Jo Strømgren Kompani: The Society

The Society, photo by Knut Bry, March 2008

In Jo Strømgren’s The Society, presented by PS 122 this week at the intimate Abrons Arts Center, three Frenchman don’t just drink coffee. They worship it. Their ritualistic routine – cleaning cups and saucers, grinding beans, inhaling the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, savoring each sip, and comparing different roasts – is undoubtedly fueled by caffeine-induced jitteriness, but it also parodies French mannerisms and European coffee culture. The worshipping comes to a dramatic halt when the three comrades discover a used teabag in a table drawer. Accusations fly and ridiculous torture ensues in the form of electrocution and burning from a heat lamp – all to discover who the traitor is. Things take a turn for the worse when the men notice red chopsticks “mingling” with their cups and saucers, followed by a host of symbols that suggest a Chinese cultural infiltration. This is no longer a battle between coffee beans and tea leaves. The Society is Strømgren’s examination of extreme ethnocentrism, brilliantly conveyed by utilizing every thinkable Asian and European stereotype. Nonsensical language plays a critical role here, emphasizing inflection and linguistic stereotypes of different regions. With such effective gibberish, The Society can be performed anywhere because it simply avoids the issue of language barriers. The program even states, “For all audiences: the performers do not even know themselves what is being said on stage. So please do not panic” (I don’t think anyone did).

The Society, photo by Knut Bry, March 2008

Dance interludes that are scattered throughout the piece serve mainly as humorous portrayals of the men’s more refined European selves. As one of the performers explains, “Dancing is the European way of showing feelings”. Suits, ties, and shoes limit their movement in the first few dances, but the men shed their clothing as the Chinese infiltration intensifies, allowing them to more freely and easily express anxiety and fear. The performers stay in character as they dance – moving rather clumsily or frantically – without appearing to be skilled or technically strong, although I think they are. The dancing could have been more thoroughly integrated into the theatrics, and it would have been interesting to see dance convey the deeper theme of culture clash rather than serving as comic relief. Nevertheless, Strømgren’s inventive combination of physical theatre and nonsensical language, for which he is known, is remarkably successful.

The Society is absurd, clever, humorous, and tragic. A world in which coffee and tea drinkers cannot peacefully coexist is scary, but even scarier are the implications this has for the world at large. If beverage conflicts lead to torture, what else will?

Performances continue tonight at 8:30 PM and Sunday at 6:30 PM. Ticket discounts are available by using code FF15 for $15 single tickets, or code FF241 for $10 tickets when you buy two or more online. Or mention your code by phone at 212-352-3101.

The Society, photo by Knut Bry, March 2008

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4 Responses to Jo Strømgren Kompani: The Society

  1. emily hancock says:

    does the play continue after 10/19?
    If so, what nights and times?



  2. Evan says:

    Hi Emily,

    The Society’s last performance in NYC was on the 19th. They’ll be in Pittsburgh on the 23rd and 24th and then back to Norway. Here’s their full schedule:

    If you missed them, hopefully you can catch JSK next time they’re in NYC. I’m sure they’ll return soon.

  3. Pingback: The Best of 2008 « Dancing Perfectly Free

  4. anita says:

    I watched the performance in NYC, about a year ago.

    Brilliant work! I’m a performing artist as well and got deeply inspired by the work!

    Thank you.


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