TanzNacht Berlin 2012

TanzNacht Berlin 2012
Insignificant Others
(Learning To Look Sideways)
An Kaler
What I read in the program: Together separately. Separately together.  How can one perceive and analyse a collectively experienced, present moment?  Three performers share a moment on stage.  They go through a series of positions that let them become the bearers of ambiguous, almost static yet variable images.  Connections develop between them which cause the moment to gently but clearly shift and their relationships to constantly charge and discharge.  Through a series of interrupted yet connected sequences and situations a space is created in which performer and spectator share the potentiality of what comes next.
What I saw: a generic contemporary dance.  They started standing in silence.  They shifted slowly as the computer generated music with cracks, whistles and pops grew louder and louder.
Another reason I say generic is the type of movement.  Though quite articulate and adept at it, the dancers didn’t offer much in terms of kinespheric originality as they stayed with the elbow initiated limp wrist movement that is quite fashionable.
Spatially, the dancers tended to be upstage and face away from the audience.  Quite a lot of time was spent far stage left in the unlit section of the performance space.  Was this a somatic spatial response to the audience or intentionally done to contrast the two moments when the three dancers were center stage?
One thing I like to watch when I watch ice-skating is when the skaters fall.  Not out of a desire for schadenfreude, but I like to see how they react to an unscripted moment. I am guessing that Insignificant Othersis improvised or scored with landmarks and therefore mostly unscripted.  A moment that I perceived as very unscripted was when one of the dancers, mid thrash, bonked against one of the lighting supports.  Two other very unscripted moments involved two dancers almost colliding.  Did these near collisions happen because the dancers were so involved in their own processes that they became unaware of the others on stage?  Maybe this is the insignificant others bit. Ahh…and the (learning to look sideways) is that they aren’t directly relating to each other, but mostly responding to each other’s movement as opposed to other Viewpoints.  But then they do take similar shapes when standing in front of the hanging rectangles.
Compositionally this piece was coherent.  The movement ebbed and flowed.  The music got louder, quieter, and came in occasional bursts.  The lighting shifted and repeated.  There were three dancers and three rectangles.  So in that sense the piece held together.
But what didn’t work for me was the use of space by the dancers.  I didn’t see a compositional choice (except in the two times of stillness center stage) but nerves and adrenaline causing the dancers to shrink back and away from the audience.  Also, the piece was too long.  Maybe I am too American and my sitzfleisch is not so developed.  But I think it is more that I am a dancer.  After seeing people flailing about articulately for 20 minutes, my mirror neurons are full and I want to get up and join in.
Some notes –
“How can one perceive and analyse a collectively experienced, present moment?” – Is this a rhetorical question?  How about Viewpoints, Laban, amount of sweat, sound, sight, video, photography, Ensemble Thinking, touch, pressure und so weiter?
“…which performer and spectator share the potentiality of what comes next.” – a fancy way of saying the piece is improvised
“They go through a series of positions that let them become the bearers of ambiguous, almost static yet variable images.  Connections develop between them which cause the moment to gently but clearly shift and their relationships to constantly charge and discharge.” – Another reason I say that this piece is “of the genus”.  Can’t this be said about almost any piece?  Especially the ambiguous part?
Laurent Chétouane
What I read in the program: The French director Laurent Chétouane has developed a unique language for dance.  The six choreographies, developed over the course of the last few years, speak for themselves.  Each new encounter with a dancer challenged and enriched the vocabulary of the work.  For the TANZNACHT BERLIN 2012, five of the seven dancers who worked with Chétouane during this period lend their bodies to this language and give insights into their understanding and interpretation of the collaborative works, the shared ideas and the time they spent during rehearsals.
What I saw: Six dancers, not five. One Idea of line or semi circle giving focus to a solo.  I remember one multilevel tableau instead of a line giving focus.  Mostly the solos began and the ensemble would recognize that and create a Hot Spot for the solo. (Some might recognize the Ensemble Thinking vocabulary I am using.)  Every dancer in the group had a solo before dancers went for another solo.  The two dancers in purple had the most solos and the male dancer with long hair in green had, sadly, the fewest.  Maybe he’s the new guy. 
Also saw an odd mandibular action, mostly with the two dancers in purple.  Everyone had their mouths open, and some occasionally moved their mandibles.  Several times the soloists would break out in a funny grin, causing a tittering in the audience.  These smiles were reminiscent of smiles I have seen during group faculty improvisations at festivals when everyone knows it’s headed downhill.  Maybe this use of smiles was a distillation of that phenomenon and commentary on improvisations headed south.
What kept this piece from being generic was that it stuck with the same score for the entire time and kept running through the permutations of soloist and ensemble.  Group improvisations frequently churn through so many scores, ideas, and movement themes (I have been in many of those!) and it was nice to see one that stuck to its guns, or gun, as the case maybe.  But if they were going to stick with one score, they could have been a bit more adventurous in their investigation of it and expression with it.
This piece, too, was coherent – people running through the permutations of a score.  No rabbits popping out of hats, or balloons appearing from pockets or other such non-sequitur surprises.  Though, the mandible jiggle, like the three rectangles in Kaler’s piece, why?
A note – the last soloist before they repeated at one point had her left leg out to the side and rotated it to an arabesque as she rotated right.  A beautiful moment!


