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Flash Dispatch, 12-4: Sublunary Spaces
Nesting at FNAK in Baden-Wurttemberg

By Julia Ritter
Copyright 2002 Julia Ritter

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Modern dance has been a minor player in Baden-Wurttemberg, the southwestern state of Germany, renown for car manufacturing, pretzels and tourism. Ballet is firmly situated here with state funding, yet now one venue exists exclusively for contemporary dance, the Forum Neue Arts Klingenteich, or FNAK. After ten years of presenting projects throughout the city, its pioneering founders, Bernhard Fauser and Jai Gonzales, have moved FNAK officially into a new space in this quaint castle town and are tempting the region's appetite for contemporary performance. Fauser and Gonzales have a triadic mission: the magical mix (and balancing act) of managing a company, a biennial festival called "In Transit/Tanz Raum Klang," which hosts international artists, and now their performance space, FNAK. Why here in Heidelberg, traditionally a haven for sightseers and shoppers? As Fauser explains; "In the free scene, meaning without significant funding, it is almost impossible to survive without a space. We stayed in Heidelberg because we have a space. We have tried to always keep one leg to stand on, (be it) the company, festival or space." Their previous location was on its last leg, with the roof falling in, but today FNAK stands ready to expand, with co-productions and collaborations with organizations in other countries. At present, FNAK is the only German organization partnering with Ciudades Que Danzan, an international network of festivals of dance in urban landscapes. In June 2004, in conjunction with Ciudades Que Danzan, Fauser and Gonzales's company, Unterwegs Theater, will create performances on site at one of Heidelberg's bridges.

A recent concert at FNAK presented the work of an invited guest, the Carlos Cortizo Tanzprojekt, with Cortizo's evening-length "In Bewegung "(On the Move). A choreographer from Brazil with extensive experience working in national theaters and operas throughout Germany, Cortizo tells us in his program notes that he is interested in telling short stories about moments of imposition upon the body. To this end, he incorporates a sixteen-meter long plywood bench, various props, text and video. Now, I will admit my occasional queasiness at seeing props onstage. Perhaps it is an empathetic reaction, knowing their indeterminacy and penchant to sometimes trip up the performers or the choreographer, who may become more interested with invention with the object than with the body. Here, for "In Bewegung," Cortizo most deftly used the long bench to illustrate his corporeal tales. Lighting designer Christian van Loock, with careful illumination, skillfully teased out the tensions between expanse and confinement.

The work opened as a delicate arc of light drifted across the dancers' bodies, splayed languidly beneath the bench. Soon loud drums from Stefan Poetsch's score punctured their oneiric cocoons. When Mathys Scheeper rose to a vertical position, he moved with a floating walk upstage and became a pulley for the others, gently unearthing them. A brief interlude in and around the bench had the dancers resembling sleepy automatons, comfortable but resigned to their gray cargo pants and crumpled button-down shirts. Then, with a lovely and sparse piano composition by Ryuichi Sakamoto as a calm foil, Cortizo showed spaces made smaller and smaller by the energy and presence of another. The dancers worked hard at being quiescent, but a quivering restlessness caused them to invade a neighbor's spot beneath the bench. Feet, hands, and an exposed armpit searched for a place of repose. Soon separated again, they became rivulets on a windowpane, with two performers merging and synchronizing their descents, while the others veered off wildly, launching themselves to faraway corners.

Cortizo's theatrical eye is keen, yet his pacing and sense of structure is less convincing. The splendid dancing by Emily Fernandez, Sulis Hukkelhoven, Marie Sophie Kluger, Scheeper and Carolina Zimmerman was interrupted by a fussy improvisation with a pile of shirts and again later with attempts to set up uncooperative folding chairs. When Zimmerman and Scheeper discuss making "interactive art," their rapport is sharp, but the moment lacks connection to the undercurrent present in the rest of the work, and the intelligence of these two bodies, which were just plowing through the space moments ago, is lost. These sections, long in time and short on relevance were inserted into what otherwise was the honest work of dance -- play with the body in space.

A short, yet only mildly interesting film didn't open further any doors into Cortizo's world. At times, the movement was familiar, with sweeping turns and tilted battements at an ongoing moderate tempo that threatened to lull the audience into a glassy-eyed state. It was in the partnering and play with the bench that Cortizo's dance crackled with interest. Hukkelhoven and Kluger mounted the bench with a ferocious slide and then dripped away, pieces of them disappearing beneath. When Zimmerman took a long, tense walk to the corner of what was now the edge of a precipice, we believed she was ready to accept the consequences of a jump. In a speedy and intimate duet, Scheeper and Hukkelhoven entangled one another such that it was difficult to ascertain who was sitting and who was flung to standing. Cortizo's cast is bathed in his movement, skimming across surfaces and by each other with confidence and skill. All the dancers maintained a mix of dramatic awareness and detachment from each other and the audience and a clearly directed dynamism informed their work with the bench, which became alternately obstacle, cubicle, nest, bridge and den.

The end of the work rose up quickly when Fernandez whipped across the long runway with the speed and agility of a speed skater and figure skater rolled into one. When she skid to a stop and leaned into a glorious arch over the edge, she suddenly found herself besieged by crawling baby dolls which emerged from under and over the bench. This non sequitur, unlike the other small props, surprised and charmed. Her solo reverie became a mad dash to keep all twenty babies safe from harm. The mechanized clicks and whir of the toys, combined with Fernandez's blond curls frenetically trailing behind her, reminded me of the shrill hell of trying to keep the many elements of one's life moving in intended directions -- work, love and responsibilities spilling beyond control as the lights delicately fractured and then dimmed.

FNAK is a gift to the contemporary art scene in Baden-Wurttemberg. For more information on FNAK and its programming, please click here.

Julia Ritter is a choreographer, performer, and artistic director of Julia Ritter Performance Group. She is currently working in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar for 2002-2003.

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