Why things go wrong

420PEOPLE / Sylva Šafková

In WHY THINGS GO WRONG, two men in tweed suits enact a clown-like parody of the 21st-century asshole. Sylva Šafková’s choreography creates rubbery caricatures of queue jumpers, schoolyard bullies and miserly narcissists. Distorted in the fun-house mirror that hangs above the stage, Michal Herman and Viktor Konvalinka dance around as the rule-makers and rule-breakers that run our world.

The sober tone of Jiří Šafka’s text is interspersed throughout the work. Although it condemns the self-interest and apathy of humankind as the cause of social dysfunction and even crimes against humanity, Heriban and Konvalinka’s playful performance does not convincingly illustrate this story. The melodramatic score, and the tender elasticity of the choreography, instead generate two delicate characters that are sympathetic as much as they are despicable.

Heriban and Konvalinka emerge at the end of the performance covered in rose-gold glitter. Although vaguely reptilian, their shimmering vulnerability obscures the sense that anything is actually going wrong, and whether these two assholes are really to blame.

Luke Macaronas

There are several reasons why things go wrong for this problematic Czech duet inspired by Aron James’ book Assholes: A Theory. Michal Heriban and Viktor Konvalinka – one darkly bearded, the other bald, both in subdued plaid suits – start out gesturing atop a pool of coppery glitter spread beneath tilted and distorting reflective panels. Their tumbling, occasionally unison negotiations prove how adept these dancers are. Spurts of contemporary music aside, the soundtrack mainly features a sporadic male voiceover analysing what a social or behavioural asshole is and does. The text is smartly acerbic, but just how well it illuminates Sylva Safkova’s choreography – or vice-versa – is a sticking point. The performance looks handsome, even arresting. It’s professional, polished, far from stupid but also overextended, arbitrary and bland. Crucially, clarity of purpose and cogency are absent. The men’s more overt power games are sprinkled with suggestions of isolation and distress versus ego-driven, narcissistic and retaliatory tactics. But nothing strikes home or hits deep. It’s a case of style over substance literally done with smoke and mirrors.

Donald Hutera

Advantage is the crux of the so-called ‘asshole theory’, doled out to us in Sylva Šafková’s work for 420PEOPLE via voiceover: it doesn’t matter what your actions will do to others as long as they allow you to dominate them. But does Šafková let us find the relevance of the choreography performed by the two male dancers clad in checked suits? Not necessarily. We see mechanical movement passages inspired by the idea of efficiency, partnering parts based on vehemence and objectification, and lyrical sequences played out mainly on the floor. Alas this variety of qualities acts against the clarity of the concept introduced in the text.

The performance is visually alluring. Unfortunately both the gold glitter covering the back of the stage, as well as the play of lights diffused by a large overhead mirror, are not at all justified by the subject matter. Nevertheless the audience can consider the piece interesting as one from quite a few festival propositions tackling the issue of masculinity.

Zuzanna Berendt

At the top of Sylva Šafková’s male duet a deadpan, caustic voiceover describes, in detail, just what constitutes ‘an asshole’. The work’s sound and movement content feel so strikingly disconnected, however, that almost anything else might’ve accompanied the plaid-suited men at its centre.

Their skill renders the transition from small-gestured, sharp-angled synchronisations at the start to the liquid, lyrical partnering of the second half. But the juxtaposition of the scenes is more confusing than convincing, and the piece imparts an unfortunate sensation of trying to cram as much as possible into its 50 minutes.

Caught between the ostentatious effect of the tilted, distorting ceiling mirror and a thick carpet of copper-red glitter, any narrative or understanding of the relationship between the men is lost. Towards the end they kick up, roll and writhe in sprays and flurries of glitter – a complete distraction from whatever the voiceover is continuing to communicate. Ultimately Why things go wrong bombards us with flashy information, and in the process leaves us struggling to find its intended meaning.

Simina Popescu