Philosophical Trip With A Maelstrom Of Images And Ideas
Fleur Bokhoven

Ivana Müller makes investigative and uncompromising theatre, scrutinizing many concepts and ideas that are usually taken for granted. In ‘While We Were Holding It Together’, a tribute to the power of the imagination, she subjects notions such as body, mind and the relationship between the two to a closer inspection. This results in a poetic, humoristic and philosophical production that draws the audience into Müller’s personal crystal clear logic.
Out of the pitch dark, two female and three male silhouettes in static poses emerge: a tableau vivant. Who are they? What are they doing there? One by one, the actors share their thoughts on the situation to the public. Through these reflections, the group transforms into a family having a picnic in the forest, into a revolutionary cell, into inhabitants of the Alps, including their too tight lederhosen. ‘While We Were Holding It Together’ is a game of ‘guess what this is’ quadrupled: the text keeps shedding a different light on the image and compels the audience to keep embracing a different interpretation of the scene.
The actors – Katja Dreyer, Pere Faura, Karen Røise Kielland, Stefan Rokebrand and Jefta van Dinther – do not play ready-made protagonists. The extremely precise and finely tuned text succeeds in melding the fragmentary composition into a resounding whole. A wildly diverse flurry of thoughts shoot past the audience, from heroic to despairing thoughts and from sexual longings to an existential fear of death. Initially it seems like merely an accumulation of apparently haphazard and disconnected ideas but soon storylines begin to emerge and the production attains an unanticipated depth and complexity.
In playing with conceptualisation, the production also becomes a treatment of the power of the imagination and sensory experience. Using an incessant flow of text snippets, the fantasy of the audience is stimulated and a story is constructed in a very subtle way. Müller works in a very associative way to achieve this effect. After an exchange of ideas about war and violence, exploding bombs and the firing of guns is audible. The audience finds itself trapped in a crossfire under a barrage of imaginary bullets, until a screeching piece of fireworks shatters this illusion. In this fashion Müller continuously misleads the audience and plays with our expectations.
During the show shifts occur continuously within the tableau vivant. Actors change position, women and men swap stances and even voices are exchanged. All cohesion starts to disintegrate and slowly but surely the piece is derailed. This leads to very comical situations but more importantly, Müller raises a number of existential questions such as ‘What or who are you?’ and ‘What constitutes an identity?’ Thoughts take on a life of their own, independent of the bodies of the actors, and are dislocated from the physical plane altogether. Both are represented as independent entities. Is ‘I’ your physical appearance, or rather your immaterial thinking? With this approach Müller broaches in a remarkably comical and clever way an essential issue in the western philosophical tradition. As such, ‘While We Were Holding It Together’ is a continuation of previous productions such as ‘How Heavy Are My Thoughts?’ – in which she asked herself if serious thoughts cause one to have a heavier head – and ‘Under My Skin’ – a guided tour through her own body. In these performances she also explored in a theatrical setting concepts such as the body, thought and representation.
In spite of the strong theoretical slant, Müller manages to prevent ‘While We Were Holding It Together’ from collapsing under too many serious thoughts. Her appealingly blunt questions create fresh and entertaining theatre. Müller takes the audience by the hand on a fantastical philosophical trip, where dizzying ideas pass through emotional poignancy to culminate in a hearty laugh.