Telling stories without using words has advantages if the subject matter is explosive.
AKHE, a physical theatre troupe from Saint Petersburg, Russia, wordlessly discusses the death of nations and cultures in its latest production, The White Cabin.
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Fresh from a hugely successful British tour, this three-person troupe uses stage acrobatics and multimedia to produce a harrowing show about fear and soul searching.
“We did not expect such a positive reception outside Russia,” says AKHE cofounder Maxim Isaev, by phone from Vancouver. “The audience creates the story in its mind. Viewers must engage. Here they cannot just sit back and be told what to think.”
This production has a darkly exotic atmosphere, dimly lit with screens projecting photos. Performers in scary clown garb bounce around and react to each other with highly refined athletics and stage acting. This approach may sound like mimes let loose in a Beckett play, but it’s actually a well-established stage genre, called Russian Engineering Theatre.
In RET, space, light and sound are assembled by operators (the actors) to create a machine that produces meaning. This method gives the performers a chance to tackle ticklish subject matter, like immigration and how you think it affects your country.
“We are not inventing this discussion. It’s already in full force,” says Isaev. “There is immigration and there is apathy. There is fear of cultures being diluted by immigration, and fears of people in host nations not caring enough to confront the diluting influence of immigrants. This is ironic.”
Much racist thought is ironically self-contradictory, like the idea that Jewish people are both bankers and socialists, or how Canadians are both peace-lovers and hockey enforcers. These are lazy minded, fear-based concepts that will eventually smash into each other if you take them to their natural conclusions. Exploring these ironic fears with conventional language and plots can be dangerous, though, because the context may be misconstrued, or fumbled by the performer.
“The production is not only dark,” says Isaev. “There is comedy and tenderness as well. The mind puts lightness into situations.”