The window dresser
A dazzling dance novella
Having sought inspiration first in music (Article 285b) and then in the visual arts (Via Cappello 23), Christiaan Weijts has now opted for a third kindred art form of dance. In The Window Dresser, apart from giving a leading role to a dancer, he uses dance figuratively, in the rhythm and the cadence of his prose.
‘At first, the complicated movements and transpositions got me off on the wrong foot,’ he explained in an interview, ‘but then the turns and sideway leaps put everything back onto an even keel, so to speak, and it came to me that I could try to do the same thing in language: capture the fluidity, the suppleness of the dancers.’
Weijts has succeeded. The Window Dresser is not only a profound novella, it is a lithe and sinuous work. Victor Zuid, a gifted window dresser, has been commissioned by the director of Cocagne – the chicest department store in town – to design a series of windows for the coming season. Victor is no commercial salesman, but rather an artist who brings shop windows to life, creating theatre performances behind glass. When Victor’s girlfriend unexpectedly turns him out, he seizes the opportunity to take up residence in Cocagne for the duration. He rambles around the store as if he’d just stumbled into Cockaigne, that mythical medieval land-of-plenty. At one point, we see him comfortably ensconced under a duvet in the bedding department, mentally putting together a bold decorating scheme for the store windows. Suddenly he is startled out of his musings by havoc wrought around him by the action group pig (Paint it Green). To begin with, he is nonplussed to learn that one of the members of pig is his old flame, the dancer Vita Laurier. Vita – not entirely by chance, her name is the literal translation of ‘life’ – threatens to scuttle his plans. She starts by revealing what lies hidden behind the splendours and delights of Cocagne: the director is involved in the gun trade, and his wares are fashioned by the tiny hands of child labourers.
What to do? Can Victor throw himself into the preparations for an enchanting show thereby helping to perpetuate such injustices? This is the dilemma sketched by the narrator, a Faustian angel who clings to his side, punctuating events as they unroll with a melodious voice of conscience.
Victor’s reflections, along with developments between him, Vita and the director of Cocagne, combine to trigger a violent climax. But before that moment arrives, Christiaan Weijts serves up a combination of twists and turns guaranteed to wrongfoot the reader. He builds up the tension and sets you thinking. Altogether a staggering experience.