Summerhall, Edinburgh, UK; August 18, 2014

David Mead

Carlo Massari and Chiara Taviani in 'Maria Addolorata'.  Photo © Alex Brenner

Carlo Massari and Chiara Taviani in ‘Maria Addolorata’.
Photo © Alex Brenner

“Pain will move you”, says the programme note, and there is a lot of pain, physical and psychological, in C&C Company’s “Maria Addolorata” (Our Lady of Sorrows), but there’s also a great deal of excellent theatre, outstanding dance, and the occasional surprise. It’s easy to see how this totally engaging piece of physical theatre has picked up four major awards in Europe this year.

Carlo Massari and Chiara Taviani aim to analyse interpersonal relationships in performance free from what they call ‘superstructures’. “Maria Addolorata” follows that idea. While the work has distinct scenes, some of which have hints of narrative, there is no overall structure, no linear story. Instead, it constantly shifts, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically, the couple never persisting with an idea long enough that it loses impact. And all the time there is more than a suggestion of the truth and reality of suffering in a sparky combination of words, gesture, and great dance.

The audience walk in to be greeted by the sight of a man standing holding a case of cans of beer. Surprise number one is that he actually turns out to be the technician, but that beer does get opened and drunk as the next forty minutes progresses. Behind him are two slightly odd, almost weird, doll-like old folks. There’s something about their expression that suggests a funeral, and an even stronger sense that all may not be what it seems. Indeed it’s not, as Massari and Taviani ‘drop’ out of their costumes, like reptiles suddenly shedding their skin, the clothes remaining on stands and overseeing what happens like ghosts lurking in the background.

Is what follows dance punctuated by theatre, or theatre punctuated by dance? I’m not sure, although it is the physicality of the whole thing that lives in the memory. Early on, the two dancers have a conversation in movement, but it is as if the movement is sign language. Every gesture has meaning, though precisely what we are not privy to. There’s a lot of repeated sudden dropping to the floor, often to the knees, often done so heavily that it had me wincing. It was as if the self-infliction of pain was actually a way of soothing some form of other inner suffering.

'Maria Addolorata' Photo © Alex Brenner

‘Maria Addolorata’
Photo © Alex Brenner

Later, there is some fast unison work that was impressively together, and a lot of throwing themselves at one another. Every catch was absolutely secure. All the time there is a sense that both dancers – Massari especially – are somehow ‘on the edge’. There’s a chase round the stage during which both strip off to white vests and the skimpiest of blue shorts. Later both go to briefs only in what can be seen as some sort of metaphorical and literal stripping away and baring of the soul. Every so often, there’s a pause, time for a little relief from all the pain, time for another beer.

At the end, Taviani holds his Massari’s in her arms. They have suffered, and their bloodied bodies have the marks to prove it. But even in these more tender moments there’s no escaping the torment and travails going on inside.

“Maria Addolorata” is the first of a planned “Trilogy of Pain”. The second, “Tristissimo”, based on Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde” is almost finished and will be seen in Paris next month, and will be in Edinburgh in February 2015. If it’s as good as this, I can’t wait!