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Edinburgh Fringe - Sadari Movement Laboratory

'Woyzeck'

by Lea Marshall

August 6, 2007 -- Assembly Aurora Nova, St. Stephen's Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

In “Woyzeck,” Sadari Movement Laboratory (Korea) assembles all the elements required for a compelling, movement-based study of Georg Buchner’s play: strong and capable movers, well-constructed set pieces, atmospheric music (by Astor Piazzolla), and lighting (by Tae-Han Gu). But taken all together, this performance never generates enough electricity to prod the audience with the sharp loathing, compassion, or despair that the soldier’s tragic story should elicit. Instead, clever tricks with chairs or moments of comic byplay elicit appreciative applause or chuckles, but no gasps, no tears, no outrage.

Woyzeck (performed by Jae-Won Kwon) is a soldier who by turns endures bullying, nightmares, medical experimentation, mockery, and his wife’s infidelity, and finally resorts to murder to exert some control over his surroundings. The cast uses small wooden chairs on an otherwise bare stage to help tell Woyzeck’s story. With the chairs, they evoke a prison cell, a hospital cot, a bed, even giant mugs of beer. At one point, as Woyzeck succumbs to terrible visions, the ten dancers surround him and spin their chairs on one leg, evoking a strange, pulsating forest.

Although the use of the chairs appears to have been thoroughly investigated during the rehearsal process, the same cannot be said of the movement itself. A sequence described as “humans as animals, animals as humans” was rich with possibility but yielded only a few brief imitations, such as three dancers mimicking a horse by whinnying and jokingly pawing the air with their hands.

Watching the story progress, the performance felt transparent; with each pose, with each interesting image, I kept thinking about the rehearsal process and how each image was discovered, rather than how they fit together to tell a story. As Woyzeck lay stretched rigidly across the backs of two chairs, helplessly awaiting medical examination, we wondered how long it would be before dancer Kwon tired and began to show strain, rather than how character Woyzeck would cope with the deranged doctor’s attentions.

Throughout the performance, this inability to suspend our reality and enter that of the play recurred; thus when Woyzeck at last spun out of control and murdered his adulterous wife, we could not empathize with either of them.

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