Lars von Trier’s Dogville – either revered or reviled for its alienating experimental form – is filmed entirely on a soundstage, and behaves like a piece of theatre. But as award-winning theatre-maker Christiane Jatahy writes in her programme notes for Dusk, while von Trier turned to theatre to make Dogville, she turned to Dogville to create her play.
While it would be simple to describe Dusk as a stage adaptation of Dogville, this would not capture the play’s fascinating destabilisation of the borders between perception and imagination, contrivance and realism, contorting theatre and cinema alike.
This is a formally exhilarating meta-play. When Dusk begins, you don’t really know it has: house lights stay on, and the actors casually introduce themselves to the audience. They tell us they’re working on an adaptation of Dogville, experimenting with the concept of “acceptance of the Other”. Slowly, we slip into a version of the film’s events. A digital camera on stage manned by the actors broadcasts live footage onto the screen behind them. What happens on stage and on screen are physically layered: a spectacular palimpsest of realities, an inquiry into the shape of truth executed with brilliant technical ambition and prowess.
Jatahy uses the framework of Dogville – a parable about the interpersonal roots of systemic evil – to exhume the conditions that permitted the election of Jair Bolsonaro’s fascist government in 2018. To do this, Dusk breaks open Dogville’s conclusion, releasing it from its Old Testament fatalism to seek a way forward: rejecting history’s repetition, its immovable endings.