I admit it, with a title like Caesarean Section – Essays on Suicide, I was worried. But the piece that Teatr ZAR has brought to Summerhall is, thankfully, not too gloomy or melancholic, or even shocking. It is a physical and vocal celebration of defiance, beautifully composed and richly orchestrated. The live score is the origin of the company’s explorations for this piece and the show is experienced as a concert accompanied by physical performance rather than the other way around.
Tonically, the show swings from Corsican polyphonic vocal compositions to Satie piano solos, all performed by the company. The dancers, who also sing, seamlessly melt in and out of the larger ensemble. Exhibiting Grotowski-method physical rigor and dynamism the company has built a classic piece of figurative dance-theatre with a series of etudes exploring the poetic idea and symbols of suicide (but not so much the dirty reality of the concept). There’s even a touch of humour with a series of goofy send-ups such as drowning by drain plug or hanging by shrub, and so on. Otherwise the visual story is told with broken glass, spilled red wine, intense and pounding physical duets and trios, and the bodies of the performers wrenched with song. The scenes don’t describe a narrative, but instead seem to embody different destructive parts of the self – despair, panic, and anger.
For all that, there is no real sense of danger or true desperation in the production, which, for a piece about ‘suicidal compulsion and the involuntary force that pulls us back from the brink’ is kind of disappointing. In an early blackout, glass windows are shattered violently in the darkness; this moment is thrilling in its invocation of risk and raw sorrow. But it is never topped in the rest of the production, which is constructed with strict artistry rather than ripped from the bowels of feeling. There is passion, certainly, but the passion is for performing and the vitality of the body. Therefore the ‘suicides’ became more about the possible absence of art rather than the literal destruction of life. The broken glass, for example, which ran in a glittering river down the centre of the stage, was a beautiful image, but something to run your hands through, not a wild threat or an inescapable black hole.
Still, the performances are striking and the choreography of both the visual and auditory world is expressive and resonant. If you are new to dance-theatre this piece is a must-see. If you are a veteran, you will enjoy a standard, though excellent, example of the form.