Using the intersecting and reflecting planes of live action and video to explore the human condition, Blank Out centres on a dialogue between a man and his mother. The libretto is based upon the work and life of South African poet Ingrid Jonker. A deeply human story, Blank Out uses innovative techniques of interactive 3D film and electronic music to consider memory and the way in which people reconstruct and deal with traumatic life events.
The set of Blank Out is constructed in miniature, like an architect’s model. A 3D film acts as a backdrop, and is projected live via a camera that the singer moves around the model. As the woman moves the camera she not only changes her visual surroundings but also appears to be ‘playing’ her environment.
The impression is given to the audience of being both within and outside of an abstract country house. Musically, the text begins disjointed, but as words loop and accumulate the story of some unnamed trauma begins to emerge. As reality and the world of the model begin to blur, a man appears on screen. We discover that the woman’s words are connected to his; he is her son, and she drowned when he was a child. He is left to reconstruct the painful memories of his past.
Blank Out is a coproduction of Dutch National Opera with the Lucerne Festival, and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.
Miah Persson & Roderick Williams
A woman, alone onstage, is lost. She sings fragmented texts, recording herself with a video camera. Her sentences gradually become complete and coherent. We learn of a devastating trauma that took place in 1976, when her son was seven years old. From the edge of the dike near their house she watched him swim, then drown. She was paralysed, unable to act.
The woman shares memories of her son while slowly building a small model house. She reconstructs and explains her relationship with her son, exploring her emotional displacement from him. As the line between reality and the world of the model begins to blur, a man appears on screen.
The man sings a duet with the woman’s recording from earlier in the opera, filling out her story of that day in 1976. He also experienced a trauma: the woman on stage is his mother, who died that day – she drowned saving his life.
In taking us back to the accident, the man adds a new perspective to the events. We realise the woman on stage is a reconstruction of his memory. They sing together, dance together. As the piece builds to a climax, the woman drowns in her own words while the man desperately clings to his treasured memories.
The woman disappears from stage. The man mourns her.
Blank Out’s text and characters include elements by the South African poet Ingrid Jonker. The story, however, is not biographical.
Woman – Miah Persson
Man – Roderick Williams (film)
Nederlands Kamerkoor (film)
Klaas Stok – conductor
Director, concept – Michel van der Aa
Dramaturge – Sophie Motley
Lighting – Floriaan Ganzevoort
Production development – Frank van der Weij
Movement advice – Thom Stuart
Director of photography – Joost Rietdijk
Film producer – Melvin Kant, William Griffioen