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.
Tanztheater.

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

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