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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2005

CieLaroque/Helene Weinzierl - 'Tropea Couch Potatoes' Paradise'

by Lea Marshall

August 11, 2005 -- Aurora Nova at St. Stephen's Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

At first, Tropea Couch Potatoes’ “Paradise,” directed and created by Helene Weinzierl, might seem a bit bewildering. After all, an inflatable couch sits on stage, along with a rack of costumes that dancers don and discard at high speeds, and on the back wall a video projection shows a television screen in which a television-watching couple stares back at the screen. What? Ah, the stage itself is inside the television; the dancers depict what the couple is watching on the television. Or do they? Out of this chaos of criss-crossing realities, the question emerges: what is reality, and how do we experience it?

As the chubby on-screen husband and wife bicker over the remote control, the dancers before us depict soccer-playing, advertisements, horror films, and weather reports with precision and manic humor. Periodically they break down, however, into more abstracted sequences of dancing--clean, sharp-edged, gestural, punctuated by slices and spins—that bring home the power of actuality, of flesh-and-blood experience, of bodies moving and breathing right in front of us. Their presence inspires us to mock the padded existence of the unattractive couple on-screen, and yet each time we turn on the television, we become that couple.

While rife with comedy, absurdity, and an overarching ironic commentary on our experience of the world through television, Tropea occasionally grips its audience with a moment of bright pain; one dancer in an orange prison jumpsuit performs a rolling, writhing solo on the floor in a square of light, spinning with the force of flung limbs, coming up to knees and elbows and curling back down again. When he rises to standing still, hands crossed, in a tiny pool of down-light, the sound of a steady, measured drip of water begins and continues inexorably for several minutes. We are forced into a moment of serious contemplation. Shifting nervously in our seats as we watch this man’s discomfort without succumbing to our own seems the least we can do.

All four dancers, Helena Arenbergerova, Erich Rudolf, Honza Malik, and Petr Opavsky, threw themselves body and soul into this performance and succeeded not only in amusing and entertaining, but also in showing us a dense and thoughtful work that, once seen, roots in our minds and leaves us ever so slightly unsettled. And that, Weinzierl seems to be saying, can only be for the best.

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