Hatch at NEAT11: Reshuffling The Deck Of Identity Cards: Gabriele Reuter’s Tourist

It probably says a lot about the nature of Hatch that tonight marked a genuine first for the organisation: a conventional hour long performance that took place, by itself, on a stage area inside a regular performance venue. For most people this would be entirely unexceptional but for Hatch it’s actually something of a daring experiment. Clearly, as we pass the halfway point in the Hatch: NEAT programme, it’s time to shake things up a bit.

That shake-up encompassed more than just the presentation, too, since tonight’s offering, Gabriele Reuter‘s Tourist, not only introduced us to the cover star whose image had already become very familiar from the Hatch: NEAT flyers handed out at previous events, but also played a few games with definitions of identity itself, the theme that had threaded all those earlier events together.

Identity here is not about personal grounding in a particular culture or language but inhabiting stereotypes of various kinds. After beginning with a gust of wind, a flurry of snow and the appearance of a baffled arctic explorer on the stage, who looks around, then goes back behind the screen, three women emerge, each dressed in black trousers and vest, the generic uniform of contemporary dance: a uniform that erases the international make-up of most dance companies and reduces each member to a body and a series of movements. 

This means that in most productions, the fact that four identically dressed dancers might be German, Italian, British (or even from Mars) is rendered irrelevant. In Tourist, that tendency is put at the centre as three women attempt to communicate with each other through mimed movement and pre-linguistic sounds: they mime building obstacles to perform around, whimper, mimic drips of water or ticking clocks. Identity becomes the way all three are strangers on this stage and to one another.

This mimed sequence gives way to another gust of wind, sending all three tumbling offstage only to re-emerge as three characters plucked straight from a Boy’s Own annual or a 1940s Abbott & Costello comedy: a parachutist, a desert soldier and that arctic explorer we’d seen at the beginning (interestingly, the costumes suggest a link with some of Chris Dobrowolski‘s old toys, as seen during Poland 3 Iran 2). Now they begin to speak, to the audience and to one another, but while the language has all the form of speech there’s none of the content. We hear the emphasis and inflections, even the accents, but the actual words make no sense.

Within this framework, the characters change identities.  Jane Leaney’s female desert soldier disappears and then returns as Hetain Patel, while Julieta Figueroa’s Elvis-approximating arctic explorer becomes a kind of chorus, stripped of her costume. Reuter drags her silk parachute behind her like a bridal train but later returns to her neutral role as a generic dancer. While these multiple identities shift and slip, a series of broad, gently comic routines unfolds, often rooted (perhaps the anachronistic costumes allude to this?) in silent-era film comedy.

It’s certainly thoughtfully constructed, and there are moments when the light tone deepens a little, as in the closing sequence, where language finally becomes legible and a description of the performance’s location begins with the backstage area, moves outside the building, through Broadmarsh Centre, circles around the city and gradually – passing between the voices of all four performers – moves off into the countryside before telling a story about a receptionist, ‘working late in a grey office block with lots of windows on the edge of a village’ as she goes up in an elevator, along a corridor, then enters a room… 

Just as we reach what appears to be the beginning of this story, the performance concludes, having made its way from mime to language, broad stereotypes to the single defined character of that receptionist: and likewise from the alien space of the empty stage to the tentative beginnings of a different kind of performance altogether. The insubstantial, sketchy feel implicit throughout Tourist is a conceptual plus, seeming to reflect the way we can often find ourselves drifting as we tentatively seek anchors in strange locations, but also a quality that excludes much potential for strong investment in its characters and scenarios.

Yet it’s also in the nature of Tourist to change those characters from one show to the next, always adding a guest performer from the city it’s being presented in, and changing its details to fit each new set of circumstances. In this sense, it’s a very deliberately tentative and uncertain performance, and one that perfectly fits the restless, provisional ethos of Hatch. With the final weekend coming up (including a horsey double-bill at the Playhouse and a return to Wellington Circus) I like to think of Tourist as a gentle breeze reshuffling the Hatch: Neat deck of identity cards to ensure things can go anywhere from here.

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