REVIEW: Betontanc and Umka – Show Your Face! (MCA)


The Face of Freedom and Struggle


Betontanc and Umka, Show Your Face  - Photo courtesy of Bunker

Betontanc and presents
Show Your Face!
Written by members of Bentontanc and
Directed by Matjaž Pograjc
at MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave. (map)
through Jan 16  |  tickets: $28  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I admit that I was left in awe of the Betontanc and production of Show Your Face! at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was expecting something out of the ordinary because of the origins of the companies presenting. Slovenia and Latvia were mysteries when I was growing up. They were obscured by the politics of the dreaded ‘Iron Curtain’ and came into my consciousness in the 90’s with the fall of the Berlin Wall and unrest in the Balkans. This energetic and gripping production exposes how much we all are alike in our struggle for individual freedom, no matter the ideology of our origins.

Show Your Face is a multi-disciplinary production involving mainly dance, music, theatre, and puppetry. A faceless individual fights against the larger collective trying to possess him and his ideas. “The Faceless One” is portrayed by a child’s snowsuit used as a puppet. The scale of the snowsuit as a puppet gives an animated quality to the entire production. The human interactions take on a surreal quality that play on the psyche in a convoluted manner. None of the players seem to be human as a result – they are all emotion, enveloping the various manipulations of emotion: anger, fear, sex drive, and need for companionship or camaraderie.

The Faceless One of Show Your Face  - MCA Chicago - Photo courtesy of is the collective that performs on the stage. They are the acting and puppetry part of the production in collaboration with Betontanc (Concrete Dance) a Slovenian dance theatre company. The collaboration is brilliant and terrifying all at once. No one is immune to the terrors of war and oppression these days. Water boarding and other tortures have been amply demonstrated for all to see. The question is: Do we really see it? Do we have empathy? The Faceless One is on the run constantly. The baby blue of the snowsuit has a gray and worn quality to it and the excellent puppetry gives a breathless and anxious animation to the Faceless One. The emotions are drawn in, and there are audible gasps in the audience when Faceless One is tortured. He is forced to drink liquor, clothes-lined with an iron bar, nearly drowned in a bucket, forced to stay awake, and in a particularly disturbing scene raped by a red masked seductress.

There are direct jabs at the collusion of religion and government in a scene with a priest and the Faceless One. The cast screams at the audience to tell the truth (meaning, in my opinion, see the truth and don’t turn away). The choreography element in Show Your Face! is raw and fluid. The physicality of the actors is called upon to project ragged emotion on one hand and to keep the action flowing seamlessly at the same time. There is a scene where the dancers become one organism and fall into an abyss that evolves into a stick-figure parade being swallowed by a giant red wave. Eventually the forced mating of the Faceless One and the red masked seductress results in a birth scene that is funny and difficult to watch because of the result.

Cast of Show Your Face - by Betontanc and Umka - MCA ChicagoUgis Vitins and Silence provide the musical accompaniment. The words are sung in English and are a vital contribution to the narrative of Show Your Face!. Vitins’ voice is eerie and plaintive in the manner of David Byrne, and one passage pays tribute to Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’. The musicians play piano, brass, percussion, and electronic embellishment. It is haunting, melodic and quite beautiful.

Show Your Face! is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Global Stage Series. Performance companies from all over the world bring their collective cultural sensibilities and individual interpretations of theatricality to Chicago. These are companies that may not get the same exposure of those with larger budgets or more standard interpretations. Show Your Face! is written collectively by Betontanc and, directed by Matjaž Pograjc and producted by Bunker.

Take a look and take the time to check out the amazing theatre resource that is the MCA Stage Series.  Highly Recommended!

Rating: ★★★½



Betontanc and Umka, Show Your Face - Photo courtesy of Bunker


About the Artists:
Betontanc ("Concrete Dance") uses rich dramaturgy, the physicality of the human body and ideas about the constriction of freedom to create multimedia performances. Based in Ljubljan, Slovenia, and led by theater director Matjaž Pograjc. Betontanc includes a variety of musicians, dancers, actors and designers. Formed in 2004, Latvian puppet theater company has created nearly ten critically-acclaimed works for international audiences.

Betontanc (“Concrete Dance”) is based in Ljublana, and is the leading Slovenian dance-theater company.  Founded in 1990 by theater director Matjaž Pograjc with people from different backgrounds – musicians, dancers, actors, costume and stage designers – the group was formed as a reaction to high intellectual and conceptual art works in the 80’s.  They focus on the physicality of the human body, often making politically engaged work that is based on meticulous dramaturgy.  They have performed extensively, touring four continents and over 70 cities, and have been recognized with numerous theater and festival awards. is a collective created in 2004 by actors who met at the Latvian Academy of Culture.  As young puppeteers and actors, they decided not to join any existing theatre troupes, but to create their own artistic collective with no rules, no creative limits, no “forced commitments.”  “Umka” is the name of a pink teddy bear from one of the group member’s childhood and its photo became the group logo.  Currently, the main group consists of four young artists: Andris Kalnozols, Girtis Solis, Armands Gergis, and Gints Sirmelis-Sirmanis. The Umka team also collaborates at times wth other Latvian theater, visual and music organizations.  (check out their projects and  YouTube channel!)

This collaboration has been facilitated by Bunker, a theater and producer based in Ljubljana, Slovenia and the New Theatre Institute of Latvia of Riga.

The Faceless One and ensemble - Betontanc and Umka - Show Your Face


Performance Ensemble

Conceived and performed by: Betontanc and Umka.lvPrimož Bezjak, Daša Doberšek, Branko Jordan, Andris Kalnozols, Marcis Lacis, Katarina Stegnar, Gints Širmelis-Širmanis).


Director: Matjaž Pograjc, Music: Silence in Ugis Vitins, Puppets and objects: Barbara Stupica, Choreography: Branko Potočan, Costumes: Mateja Benedetti, Light design: Tomaž Štrucl, Sound design: Jure Vlahovič, Photos: Gints Malderis, Executive producers: Ira Cecić, Maija Pavlova, Touring manager: Maja Vižin, Produced by: Bunker and New Theatre Institute of Latvia


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