A drop of fire, over and over again

The upshot of Stan’s and Rosas’ co-production, nusch , is a pure and sensitive theatre experience that stays with you.

Tg Stan is performing at home, not in an auditorium but in its rehearsal space. The public pulls up a chair at an outsize table. It seats 28. Frank Vercruyssen fills the glasses, says something about the type of grape and the wine producer and continues unobtrusively to recite disconnected words.

How many adjectives does a man need to describe a woman?

It depends on how unique the woman is and on the man’s command of the language. In this case it is rather better than average. The writer is Paul Eluard, an infamous surrealist, but above all a gifted formulator of sensations that pass the average human being by. The subject of his fascination is the woman he loves, Nusch, and he puts her on a pedestal.

The table is a stage and that stage is home to a dancer. At the première this was Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker; later on in the series other Rosas dancers take over. Sometimes she lies outstretched, as if asleep, sometimes she sits on the edge of the table. Sitting on her knees, she leans over. There are sculptures in that pose, by George Minne and Wilhelm Lehmbruck, for example. And she looks just as fragile.

This body is receptive. It is the canvas onto which the words are projected. So many adjectives for one person; she must be surprised. She is directional, the pivot around which everything revolves, the haven to which everything returns. Many of Eluard’s poems are structured in that way. A whole spectrum of observations converge and fill the individual to overflowing. That individual absorbs the impressions which penetrate to the deepest fibres. Eluard puts it so much more beautifully: "How the daylight penetrates to the deepest depth of my eyes."

Frank Vercruyssen moves unspectacularly round the table, sometimes within view, sometimes behind the backs of his audience. He unzips the poetical jacket of the verses and takes out ideas. They are beautiful, pure and intense. Sometimes the flow of ideas goes too quickly (our brains too slowly), but after a while the rhythm of speech and thought fall into step again.

In accordance with the ancient collage technique, Vercruyssen and Judith Davis arranged their poems first around a female speaker and then a male speaker, before switching to a love lyric. It becomes impassioned, fortifies and determines the focus, "like a sun which agrees to happiness". When the words stop, the dancing body finds freedom. It is chaste, shuffles, wavers but it also turns resolute spirals and kicks. Her eyes are often closed. When they look at the speaker, they don’t seem to see him.

A couple of times Vercruyssen and De Keersmaeker come physically close. She clasps a pillar; he stops her from falling. On another occasion they touch briefly. So much love, and yet so little contact. Is she really there? Or is she a sculpture? A memory?

Then she leaves. The date is spoken (28/11/1946) and sounds cold amidst so much poetry. It is the day Nusch died. Suddenly. Of a brain haemorrhage. From now on the lines betray desperation. Each sentence endeavours to convey the loss, with the same courageous futility found in PF Thomése’s ‘Shadow Child’. "I have stumbled," the man says, "over your absence".

The audience came together around an intimate dining-table. Or was it a coffee table?

Nusch is extremely simple in structure. Ordinary, pure and poignant. The play joins the little club of productions now known not as a performance, but an experience. A lasting experience. “A drop of fire, over and over again."

De Standaard, Geert Sels, December 6th 2006