Okay, okay: hear us out. Yes, the term “theatrical poem” might not appeal to everyone at first. Yes, it sounds a little pretentious. And sure, that might play into some people’s unfounded opinions about theatre. But it also aptly describes this unique work by Modern Times Stage Company in association with several dance companies: Bora Bora, Don*Gnu, Laboratoriet, and Dreamwalker Dance Company.
At the very beginning of Forgiveness: a theatrical poem, on stage at the Great Hall’s Black Box Theatre for a limited time, the show’s five performers, three male and two female, end up in an all-out brawl—the traumatic event or argument that makes forgiveness necessary. What ensues is an in-depth exploration of all the messy things that come with it: the role played by time, the nature of the people being forgiven and doing the forgiving, the fact that some can forgive and others cannot, and the question of whether true forgiveness is even possible at all. Director Soheil Parsa, writers Peter Farbridge and Barbara Simonsen, and the choreographing team of Don*Gnu use various physical and spoken sequences to explore the many dimensions of forgiveness—indeed, an attempt to capture this layered perspective without the poetry would fail.
In one memorable moment, dancer Andrea Nann plays a journalist who kills herself after discovering her own family’s involvement in the Khmer Rouge genocide. In another, a sequence with performer Jannik Elkaer Nielsen, Kristoffer Louis Andrup Pedersen, and Farbridge, she demonstrates the rare capacity of people like Nelson Mandela, for example, to absolutely forgive those who have committed acts that, to most of us, would be absolutely unforgivable.
The piece can work just as well when it’s having fun with forgiveness: at one point, the four performers wax poetic about their personal beliefs on the subject, and Nann quietly and slowly ends up in a headstand before whining, “Why are we here?” It’s a funny and gratifying moment that admits the absurdity of trying to agree on one particular perspective on forgiveness, which each person experiences and expresses differently.
Even the less successful and emotionally gripping chapters in Forgiveness present interesting angles on the theme. Forgiveness is not only something that everyone can relate to—it’s something that everyone relates to deep, deep down. Parsa and his collaborators have tapped into the shared but varied experiences of the act and the feeling, and they’ve done so in a way that’s smart, cryptic, general, and yet extremely personal.