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Flash Review 3, 11-21: Christmas in Berlin
MS Schrittmacher Delivers Ho-Ho-Hos, Aus Einer Wurzel Zart
(And the Cookies and Spiced Wine Aren't Bad Either)

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2001 Angela Jones

BERLIN -- Snow falling, jingle bells jingling, the smell of cookies baking, and the taste of hot spiced wine. Ah, Christmas! Somehow the German troupe MS Schrittmacher manages to package all that and more into the multi-sensual, hilarious, jam-packed Christmas carnival extravaganza, "Aus einer Wurzel zart"-Das Weinachts-Tanzstueck ("From a tender root," the Christmas dance-piece), seen over the weekend. At times serious, at times tongue-in-cheek and at times just plain wacky, Martin Stiefermann and Gilys Komova create a series of vignettes that leave no aspect of Christmas untouched.

From the moment you enter the performance space at Dock 11, you realize you have entered some kind of Christmas warp. The two dancers look like furry snow people in a thin haze among perhaps 30 or so large tree stumps. From here the mad rush towards Christmas begins, with frantic cookie dough pounding (which the audience then gets to sample in the cooked version), cleaning, tree trimming, and more. Then -- BLAM! Much to our shock, 20 real Christmas trees fall from the ceiling and somehow stick perfectly upright into their corresponding tree trunks (quite a technical feat). These trees then create a perfect set of wings in which the dancers change costumes and from which they pull out their different bags of tricks. They go from gently resting in front of a TV fireplace to the hyper anticipation of a gift exchange. No matter how large or small the package, the man always seems to get a tie and the woman perfume. Then in the next moment, the woman screams "I want SNOW" and a whole load of it dumps itself on her head.

Even though the end featured 20 toy Santa Clauses running around stage, this piece was not just about a million and one props. The dancers themselves displayed a wide range of movement as well as theatrical power. They performed such pedestrian tasks as stuffing food into their faces to music with the same integrity as they applied to dancing bits of "The Nutcracker." Probably one of the most hilarious scenes was the duo's rendition of a competitive ice skating pair. From the girl falling on her butt, getting up and continuing to plaster a smile on her face to the cheesy rhumba dance break, to the man watching for their scores, Stiefermann and Komova had it down to every detail.

All the action was broken up properly with some ironic, and more contemplative moments as well. A lonely single man's Christmas depression felt visceral and real. As did a man somehow feeling the movement of an angel he can't see. And as Komova began to struggle to sing the theme song "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen aus einer Wurzel zart" ("A Rose has risen from a tender rootâ") she found herself being pushed, her body manipulated and contorted until we could barely understand her.

But what does it all mean? So many unrelated vignettes occur that just how the choreographer views Christmas as a whole remains unclear. Each scene seems to be its own plastic snow ball toy, entertaining and compelling but self-contained, not part of a bigger picture with a clear intent.

Upon leaving the performance, I did not feel that I had a clearer sense of my own relationship to Christmas. But I did leave with a smile on my face, a feeling of positive creative energy and of having had every sense satisfied. When was the last time you smelled vanilla then orange and spice then smoke then pine at a dance performance? Frankly, I think if more dance companies gave out cookies and hot spiced wine during their performances, dance might do better than it does.

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