Watching, ceci n’est pas de deux, Ester Natzijl Projects. The Old Courtroom, 12, 26 May 2019
This critically acclaimed piece of dance theatre, a winner at the Amsterdam Fringe and recipient of a Brighton Fringe bursary, is described as a unique solo-duet with a life-size foam puppet. But it is so much more than that suggests.
Returning to Brighton for the second year, it was created and performed by dancer and puppeteer, Ester Natzijl (formerly of Netherlands Dance Theatre, and puppeteer with Duda Paiva and Ulrike Quade Companies).
The puppet in question is a hauntingly sinister, naked, bald golem, with fetal, flexed limbs and long fingers which seem to quiver with life.
The protagonist is at first repelled by then drawn inexorably to the creature, and then as the music moves from clinical beeps like those of a life-support machine and industrial noises, to classical and back, she in turn embraces and battles the figure, struggling and whirling in a horrific, erotic, disturbing duet.
The most striking aspect is Natzijl’s immense skill as a puppeteer, as well as actor and dancer; she operates the puppet so cleverly we are utterly convinced of its animation.
The highpoint is when the puppet overpowers and renders the dancer apparently lifeless. The pathos of the moment in which it looks at the audience with its sinister black eyes, crouched over Natzijl’s body, and shares an almost human expression of regret and sorrow, before reanimating her with its own breath, is simply spellbinding.
Yet this show is more than simply clever technique and accomplished dance; this is a deep and moving piece of theatre, rich with meaning; it speaks of desire and fear, attraction and narcissism, the other and the self – themes which crystallise in the denouement, where dancer and puppet mirror each other’s movements so precisely you can actually see the moment at which the protagonist realises who she has been duetting with. Ceci n’est pas de deux.
***** (Five stars)