February 24

Basic needs in the modern world: Debris company performed Hamsun’s “Hunger” at A4

Our EVS Volunteer Olha visited a Debris company play Hunger. What did she think? Read further

The main idea of the Debris company is to transform classical texts into dance performances. During the fifteen years of its existence, the team worked on complex projects like Kafka’s “Process” or Joyce’s “Ulysses”. On January 31, a performance based on the novel “Hunger” by Knut Hamsun took place in the A4 – space for contemporary culture.

Although the work is more than 130 years old, for Debris the metaphor of hunger becomes universal for any era, even today. Actors draw parallels with modernity: what does hunger have to do with social validation? Or to the female body? After all, why is the topic of satisfying basic needs even relevant in the 21st century?

The plot of the original story is about a young and principled journalist who gradually loses his mind from hunger. This profession does not bring much money by definition, and even more so for him – the main character refuses to write simple texts on simple topics. He is not interested in pleasing the masses with his articles. Thus, while remaining true to himself, he gradually loses himself. How to tell this story through movement?

The actors sometimes appear in the role of narrators, sometimes as agents, and sometimes they even symbolize circumstances. From the beginning, the center of attention is a female voice, which will guide the audience through the events during the performance. The first notes of the voice set the atmosphere of the hall – and it is pure hysteria.

This emotional condition is reflected in the environment as well. Spotlight catches characters from the dark space of the scene, detailed costumes contrast with a minimalistic and conditional setting. Pure scenography is strengthened by light projections that add a surreal feeling to the play.

The rhythm of the performance is set by the main character, who repeatedly disappears into the trapdoor between scenes. While someone in the background prepares his coffin, it looks like a rehearsal for his own funeral, a slow farewell to his body and consciousness. Giving the last of his remaining money to the beggar, the young journalist exposes his denial of reality, because they literally live on equal terms. And in the background, you can hear the clock ticking – like a countdown, where every second is every decision that pushes him to death.

The main character is surrounded by strangers: an editor, a gendarme, a concierge, and a mistress. But he does not have friendly relations with any of them, the whole city is indifferent to him.

At the end of the book, the journalist becomes a cabin boy on a Russian merchant ship. Would he have written much under such circumstances? Unlikely. Now his motivation is turned inside out, and it seems that he was ready to die of hunger not for the sake of his vocation, but for the sake of the very confrontation with social norms. What, then, is the honor of the Hamsun’s character, if not in writing? It can be assumed that there is none – he is all about an extreme form of self-pity and the desire to feel superior to the “average reader” at any cost.

The end of the play is open: no ship, no coffin. But there is a monologue in Trainspotting’s Mark Renton style, which calls into question the perspective from which Hamsun wrote and directly transports us to modern times, putting an equal sign between physical hunger and hunger for sincerity and openness.

Humsun’s “Hunger” raises many questions about human nature, society and norms, and Debris company adds: is it possible to separate a genius artwork from a nazi supporter artist? But whether it is acceptable to use hunger as a metaphor at a time when for millions it is more than a real threat to life – a question both for Hamsun and Debris company.