He Cried, He Howled, and Remembered the Horrors of the Day Before
Notes on A Dog Called Drama
May 27-29 Weld, Stockholm
I’ve known Pontus Pettersson for a few years now, being acquainted both to his work in dance and choreography, primarily with WELD as his home platform, and knowing his worked seated in more of a contemporary art realm, remembering his time pursuing a MFA at Konstfack. Pontus has always been a boundary-traversing artist; what you would more commonly call an interdisciplinary artist, but then in the more “true” or strict sense of it, with writing and words serving as a driving force through most of his work, in a capacity reaching beyond just the supplementary necessity of framing context. On that note his new work A Dog Called Drama like other works of his is an amalgamation, to use a fancy word in artspeak, stemming from auto fictional writing, knitted together with musical performance and dance. The ratio between dance and the other primary founding pillars of this new piece definitely leans away from dance, making this perhaps a more unorthodox staging in a niche venue as WELD which I can only imagine would appear refreshing for audience members populating WELD more frequently than I do. One fixture in A Dog Called Drama is the backstory of Pontus having began to play the accordion during the height of the pandemic; a fact that isn’t emphasized in any literal passage in the narration as I can remember but rather stresses a symbolic significance where air and breathing, and the act of closing and opening (up) is concerned.
From almost delivering his first line, Pontus is visibly emotional and you can really sense what a cathartic, if yet melancholic, release this must be for him. He looks the part and you can also feel it. He exudes vulnerability and that’s where the beauty of this work perhaps lies; not in the perfections but in the imperfections that have been allowed to make part, be it in his singing vocals or pronunciation. He sometimes overreaches beyond his own perfected register that creates a tender rapport with you; it’s never too slick or smug to override credibility as a seasoned performer going out on a lim. In fact, while watching, my mind shoots to the notion of seasoned performer taking a “final bow”, amping up the candor when there’s not much left to lose. Musically I also think of Laurie Anderson’s seminal Big Science from 1982 and a kinship there. At one point Pontus narrates a story of finding himself in Paris in 2015 after the second terrorist attack involving the music venue Bataclan; of being in Paris to perform and being confronted with the choice to either carry on a scheduled performance or let it be precluded by the recent events. This echoes with me who too was in Paris in the same day, figuring out whether watching art, “business as usual”, was the due act of “resistance” that some might have argued at the time or an insensitive and selfish indulgence. If that’s on the more existential and universal side of things, the narration while on some level seamless, in so far not feeling fragmented despite being so, definitely has a stretch from the carnally intimate (“I owned his manhood”) to moments that irresistibly recall of everyday wonders such that in real life are of the genre “blink and you will miss”. Take for instance his following a seal at play by the shore. The childlike joy of expressing that is touching. As things come to and end the seal is brought into view through Pontus’s movements in a final choreography. His mouth gagged with an egg, breathing thus constricted, to the beating pulse of a score that crafts that punch in a Sarah Kane play. An inevitable disruption of bodily peace and ease, no matter what you were “told” or were led to believe. It’s an effective end and for all the melancholia that goes through my system over the course of an hour, as I waltz down the stairs of the Odenplan metro on my way home, I’m singing “Rhythm of the night” (an altered and distorted version is played on stage). As I do I know that what I’ve just seen has latched on to me to the extent that on a Friday night, at the end of a long and busy art week, I’m not actually going to give myself the rest I was expecting, until this text has been written. A text that wasn’t anticipated or planned in the least but such that come out as the result of being uplifted and something or someone magically restoring energy reserves that were thought dry and below sub zero.