My issue with both pieces, was not so much the performances themselves, but how they were framed.  The descriptions could fit most any piece out there.  Kaler’s was “ambiguous”, dealing with the “present moment” and “what comes next”.  Chétoune’s was about collaboration, sharing ideas, and time spent rehearsing.

If the framing doesn’t elucidate how these pieces are more than just iterations of our current genre of dance, then the pieces do not become anything more than an aesthetic experience.  Either you like it or you don’t.  Maybe that is what the creators are after – contemporary dance as entertainment.

Some thoughts on Tanz Plattform 2012 in Dresden

A couple weeks ago I was fortunate to go to Tanz Plattform 2012 in Dresden.  Tanz Plattform is an event that happens every two years.  It is like APAP in New York.  But as I have never been to APAP, I can’t be sure.  The event in Dresden was primarily for curators from festivals around Europe to see work of the who’s who of German dance.  Not sure why the who’s who needs an event like this, but that is another discussion. 

I was able to go because my school organized a trip.  €50 got me a round-trip train ticket, a hostel room and breakfast for four nights and tickets to ten shows.  Not a bad deal.  Yeah, socialism!

Of the performances happening in five theater in two different location, I was able to see (in no particular order) For Faces by Anonia Behr, Horizon(s) by Laurent Chétoune; N.N.N.N by William Forsythe; Abdrücke by Anna Konjtzky; Berlin Elsewhere by Constanza Macras; Cover Up by Mamaza; Dance For Nothing by Eszter Salamon; Revolver Besorgen by Helena Waldmann; Métamorphoses by Sasha Waltz; and Baader – Choreographie einer Radikalisierung by Christoph Winkler.

Of those performances I would categorize Abdrücke, Berlin Elsewhere, Cover Up, Revolver Besorger, and Baader as theater.  Horizon(s), N.N.N.N., Métamorphoses, Dance for Nothing, and For Faces as dance.  These categorizations are based upon the rubric that theater is dealing with, referencing or talking about ideas or events that are not present on stage and/or trying to convey an emotional state.  Granted this is not a binary, but more of a spectrum.

But definitions of theater vs. dance are not what I want to write about right now.  Again, another lengthy discussion.

What I want to write about is several sentences in the programs about these specific performances or work by one of choreographers in general:

1. “Dance is no longer representation.” – Laurent Chétouane

2.  “Chétouane makes reference to classical dance forms and formulas and dares to come out from the corner by demonstrating how dance beyond style – the dance of the future – might look” – Katja Schneider

3.  “Forsythe embarks on a search for a quality of movement that is increasingly oriented towards the dancers’ own self awareness and reciprocal observing of one another, generating an intense presence in the space.” – Gerald Siegmund

4.  “Movement without reason(s) makes the audience nervous….a clear, deep and melodious voice, sharing philosophical introspections, while the source steadily changes positions – we try to follow it all.  Yet, it is too much to process all at once, form and content at the same time.” – Katja Werner

5.  “Helena Waldmann… the Berlin-based choreographer…knows that a work is only successful when it is able to conjure up the world of illusion.”  Andrea Kachelreiß, Stuttgarter Nachrichten

     I am not sure how to respond to the first sentence by Chétouane.  Dance hasn’t been representation for decades.  Did he not get the Judson/Trio A/Merce/Brown memo?  He is described as “a French director working with texts and movement” so maybe he is not informed about what dance has happened before he started making dances.

     This seems to me a common issue in the post/non disciplinary times – people from one genre getting excited about a new tool, logic or aesthetic that is old hat for another genre.  Maybe because Chétouane is a director, which I am taking to mean he comes from the world of theater, the world of illusion and allusion, the idea that something on stage could be no longer representational is a new and exciting one.

