Brought to us by the culturally and financially rich community of Belgium’s Flemish sector in Brussels, an audience gathered at KaaiStudios for “Angry Girl”. Presented by WorkSpaceBrussels with text/performance/concept by Anneke Verstraete (BE, 1976), the story-telling performance was a combination of video, voice, and images. Scenography by Sven Roofthooft offered a reading nook/workspace setting that resembled a page from an interior design magazine. Fresh flowers were arranged in a vase atop the desk; a blanket was folded in the event audience members felt inclined to curl up at the feet of their storyteller, Verstraete. The narrative was quite simple, and it digested easily into the minds of the audience as the story unrolled.
The tale was of a pilgrimage of self-discovery about a girl who rubbed up against people and places that dissatisfied her, fueling her anger toward the world. Her name was Angry Girl and time and time again, “she took off”, a recurring page-ending phrase from Verstraete. Then one day she reached the sea after several failed escape attempts from her life. This is the point where the story– angry story– turns love story, and Angry Girl meets the “warm-hearted hero.” The sailor speaks to her “with little bruises on his voice.” Gone is her desire to once again “take-off.” Instead, she becomes a sea captain. Angry Girl is softened. She finds love and a career to call her own.
Each page in this entertaining story comes with a collaged illustration. Viewed from a live-video feed of the book on the desk, the audience sees what Verstraete sees. We watch as she turns the pages, paying specific attention when the camera zooms for a closer look at a scene in this “road-movie atmosphere.” Due to the simple word choice and repetitive nature of the author’s literary style, the feeling was that of a grown-up children’s book. It is no surprise that Verstraete has two forthcoming books for children.
Where the performance falls short is with “Lady-in-black-girl,” the second story told by Verstraete. This story was not the same as “Angry Girl” in content, but not dissimilar in rhythm and trajectory. “Lady-in-black-girl” discovers a boy “who had one of those faces that make you feel comfortable at once,” and the story wraps up with a fairytale ending when he says, “you look like a snow princess.” Happily ever after. The End. Audiences, now accustomed to Verstraete’s belabored English of “a foreigner trying to make use of this ‘worldwide’ language in a poetical way” and the tale’s direction, now habitual after hearing “Angry Girl”, knew what to expect. But the collages, stunning as they were, did not compensate for what was essentially the re-telling of a similar anecdote. Rather than dissecting the content of the second plot, perhaps it is better to question what further layers would have enhanced a performance which stemmed from the creation of a collage-illustrated story. “Angry Girl,” for all intents and purposes, is the definition of “performance art” – or better yet art + performance. However, the work certainly does not qualify as “dance” – one of the categories under which the performance was listed. In fact, aside from a moment when Verstraete stood and embellished the scenography with a hanging life-size paper cut-out of Angry Girl, there was no movement whatsoever, or any of the real challenge to movement that dance is liable to proffer. It very much felt that the body was not an element at work here, negating the possibility of it being considered dance.
Verstraete nevertheless created an engaging piece of art, the collage picture book and her accompanying text with which to present it in performance was poignant and light-hearted. While it was easy to follow and enjoy, one wonders if it was complex enough for audiences to remember as much more than “quite nice.” In general, the show called for stronger, more robust flavors than Verstraete was able to offer. Without several key additional ingredients, “Angry Girl” risks failing audiences in this digital age of the remarkable way live performance visually imprints on the mind like few other art forms can.