Hanneke Kuijpers is a people-watcher. She starts her show with an assessment of her audience, done with enough warmth and interest that it feels like flattery; and she describes a series of love affairs, involving liaisons and break-ups with both men and women. But having spent so long examining other people’s lives, Kuijpers decided that one life of her own wasn’t enough. So, she’s spent the last few years on an intriguing project… producing visual art under the guise of seven entirely invented identities.
Kuijpers’ personality – or at least, the personality she presents to us – is at once engaging and hesitant, seeking our support for her journey through life and for her personal manifesto. Her seven alter egos are deliberately contradictory, and while we don’t hear a great deal about them, we do start to understand the basics of her fractured approach to her art. She transforms physically during the performance, and breaks off into frequent set-pieces, performed within a disturbing warped metal cube. Thanks to frequent use of some creative technical tricks, the best of these scenes have an almost mesmeric feel.
But she lost me somewhere along the way. The over-arching narrative is obscured by an overly episodic delivery, and I was often unsure whether we were in the presence of the real Hanneke Kuijpers or one of her many creations. I’m not even sure if the back-story’s actually true: after all, Kuijpers takes pains to point out that “nothing is what it seems”.
At one point she announces “This is real”, before launching into an extremely dark (and profoundly affecting) scene. For her sake, I hope that part of the narrative wasn’t real. But even if it’s a genuine personal story, inevitably painful to tell, I felt it either needed to be developed further or else left out altogether. It’s not the kind of thing it feels right to mention and then just move on.
Those specifics aside, my main concern about Ego 1.04 is that it’s more of an essay than a performance. The physical imagery – though executed with commitment – comes across as an uncomfortable adjunct to a wordy and high-concept script. I’d be more than happy to listen to a lecture about Kuijpers’ artistic experiment, or alternatively, to watch a play based on the story of her life. This, however, is neither one thing nor the other.
Still, it’s a fascinating concept, and an hour in Kuijpers’ company is undoubtedly time well spent. Towards the end, as she begins to play with the form of her own production and subvert the expectations of her audience, there’s a hint of a genuinely mind-expanding show waiting to emerge. So, I’m not completely won over by Ego 1.04… but I’ll be keeping an eye out for version 1.05.