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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
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
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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