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The experience of a JET LAG

Report by Lydia van Veen on the preformance JET LAG (1998) by Diller + Scofidio.

Wednesday I saw JETLAG: a collaboration between the BUILDERS ASSOCIATION and DILLER + SCOFIDIO in Lantaren/Venster. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in a theater. For me it was about running away from your own world and getting lost in "space". Not space as in Startrek but the spaces within our reach, in these cases the sea and the sky.

The JETLAG performance contains two episodes; both based on true stories. The first one is about Roger Dearborn, a yachtsman who enters a race around the world. He doesn't really ever leave the Atlantic, but he fakes his voyage. On stage you see a guy sitting on a moving seat with a projection screen behind him where sometimes the sea and sometimes parts of his boat are projected, depending on what he needs. He talks to the camera in front of him, telling the people at home how his journey is progressing. This image is shown on a big screen on stage, this shows us what the people who watch it on TV get to see and it looks very real. You could see it as a fake documentary but in this case people are not supposed to ever find out. A bit like "Wag the Dog". It is very confronting in the way it makes you think about how easily you can be fooled. In a medium like TV you tend to believe what you see and this can proof very dangerous.

The second story is about Doris Akerman and her grandson Lincoln. They allegedly took between 130 to 160 flights to escape from the boy's father. Most of them just back and forth between New York and Paris. Doris eventually died of a jetlag. In this story the characters are not only lost in space but also lost in time because of the time difference between countries. It's like skipping some parts of your life and living others twice, but being totally unaware of that because your world looks the same everywhere you go since all the airports look alike. Their presence on stage walking back and forward all the time with on the background the cold interior of an airport makes the idea of them living in a no man's land even stronger. The limitations of the world they live in now is expressed by the fact that Lincoln knows the words of the Titanic by heart because he's seen it over and over again. The relationship between grandmother and grandson also gets very interesting because the way they deal with each other gradually changes in this world.

The way these stories are told on stage is ingenious. In front of the stage there are windows you can't see through, except when the actors sitting behind them are on. They just turn a switch and then you can see them. This is very effective because you know where to focus next and you don't have the distraction of "useless" (for that time!) people on stage. They could have just used voices in some of these cases; for instance the girl on the other end of the radio in the first episode and the pilot of the airplane in the second, but it's a good thing they didn't. The presence of the actors makes it much more alive and breathing. It never becomes a freak show of sound and images; no showing off, and although you see that some things are very ingenious, everything has a clear time, place and meaning. The performances of the actors are without exception powerful but Dominique Dibell as both woman on the radio and grandson is really marvelous.

It's better than a good movie. It's more than a play. It is really something extraordinary. The possibilities of theater and new media are perfectly interwoven, making it an experience rather than a performance.

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