Mourning in a museum of another kind: ‘Moeder’ (Mother) by Peeping Tom

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A painting starts to bleed, a sculpture comes to life, and isn’t that coffee machine behaving rather strangely? Welcome to Peeping Tom‘s universe, where “normal” is a concept that doesn’t seem to exist. With Moeder (Mother) the Brussels-based company once again puts on stage a piece resembling a surreal dream, in which one strange event follows the next.

Recently Franck Chartier, one of the two Peeping Tom directors, was awarded a Zwaan (“swan”; the most prestigious Dutch dance award) for most impressive dance performance, for his choreography The Lost Room, for the Nederlands Dans Theater. Chartier directed Vader (Father, 2014), the first part of the trilogy that will keep Peeping Tom busy for the next few years. Moeder, the second part, was directed by Gabriela Carrizo, the other founding member of Peeping Tom. It premiered September 29 in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Kinderen (Children) is to be the last part of the trilogy.

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Moeder was inspired by the passing of Carrizo’s own mother. In the opening scene you see some of the performers gathered around a coffin, and you hear a dying mother’s last breath. Sound will be playing an important role in this piece, as will the booth they’re standing in. From mourning room it will transform into recording studio, hospital room and party booth. Or it just offers a view on a bucolic landscape in the far distance.

The booth is the central element in a stage set that looks like a small private museum, guarded by two men (father and son), with a crazy old mother roaming the premises. Mumbling, singing now and then, playing on that small organ in the right hand corner of the stage. Every so often visitors walk in, only to be surprised by the strange things that are happening in this weird place.

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Don’t expect a real story, although there’s a thin story line of a baby being born, having to spent its youth in an incubator. Even as an adult it will still be in that box. Moeder is foremost a series of scenes, centered around key words such as longing, mourning, suffering and partying. Dreamlike, surreal and funny sometimes. And of course once in a while performers start dancing in that typical, gravity defying Peeping Tom way, as if they’re drunken, time-travelling astronauts.

moeder_hermansorgeloos_3882It’s a slow-paced piece, in which (my impression) music plays a less important role than in previous pieces. Sound though is given a more prominent role, as in scenes in which they make you believe the room is flooded; the sounds of feet stepping into the water are created by a foley artist in the booth.

Strange though that, even though they’re drawing on universal themes and create scenes that are rather grotesque, Moeder is a piece failing to make a lasting impression. Is it because by now you’ve seen all the tricks they have up their sleeve one too many times? You just know something will happen with that coffee machine. You just know the walls and the paintings will have their secrets. It’s as if there’s a logic to this surrealness that you’ve gotten used to. (That’s why I liked the scene in which a Mexican musician all of a sudden appeared on stage and everybody started dancing. A welcome moment defying every logic.) It’s all very nice to watch, but it doesn’t really make an impact.

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By now Peeping Tom is able to tour the world with their performances (Japan next year, for instance), and you have to admire them for that. But Moeder shows they’ve reached the dilemma every mature artist faces one day or the other: what to do when you’ve found your own voice, your own style? How to move on? How to stay true to what is yours and evolve at the same time? Maybe by inviting other artistic collaborators in? And let them mess around with Peeping Toms style a bit? Because, to put it bluntly, before you know it Father, Mother and Children will lead to Uncles, Aunts and Cousins.

Tour schedule here. Short clip here.

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