Tragicomic Throwdown: Dada von Bzdülöws Factor T.by April Greene
Life is full of conflicts. Most of us take this for granted. Some of us, like Stefan Themerson, write essays about it. And others, like Dada von Bzdülöw, make dances about essays about it.
The fifteen-year-old dance company from Gdansk, Poland began work on Factor T., a “theatrical interpretation” of Themerson’s 1956 essay of the same title, in 2006. The Polish and British author’s dissertation describes the central human conflict as our benevolent and loving leanings running into violent actions when our “gastronomic (and sexual?) urges cannot be fulfilled without the killing of members of [our] own kind, or members of other, related species.” He tells us that this is not a dramatic conflict—rather it is an unavoidable, and therefore tragic, conflict. He names it Factor T.
Dada von Bzdülöw shows us a few incarnations of this Factor T. nested in their show, which received its New York premiere early last month at Danspace Project. Starting October 3rd’s eighty-minute performance, Rafał Dziemidok took to the floor wearing just slacks and suspenders. He was followed from different corners of the room by company founders Leszek Bzdyl and Katarzyna Chmielewska and Philadelphia-based dancer Bethany Formica, all in simple pants and t-shirts. They spent twenty minutes walking, pushing, shoving, and falling into each other just in front of, and sometimes nearly into, the audience, who were seated in-the-round. They split into pairs and carried each other haphazardly (even at times the very tall and big Dziemidok in the arms of the lean Chmielewska), they wrestled and rolled to intermittent silence and ambient music, and at the end of the scene launched into a few minutes of synchronous leaps and falls.
Without curtains to draw or a backstage to easily slip into, the company relied on light and music changes to flow one phase of the dance into the next. After the first such mood transition, Bzdyl hung a linen bag holding bricks of ice from a rope on a pulley on one side of the stage, and Dziemidok dressed himself methodically in a three-piece suit on another. As the ice melted and dripped on the floor, Dziemidok took advantage of the break from intense physicality to talk to the audience about philosophy, etymology, and human nature, briefly touching on religion to mention, humorously and touchingly, that “Jesus was way cool. Everyone wanted to hang out with Jesus.” A vignette followed in which the dancers, having dressed themselves in view of the audience in 1920s fashions, revisited their earlier relationship patterns of sparring and bandying. Chmielewska hit Bzdyl in the face and sent him rolling backward; she pushed him around with her heeled boot.
Before the final scene, other smaller segments broke up the longer sketches and the dancers’ fierce, dense interactions. Paper airplanes flew from the rafters; the dancers handed everyone seated in one row a long knife to hold; they sat in the few empty seats around the stage and chatted with the crowd. But in the end, the company cohered again and dominated the floor as they previously had one another: formica ran in circles, laughing, with two big red medicine balls held against her chest like inflated breasts while Bzdyl madly pedaled a stationary bicycle with a generator headlamp in a far-off corner and yelled like a madman. There was a sweeping tornado of movement, clothes flying, lights flashing, libretto, gymnastics. Then everything went dark.
Factor T. displays unavoidable conflict in many mirrors. Conflict between and among people, between fun and fear, chaos and coincidence. Fun but not lighthearted, it succeeds in showing the story of our constant, dynamic, futile but festive struggle to reconcile.
April Greene, the Rail's dance editor, lives, writes, and bikes in Brooklyn.