By Sara G. Levin
Life is River, Death is Sea, Delta is Human, reads the introduction to Delta, a new physical theater work by Bulgarian director Petar Todorov and Slovenian choreographer Gregor Kamnikar showing at La MaMas Annex.
The show reveals three actresses in raw emotional stages of suffering. They heave convulsively, then suddenly unleash blood-curdling screams, and randomly tense their bodies in fear. During Delta, these emotional fits kept steering my mind to a different word taken from the ancient Greek lexicon: hysteria.
The word derives from hystera, or womb, and originally described nervous disorders thought to be caused by diseases in female reproductive organs. As such, rages of seemingly unprovoked emotion crying hysterically for example have been long associated with femininity. Freud reshaped this idea slightly when he described case after case of young women with psychotic episodes said to be caused by the repression of memories of sexual molestation. But the notion persists that women suffer from sexual pain internally, causing random outbursts of raw, uncontrolled surprising emotion.
Like Freuds famous hysteria patient, Dora, the women in Delta Desislava Mincheva, Lyudmila Miteva and well-known Bulgarian actress Toni Pashova are tortured by invisible forces. Their raptures are intense, long, and animal-like. Screams that evoke the pleasures of an orgasm might turn into coughing, sounds of suffocation, or cries of desperation.
All the women are isolated in their own dark reveries, as they take turns acting out physical monologues and the other two watch silently. The audience receives no notion of their background or any hint of the cause of their torture.
The work is intended, according to Todorov, as an investigation into the relationship three women of different ages have to the moment of death. Each actress progressed through improvisation to string together responses to the idea of dying.
The raw simplicity of the performance could be a reflection of the Balkan artists recent move to a performance residency in rural Bulgaria. The work was developed in the remote town of Bostina, where Todorov and Mincheva established the Pro Rodopi Arts Centre for physical theater in 2004. It is a unique opportunity in Bulgaria for artists to take part in residencies and develop work in the countryside.
Todorov and Kamnikar are part of an experimental theatrical movement in a country where the tradition is relatively new, a departure from the classical traditions enforced by communist-led governments through the 1980s. Unfotunately, although this recent work is powerful and embarrassingly shocking for the audience, it doesnt evolve far beyond impulse.
There is a beautiful ending, when the three actresses link hands draped under a red scarf (a blood connection?) and slowly step through a simple folk dance. Contrasted against a soundtrack of harsh techno, their quiet steps make a larger impression than earlier shrieks and gasps. But if the linking of arms is a showing of sisterly unity, it seems somewhat contrived, considering in abutting segments none of the women reached out a hand to interact with their sisters during their emotional fits.
Surprisingly, for such a progressive theater group, the ending image seemed to reinforce the idea that what unites these women is their uncontrolled hysterical impulse.