Last sunday, Â I went to see the Dogtroep performing in Dordrecht. I saw them four times already, but unfortunately this fifth time was the last: The Dogtroep stops performing this year. The Dogtroep is an internationally focused theater group, which has had an enormous impact on the (Dutch) visual theater during their 33 years of existence. Combining abstract narrative with the outstanding locations of their performances, the absurd visual compositions and daring stunts made their performances unsurpassed. I’ve seen them flood a ships-dock with a million liters of water (yes, some in the audience had some seriously wet feet), paraglide inside theater CarrÃ© (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), but also perform more tender scenes using small light after sunset in their out-door locations. Â
As always, the location the Dogtroep selected for yesterday’s performance was closely tied to their narrative. Using the outdoor location provided by the remains of the old steel factory ‘Montan’, the actors literally dug to find the unknown history of this forlorn place. Will they, the Dogtroep, become such a place themselves, or is there another message to be seen in this? As they say for themselves, the basis for this performance “at the edge of existence” are the plans, personages, and dreams that emerge from the crater they dig themselves.Â
Based on an archetypical narrative, the Dogtroep again gave a visually stunning performance. Using the elements of water, fire, earth, and wind, the actors were able to express themselves in their play. The use of music (played almost completely live, including a firemen-choir) fitted the performance closely. My personal favorite scenes were a shadow-play against a screen of falling water, a path of light in a basin of water, the periods of joy and welcoming in the narrative, and, of course, the shining footsteps emerging in the sand. But to me the visual strength of the Dogtroep truly lies in their use of the environment. Their stage was built in an old and abandoned steel-factory. There was so much to be seen, but the interesting thing is that, when you see this performance for the first time, you simply don’t recognize all that you see. Only when elements are used in the play, you become aware of their existence. In that way richness of the experience becomes all the more rich without actually changing.
So, was this a story of loss or goodbye? No, not entirely. To me, this was a story on how people change when they meet other people. Love and friendship can emerge, but also wane. Abandoning old friends leads to contempt, but true love never dies. Even when it comes to an end, for instance by overplaying it, it will always remain as a warm and loving memory.
And to me, so it will be for the Dogtroep. These people have met and created beautiful imagery for years, receiving critical acclaim and having large audiences. Now their existence as a group comes to an end. But their impact on the location-theater will last for some more decades. And I, I will fondly remember this last performance.