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Flash Dispatch, 1-22: Blind Spots
Eyes Opened Wide in Berlin

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2002 Angela Jones

BERLIN -- Somehow I got stuck in New York. I realized that no matter how busy I got, I was stagnating. I was too comfortable in my work and in my life, so I decided to pack my bags and come to Berlin.

I arrived in October, looking for new life experiences and new artistic influences. The worst blind spots are the ones that we are unaware of. Seeing art here has opened up my vision. It is refreshing to see not just the big names that happen to make it to New York but what the average choreographers do here, what skills they have, what their processes are, and what aspects of choreography are important to them. It is interesting to observe the differences without judgment, and explore how art is influenced by culture and economics.

The past week I spent going to see several performances that were part of the Berlin Tanztage (dancedays festival), as well as at Dock 11 and the Halleschen Ufer. I would have to say that the biggest difference between art here and in the States actually lies with the audience. Many people go to dance concerts here besides dancers and they are open to anything. For example, the tanztage at the Sophiensaele were completely sold out (even Tuesday) and you could not get a ticket without reservations. These were not big names; some choreographers were very young and testing ideas for the first time. One of the choreographers in the young choreographers program (part of the Tanztage)ambitiously experimented with using a mini-bicycle and a tree in a piece, creating a tone that was at once comical and surreal. The one riding the mini-cycle seemed to be watching the dance from afar but also chose to occasionally ride directly through it, affecting the actions taking place. Interesting and bold. One man I met summed up the attitude of the audience well: "If we go to a show and it is good we feel inspired and grateful, if it is bad we simply come back the next week hoping for something better." But they keep coming back!

Does such a loyal audience make Berlin the Ideal situation? Maybe for the artist, but not necessarily for the work. This dynamic can create work that is self-indulgent. While choreographers such as Gilda Bellifemino and Lea Helmstadter joyfully experimented with radios and squashes on stage, less interesting was the non-stop video of a woman sitting or the man projecting images on a bouncing ball as part of Projekt 89. Granted I have seen plenty of indulgent work presented in the U.S., but the applause usually isn't quite so overwhleming afterward.

Related to audience support is of course the issue of financial support which, again, creates a similar dichotomy. Those intelligent choreographers like MS Schrittmacher who have true skill when it comes to costume, set, and prop integration into a piece are really able to bring wild ideas into full glory, like in his latest piece "Mit Essen Spielt man nicht" (one doesn't play with food). There was fur on the program, a rabbit on the set, food cooking, water spraying, TV blaring. It was an orgy, a sensual extravaganza. But again like with children who have too many toys, this luxury sometimes means that they no longer know how to create something out of nothing. This kind of tanz theater, so popular here in Germany, often means the "dance" part of it becomes subservient to and almost inconsequential among a litany of verbiage, props and onstage lessons in cooking.

Lastly, I have been impressed here by the use of space. The spaces themselves are interesting (old East German warehouses and such), and choreographers know how to play with the place. The place becomes an important part of the performance. Even when a piece is exploring different parts of the body, as in Tanzcompagnie Rubato's recent work "Duty Free" at the Halleschen Ufer, it still seems to observe the physical self from its environment. The dancers were technically precise and aware of their bodies as well as consistently energetic for the whole hour. There were even inspiring moments such as one woman's hand solo or the other's manipulation of her rotators. But the overwhelming sense was that they were poking their bodies into space rather than really feeling any of their own actions or when another person touched them. A cool intellectualism pervaded, making the dance more about what what the mind can conjure than the body or the soul.

As a whole, I have been very impressed with the variety and the creativity in the work here that I've seen. It doesn't always make me want to jump out of my seat, but it definitely has freed up me up in some way, giving me permission to see and approach things from a new perspective.

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