Why do we like to watch the suffering of others? This is the question that NNT asks in their show Carrousel. In the theatre play – directed by Guy Weizman – we see five couples participating in a dance marathon. The competition has already been going on for 720 hours when the play starts. From the 200 pairs there are still five in the marathon, fighting for victory, money, fame, or an exit from their hopeless existence in poverty. Not only does their physical suffering grow with every passing second, also their psychological agony becomes bigger and bigger. But they have to “keep moving”.
The play is based on the novel and movie of the same name: ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, that subjects the dance marathons in America during the crisis. People voluntarily participated to escape poverty. During the marathon they where ensured with shelter, food, clothes and the chance to win an amount of money. It resulted into dancing for weeks. This all happened in front of a crowd that liked looking at the suffering of the participants.
The show is quite experimental combining different aspects of theatre. In an interview Dramaturge Robbert van Heuvelen says that the NNT is developing in to an interdisciplinary theatre house where dance, music and theatre come together. Carrousel is an example of a show that has all those aspects. A live band performs the music, and they deliver an on-point combination of soft string and more intense brass instruments.
The stage is a wooden kettle-shaped arena with a massive integrated digital clock. Throughout the performance, this arena is used to project visual animations, especially during dance scenes. This combined with music creates an atmosphere full of tension and agony. The participants’ internal sufferings and dilemmas are amazingly transformed into something visual and musical. The combination of music, dance and visual effects are impressive. The dancing is done amazingly, as are the visual effects (we really expect to see more of this in future performances) sadly; the play has not the speechless effect we hoped for.
The dialogue between characters is strong and poetic, but it sometimes misses the point. Maybe it is too experimental for our liking. It dealt with some strong topics, but in our opinion does not reach its full potential. The play could use more nonverbal language or other expressive methods. This could also be better for non-Dutch speakers. The language alternates from Dutch to English, but the upper hand lays on the Dutch language. The show provides a screen with subtitles but is hard to see from your seats.
Between the dance scenes and the dialogues, the audience encountered the host of the show leading us through the competition with ironic and funny comments. The problem was, we don’t think he is funny. The jokes were a bit cheap and it created a negative contrast with the heavy topic lying underneath.
Yet, Carrousel is an interesting play to see. Even though it did left us amazed, we would recommend you to experience it yourself. NNT touches forms of theatre which other plays don’t do: music, dance, dialogue and visual animation are combined really well. We are curious about what NNT is making in the future, keeping in mind that they are creating more plays that consist these elements.
If you are interested to visit the play, we would advise you to read about the plays theme beforehand. We thought it made the context stronger. Carrousel plays till May 27th 2017 all around the Netherlands. From April 5th till April 8th the production is back in Groningen performing in the Stadsschouwburg.