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Flash Review Journal, 5-6: Falls and Recoveries
At Podewil, Khan Runs Mouth, Two Fish Trolls, Pisani Persists, and Kinkaleri Falls

By Julia Ritter
Copyright 2003 Julia Ritter

BERLIN -- The Podewil Center for Contemporary Arts is known as the kind of hot spot that encourages emerging artists to develop their individual signatures. The 8th annual Korperstimmen (Body Voices) Festival is a cooperative event with Tanzwerkstatt Berlin, the resident dance production organization that produces contemporary dance that crosses over genres to work in tandem with other media. The curators of Korperstimmen, Andre Theriault and Ulrike Becker, are aiming to bring young companies to the Podewil audience, a tough one after years of rigorous programs at the unique space.

All this innovation leads one to expect some mind-blowing work. Certainly, that was what was going through my mind as I made my way each night to mid-town last week. While moments of enlightened artistry surfaced throughout, I found audience response to be tepid overall, indicating that the curators might need to dig deeper and more widely for talent to please the space's demanding public.

Akram Khan, from London, opened. Khan is a sumptuous mover and performer whose productions integrate Kathak with contemporary dance ideas, and he succeeded in seducing the audience, partnering his dances with excellent musicianship and stunning lighting designs by Aideen Malone. There was one sound, though, that at first I could not identify, but then it became clear. It was the collective gritting of teeth, (not just my own) that occurred as Khan introduced each piece, four total, with, "The beauty of this work is...." This preceded a lecture-demonstration of the rhythmic intricacies and spiritual concerns of the various choreographers (not him), although the notes were clearly written in the program. Khan is passionate about bringing cultures and communities together, a respectable mission, but dance, just please dance, and let us find the beauty within.

"Sans," Martine Pisani's contribution, gave us a trio of performers exploring slapstick and post-modern movement on an exposed stage with no set and no music. Unfortunately, the exercise was also delivered seemingly without craft as Theo Kooijman, Laurent Pichaud and Olivier Schram appeared as three very awkward Adams, cast out nakedly by the choreographer, forced to wear their self-consciousness sheepishly. They sang, they buffooned, and they lost us in the process. Voices from my mentors screeched through my brain -- a clown teacher warning that "these improv exercises do not a performance make," another instructor reminding me that "good recorded music is better than bad live accompaniment." Finally, when Pisani finished tinkering with elementary assignments onstage and it felt we are nearing the end, she had the group do it again (the WHOLE thing), but twice as fast. I don't think that the curators of Body Voices intended the most influential text to be the voice-over in my head, but the thoughts provoked by Pisani's work almost had me uttering audibly and loudly and they weren't nice.

Two Fish is the Berlin-based duo of writer/actor Martin Clausen and choreographer Angela Schubot, and currently is one of the companies in residence. Its new "Frau Malchert se dechaine" displays the disappointments of personal communication and features Clausen in performance with Frank Halfar and Peter Trabner. This tightly wound, verbose work unravels itself through a series of very funny passages written by Clausen through which the performers reveal situations where they were required to come to grips with their associations with others. They struggle with their perceptions and individual schemes and try to find the correct ways to handle discrepencies between people. They discuss a hopeful letter that was carefully written and sent off, only to be returned with a hastily scrawled admonishment of its stupidity. A certain energy is churned up between the trio with the text, and then it is turned on the audience -- are we, as viewers, being asked to be complicit in these scenarios? It is hard to tell. Later Clausen begins a story about his grandfather, chokes and cannot go on. Traber, who incessantly barrages his comrades with antagonizing questions, now must reroute his energy to support, cajole and encourage Clausen to continue. Halfar does not intercede -- we see he has decided that his battles are now elsewhere. Clausen abandons the scene, ending the performance.

The abrupt end, as well as some very awkward transitions that even the ultra-naturalistic vibe can't cover up, indicate the group has a bit more work ahead of it. However, Two Fish provokes through a clever play of text and movement; when others change their minds, what tactics and ammunition do we apply to deal with them, and thus, the mutations of our own selves? Schubot, it should be noted, was sidelined by knee-surgery during this creation so the choreography is simplistic, yet I found a section of rough but dynamically arresting partnering to be honest and watchable.

Certainly the highlight of the festival was Kinkaleri, a collective performance group from Florence whose name, according to the program, comes from "the intrinsic beauty of the closeness of the letters making it up and the consequent phonetic result" as well as the group's propensity for incorporating knick-knacks of all kinds into the fabric of their performances. Indeed, this is messy theater, big on stuff and low on movement invention but with a sharp wit and intelligent pacing. In its newest work, "Otto," Luca Camilletti, Marco Mazzoni, Christina Rizzo and Matteo Bambi are the performers, while Massimo Conti and Gina Monaco are at the controls. For all the potentially infuriating moments I witnessed (including a bag of flour that exploded at eardrum puncturing decibels), at the end I felt satisfied that I had been expertly ferried across a deep and treacherous void by strong performances and surprises that made me grin in spite of myself.

Program notes say that "Otto" is a vacuum, and, indeed, through stillness and silence, we are introduced to a world populated by narcoleptics, whose obsessions, fetishes and vulnerabilities are revealed when they crash and release from clutched hands small, precious items. These bits and pieces are tender survivors in a world gone asleep; the ribbon of toothpaste, shot from a tube upon falling; a red pair of gloves; a wind-up frog; a small stuffed rooster and a roll of paper-towels. Luca Camilletti is the heaviest sleeper here, most prone to depart downwards without warning, but the others soon catch the disease. Marco Mazzoni gingerly lays down a welcoming picnic blanket, promptly crashes and loses his toupee. The performers lay motionless, while the tiny tragedies reverberate through the space and things outlive people.

Cristina Rizzo is honestly brutal throughout. We watch her wriggling to the sounds of pop singers heard through headphones while her complacent gaze distances us. She opens a door to her isolation by placing her headphones on a microphone stand so we are suddenly blasted with sound. Each time she enters the space, I am fascinated by the intensity of her apathy, which makes me care more what happens to her. I appreciate her simple, miniature dances, and the way she so carefully draws out the lines of her body in diagonal patterns. I wonder what embarrassing memory causes her to freeze suddenly as she eats honey out of a jar -- all I know is she is caught in the anxiety of some bad decision. Most of all, I want her to be safe when she takes off across the debris-strewn stage in a journey of pique turns. But she is doomed, and when a wicked fall overtakes her, her glance towards us says, "This, too, was over before it all began."

The chaos begins to have a domino effect as Matteo Bambi, whose face we never see because he is brought out slung over Mazzoni's back, is dropped harshly to the floor behind the large stereo speakers. