A horrible mix-up took place at BAM last week. While the National Ballet of China was performing at the Opera House, some members of what is apparently its white European wing got lost, wandered onto the nearby BAM Harvey stage, and took the places of a German troupe, from Berlin’s Deutsches Theater, that was supposed to be performing Lessing’s Emilia Galotti. At least, what went on at the Harvey certainly looked more like a Chinese ballet than a production of Emilia Galotti. There was Chinese movie music (mostly interminable repetitions of a tacky waltz theme from Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love); there were dislocated, endlessly repeated gestures that suggested some Delsarte-like system, remote from Western culture, for conveying emotion. The alternatives to this were writhing on the floor and screaming; screaming violently while standing nose to nose with another performer; or babbling what was alleged to be German (but sounded more like Chinese) in an incomprehensible top-speed monotone.
When not screaming in each other’s faces or repeating their mechanized gestures, the players stood facing front, stonily expressionless, even when supposedly conversing with each other. At one or two points in the latter half of the unendurably long 75-minute event, the performers forgot themselves sufficiently to indicate that they might be capable actors who understood some of the salient points of Lessing’s play. But as neither the bulk of his text nor the gist of his drama was conveyed to the audience, these flickering attempts to escape from the dimwitted tyranny of Michael Thalheimer’s direction were of little use.