“What is real and what is fiction is impossible to distinguish” says Peter Trosztmer, reflecting on the highly personal and interpretive history he has pieced together of how his family came to Canada. The young choreographer and dancer is the creative mastermind behind the solo dance performance Eesti: Myths and Machines, which recently ran an eight performance run at the interdisciplinary arts centre Usine C in Montreal across November.
The son of a Hungarian father and Estonian mother, there is lots Canadian-born Peter doesn’t know about his family. “I’ve been trying to get the story of my family for a long time. But there were so many missing pieces. I knew some things through my mother, but it was difficult to get any sort of cohesive story. My experience had always been that there were a lot of skeletons in the closet. There was a certain cloakedness to my past.”
In Eesti: Myths and Machines, Peter brings the audience along on his personal journey of self-discovery as he confronts disjointed visuals, memories, disembodied voices, echoes, and hazy memories and tries to make sense of them. Yet through that process of confrontation, it becomes obvious Peter’s imagination is writing a new history altogether, one that is not only shaped by himself, but one in which he is included.
Peter uses mythology as a line of explanation or origin for Estonian history, which he then digests through dance. “Most of what I have learned has been orally, through stories and people’s personal accounts which have certainly changed and morphed over time. To know what actually happened is only ever an ideal because history is, after all, a mythology.”
There was, however, lots of old fashioned research Peter could undertake to learn about his family’s past, so he travelled to Estonia this past summer with his partner and artistic director Thea Patterson. “It was amazing. We actually found some people who knew my grandfather with the help of my distant relatives. With my broken understanding of Estonian and with help from some of their grandchildren who spoke English, I got to collect some stories about him.”
For the second performance of Eesti: Myths and Machines, Peter narrated his collected history on a minimalist set that featured an impressive, metallic machine (designed by artist and sculptor Jeremy Gordaneer) that was pulled across the stage as a metaphor for the unstoppable forces of time and war.
To compelling disorienting effect, he juxtaposed funny and lighthearted oral stories (all of which are disjointed -- we never learn of who the stories involved or where they took place) with grueling, choreography. As he grappled with the pieces of history, Peter depicted himself, through choreography, as captive to curiosity and confusion, twisting his body into unimaginable positions and audibly slapping his limbs to the floor as he literally wrestled with the memories he subjects himself to.
Many of the stories Peter collected in Estonia were recorded and clipped into the multi-layered atmospheric soundscape designed by Eric Craven that underpins Peter’s performance, weaving in and out of the performance unpredictably, just as a triggered memory can suddenly surface in the mind’s consciousness then equally as quickly disappear again.
Sometimes Peter would engage the memories, but other times he would embody the memories by re-enacting them. Each time a short sample of traditional rahvatants music played over the speakers, for instance, Peter would respond in an aggressive traditional dance as if his body was a transmission receiver receiving sporadic tele-communications from the past.
Because the communications Peter intercepted were incomplete and offered little to no context, however, there was no conclusive “story”; no happy ending in Eesti: Myths and Machines. Yet that was exactly the most profound message of this work. No matter how hard we try, we can never come into complete contact with a historical truth because something will always get in the way: ourselves.
Eesti: Myths and Machines will show again in June 2012 in Griffintown, Montreal.
Eesti: Myths and Machines is a unique personal meditation on the amorphous nature of Canadian-Estonian history (1)