     The second sentence, by Katja Scheider, I also think is a joke.  Dance beyond style?!?!  Dance of the future?!? Are you kidding me?  What I saw was pretty straight-up, par for the course movement for this day and age.  Does Katja mean that the dance of the future looks just as it does now?  Are we already in the future or is she saying that there is no future for dance because it will look exactly the same as it does now?  There is nothing nothing new in the world…is that it?
     The references to “classical dance forms and formulas” that I saw the grid, flocking, and mirroring.  Maybe not classical ballet formulas, if that is what Katja Schneider meant by classical, but classical post modern dance tools.  At least for grid and flocking.  Mirroring is more of an Improv 101 exercise, so maybe classical in that sense.  But maybe that is what my training affords me – seeing the grid, flocking, and mirroring.  If I am to look at the piece as a whole, and this is the second time I have seen the piece, I could say that the piece is an arc of dance history from ballet to post modern spatial scores to badly executed contact improvisation.  Maybe that is the director’s point, that the end of the future(as this piece is about the future of dance) of dance is bad contact improvisation. Well, if that is the point of the piece, then it’s brilliant.  Sheer brilliance.  Ha!

     Gerald Siegmund’s description of Forsythe’s new creative invesigations is interesting and eloquent.  Hmm…sounds an awful lot like…what is that word, umm, it was just on the tip of my tongue, what is it…oh, yeah…IMPROVISATION!  Why is that word such a dirty word?  I guess a single word wouldn’t be as poetic as an eloquent phrase.  I guess a rose by any other name doesn’t smell as sweet.
     Categories and labels aside, I have another question.  What was Forsythe’s work before this new eloquent line of inquiry?  Did his work before not use “the dancers’ own self awareness and reciprocal observing of one another”?  Were his dancers unconscious of their own movements and and unaware of each other?  Did they not know where their limbs were in space?  Did they not know who else was on stage and who on stage could see them?  Were his dancers mindless zombies doing their master’s bidding?

     On what planet does “movement without reason(s)” make the audience nervous?  Maybe Katja Werner is from the same planet that Chétouane is from, the Planet of Representation, where Judson never happened.  I thought that the crowd at Tanz Plattform Deutschland 2012 in Dresden would be ok with abstract movement.  Guess not.  But they seemed to love N.N.N.N., which was pretty abstract.  Granted the dancers looked at their hands as they moved them, creating a subject by objectifying their hands, and made cute sounds as they moved.  Maybe the looking at the vocalizing created enough “reason” so that the audience was not nervous.  They could see enough representation in the presentation of relationship between hand and eye and movement and sound, therefore they did not get nervous.
     On the Planet of Representation form and content are two different things.  Performances have content and that content is different than the form.  This leads me to another definition of theater and of dance.  Theater is that which the form and the content are different entities.  In dance the form and the content are the same entity.  In the piece Dance for Nothing by Salamon, I think that Werner is referring to the spoken text as the content and the “movement without reason(s)” as the form.  This separation is further evidence of the supremacy of theater over dance in Germany. Tanztheater, Tanztheater, Tanztheater, TanzTHEATER.  Tanz is merely the adjective to the noun, theater.
      I would postulate that the reasons Werner writes that the form(movement) and content(text) is “too much to process all at once” are that she is not a native speaker of English and she is trying to link the movements to the text in more than a spatial and temporal way.  From the beginning of the piece I did not try to connect the movement to the sounds.  I let both of them wash over me.  Even though I am a native speaker of English, I would guess that the text by John Cage is not that complicated.  The vocabulary and the topic are not that esoteric to require a super advanced command of the English language.  Most people at the festival in Dresden had very good English.
    Or maybe I was a bad audience member and did not listen closely enough to the text, did not get every word and would fail a test on what John Cage via Eszter Salamon said.  Maybe I should have strained harder to understand which movements meant Kansas, paragraph, and mind.  Maybe I should have asked why Salamon extended her fists and touched them together.  Did that movement section represent a connection of the working class in Kansas to the proletariat of Hungary?  Hmm…what would Derrida say about the fact that the performer wore sneakers?  Oh my gosh, so many signs and signifiers, so many layers…how do I interpret it all?  What does it represent?!?!

     And the final quote – “to conjure up the world of illusion”.  Once again, theater, theater, theater.  Yet the author of this work is referred to as a choreographer.  There is a fabulously trained ballet dancer prancing about pretending to be a crazy woman who has a “thirst for discovery” and is in “the depths of madness”, so I guess it’s theater because the piece is about something other than what is happening on stage.  But the creator is a choreographer and not a dancer.

     Kachelrieß writes that Waldmann’s work is a “godsend for the theater.”  Does she mean theater in the open sense of the word, as in stuff that happens in the theater?  Or does she mean theater as in not dance?  If she means theater, then this piece is a vague and wan representation of an illusion wrapped in presentation of madness and the “dignity a person needs to remain human.”  But if this piece is dance, then it is well danced dance piece of a limited and unimaginative palette.

I do not know what my overall thesis for this posting is.  Maybe that dance in Germany is more theater than dance.

I prefer my dance with a little less theater and a lot more dance.