Laughter, a site of trauma
As we exit the auditorium for a short alcoholic break, an elderly woman flaunting a short and expensive dress, approaches my friend and asks…
Young lady, do you know what this piece is about?
My friend, who knew what the piece was about, but did not necessarily know about who, hesitantly replies,
What is it about?
The woman smirks to herself and confidently says,
This work is based on Nazi Germany, Pina was very brave to have made it in the time that she did- so I don’t find it very funny, and perhaps that is why you were one of the few who was laughing… You are too young to know what this piece is about – so bear this in mind when you go back.
And with that, she struts off, as my friend apologises if she had insulted her in anyway.
We gradually approach Mark Cousins, a historian and theorist, to who the experience is recounted. He in turn, who seems to have had a laughing fit or two of his own, exclaims,
Why, you should have told her: ‘Don’t be silly! This piece isn’t about Nazi Germany, it is about what’s going on in Iraq, in fact it’s about ISIS!’
Everyone present bursts out in laughter.
If we were to delve into details, the piece we saw, with its lyrical title – Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört, On A Mountain A Cry Was Heard – draws its title from the story of Herod, from the gospel of Matthew. Herod, a jealous tyrant (and psychopath), decided to have all the two year olds, in Bethlehem, murdered. Fear got the best of him, as he heard of the prophecy regarding baby Jesus, which if fulfilled would have ended his reign.
So the cries from the mountaintops that we heard throughout the performance, amidst a forest of pine trees, smoke and a stage covered in dirt, may have been the shrieks of dying infants, of a massacre, perhaps.
Whether the death of a multitude or of one, the piece also shows us the world of the sadomasochist, who cages himself in a realm of repetitive torture, which funnily at times evokes a breath of pleasure as well.
His, her and their absurd nature evokes our intuitive reaction to laugh. But… is it really that absurd?
Some reported that there was nothing quite earnest about the audience’s laughter. Frankly, all I remember is laughing without any restraint, hysterically, but uncannily charged with memory.
So, why the laughter? What happens in this moment when our mouths open, where we expose our deepest, most innate reactions? We begin to recognise and re-cognise our own behaviour as we exit this site of trauma, realising we have been utterly incapacitated in a paralysis of laughter, quite literally. As the sound dies out, I see one begin to cry, a veil of sadness marking his face. Is he crying because the scene had suddenly become less comic, or did he grasp the extents of his own mental lability that he is too ashamed to expose?
The cry may have been a shriek, it could have been a calling, and it could have also been a giggle… The mountaintop accommodates many purposes. It also gives us perspective onto our lives and onto that of our beloved society.
What comes to mind is a story I once heard, of a friend’s grandmother who survived the hell of Auschwitz. As her and her mother were tortured from one day to the next; she, then a young girl, would go to her beaten mother’s side, at the end of the day and bravely tell her a joke. Their laughter became the only thing that could overtake the pain, even if it was just for a moment. Today, the old woman says, the only thing they had left was humour, for without humour they would have been lost.
Pina once said something along the lines of… when one person expresses something out loud; it belongs to all of us.
When we laugh, we don’t simply laugh because indeed it is funny, but because if we don’t laugh, we gradually erase those moments where we may have allowed ourselves and those surrounding us to feel hope.
Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört (On the Mountain A Cry Was Heard)
A piece by Pina Bausch
Director and Choreographer: Pina Bausch
Set Design: Peter Pabst
Costume Design: Marion Cito
Collaboration: Hans Pop
Musical Collaboration: Matthias Burkert
Dramaturgy/Dramatic Advisor: Raimund Hoghe
Tommy Dorsay, Billie Holiday, Henry PurceIl, Heinrich Schütz, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Hodges, Fred Astaire, Edith Piaf, Boris Vian, Irish bagpipe music, An Orchestra of Senior Musicians
Premiere 13 Mai 1984, Schauspielhaus Wuppertal
Rehearsal directors: Bénédicte Billiet, Matthias Burkert, Lutz Förster, Julie Shanahan
Pablo Aran Gimeno, Rainer Behr, Andrey Berezin, Aleš Čuček, Cagdas Ermis, Lutz Förster, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Scott Jennings, Nayoung Kim, Dominique Mercy, Blanca Noguerol Ramirez, Breanna O’Mara, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon, Jorge Puerta Armenta, Jean-Laurent Sasportes, Franko Schmidt, Azusa Seyama, Michael Strecker, Fernando Suels Mendoza, Tsai-Wei Tien, Anna Wehsarg, Paul White, Ophelia Young, Tsai-Chin Yu