are the visions I can’t shake this time around, and it is not the first time these two have lingered in my mind weeks after the festival. In 2014 Bart and Scholten brought Looking For Paul, an absurd and incendiary piece devoted to the controversial artist, Paul McCarthy. To this day I think back on that show as one of the greatest pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, and yet fear talking about the experience. It was a staged reading that morphed into an orgy of thought and miscommunication, climaxing to a slam dance and the most nuanced use of the Rollins space at The Long Center involving ketchup, mustard, and farm hay one could imagine. As I left that performance Steve Moore of Physical Plant Theater smiled and said, “Were they trying to get us to vomit?” I had a physical reaction to a metaphysical show, it made my pulse jump, I was scared, and I wanted more.
With The History of My Stiffness there is no slam dancing, no hay, and no ketchup. A world premiere just for Fusebox, this show used local actors and artists to explore the various types of popular dance and what they say about us as people. We encounter characters we know, characters we’ve seen over and over again in the corner of our eyes, and in the back of our memories, like long gone relatives returning to say good-bye. With The History of My Stiffness, Wunderbaum presented vignettes of drunken sports fans hoping around, chopping wooden shoes, and shouting to the sky in relief from life itself. They gave us elegant ballet dancers twirling, awkward and lonely tangos, some moments of fun, others of sadness, many reflecting the need to be needed, and the wanting to not be alone, at least for a moment of dance, all with relatable palpability. Local guests, such as actress Kelli Bland, and artist Todd Mein, provided emotionally naked solo performances, as if they were dancing like no one was watching, before joining a Texas two-step line lead by Mein, a two-step line in straight seriousness, an awkward but honest tradition of nothing-better-to-do, a poignant look at Texas culture.
What makes Wunderbaum so haunting is not just their nuanced psychological approach towards the human condition, or the sociological and textured laboratory they create in front of the audience, but also their use of topography and space. In “The History of My Stiffness” Bart and Scholton are Ghostbusters, capturing spirits in a haunted house, spirits of people we have known and seen at every disco tech, dance hall and high school prom across our own lives. In a Fusebox skeletal warehouse Bart and Scholton used light and shadow, space and sound to create an intimate portrait in a wide-open space and thunderous space. As the show began they offered the audience earplugs, and it was my mistake not to use them. With booming music, and stomping feet, I was close to deaf when the curtain call came. The show was magical, a thrill, that kept me up all night. It made my heart race, I saw myself in those dancers, and I saw people I know and knew, and it scared me and I loved it.
After nine years of working for Fusebox my last day was supposed be two weeks ago. I was done and ready to move on, but Bart and Scholton weren’t done with me. Ghosts never are. As I write this I’m preparing to join two of our Fusebox funders for an Afghan Whigs and Built to Spill concert tonight, and I’m going to dance. I’m going to hit that dance floor and dance my brains out, I’m going to dance like no one is watching, I’m going to dance to scare myself and I don’t mean “boo”, and I have Wunderbaum to thank for it.