Review: “Portraits in Motion” at Theatre Junction

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

I’m quickly discovering a realm of theatre in Calgary that is not so remarkable in its presentation but is so unique in concept that it should be experienced at least once. “Portraits in Motion” at Theatre Junction is one such show. Performed as part of the High Performance Rodeo hosted by One Yellow Rabbit, this open-ended production can be described two ways: either it’s a man with a bunch of pictures, standing in the corner and talking for an hour and a half; or it’s a gathering of human stories brought to life by a voice and a collection of photographs. It’s all about perspective. 

Volker Gerling is a fascinating man. He’s travelled all over – though a lot of his stories come from his native Germany – talking to people and, when inspired, taking 36 photos over 12 seconds in order to capture genuine human moments in a flipbook format. He is a very open and explorative artist, taking advantage of such simple concepts that are often taken for granted: walking and listening. 

Throughout the course of about an hour and a half, Volker takes us through over a dozen flipbooks, discussing his life and the lives of the people and places depicted in his photography. It’s so simple. And yet, I found myself endless curious. 

Towards the end of the night, he talked about the healing power of walking – of slowing down and letting life come to you. He told stories and there was something about their face or a phrase used that made me want to learn more. In the end, I found this night inspiring as an artist. As an audience member, if you come in looking for a play, or a musical, or anything other than a man standing in a corner and talking for an hour and a half, you will be sorely disappointed. This is an opportunity to experience the world through someone else’s eyes and hear brand new stories that don’t reach Calgary very often. 

However, I can’t recommend this show to everyone. I can encourage an open mind, a lot of patience, and a willingness to explore human emotion without having to invest too much of yourself. I enjoyed my time at “Portraits in Motion” immensely but I also recognize that this type of performance isn’t for everyone. If you enter the theatre with a willingness to learn and listen, I think you will have a good time, but it lands on you as the audience to take and interpret the stories that Volker presents. Because, more than stories, these are snapshots of someone else’s life – someone you will most likely never meet. 

As I said, I was fascinated; and I sincerely hope that when you attend “Portraits in Motion” you will be able to take something away with you. Whether it’s inspiration, hope, curiosity, sadness, confusion, or any other emotion under the spectrum, this will be an explorative experience – if you are willing and able to take it in. When you do attend this show, I encourage discussion. Become an active part of your theatre experience. If only that, my conclusion is: explore new experiences.