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Flash Review 3, 12-3: But "Seriously"
Tanztheater from Luc Dunberry

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2001 Angela Jones

BERLIN -- Europe in general and Germany especially has a long tradition of Tanztheater. This form cannot be confined in its definition to dance or theater, nor is it performance art or what we now call dance-drama. It is its own genre altogether, with its own particular scope and audience. The drama is non-linear and the movement is unconventional -- words are treated like movements and movements are treated like words. For example, Luc Dunberry's tanztheater piece "Seriously," seen this weekend at the Schaubuehne am Lehniner Platz, featured four actors and two dancers, yet I never did figure out who was who.

"Seriously" is typical in many ways of what seems to define tanztheater. Voice is used as an addition to gesture, to add rhythm or a soundscape to movement. The content of what is said juxtaposes meaningful actions. Movement and voice and music work as equal entities, taking turns being king of the moment, working in tandem, or working independently entirely. The irony of these moments and repeated sequences create a pervasive sense of black humor. Like much of tanztheater, "Seriously" makes sure to include a few props, people in every day clothes, some very loud grating music here and there, a few swear words, some sexual innuendo or nudity, some whispering and voila! you have tanztheater. It can become as formulaic as a Hollywood film.

Yet Dunberry manages to just escape falling onto the archetypical hamster wheel. Because although his piece did contain all of the above, the images he created were compelling enough to reach beyond the formula, and burn themselves into our minds.

The opening is especially striking, when what looks like a bunch of reporters with microphones and long extension cords runs around pushing them in people's faces, not waiting for answers, and getting caught in their own quagmire of wires and crossed communication. Or when one woman holds her breath and counts to 25, "dies," then describes over an intercom what death is like, encouraging the others to join her by holding their breath. My French companion pointed out that at the very moment things seemed to become heavy, a sudden turn of events made the situation humorous. Even when one character starts to use English and German expletives, she delivers them in a way that sounds totally unconvincing, like a child saying "You are the worst of the worst." That choice makes hearing one expletive after another endlessly fascinating.

"Seriously" offers truly beautiful aesthetic moments as well. When the whole crew begins to seamlessly, slowly come spilling over the wall of the set, or when the entire picture of the stage comes into perfect balance and focus, you realize how expansive Dunberry's awareness is. "Seriously" is about serious subjects, yet they are not treated seriously, and Dunberry somehow manages to communicate without communicating anything directly. Close to humor and beauty lies truth. Even within the avant-garde conventions of the typical dance-theater piece he manages to show us those things that make art what it is.

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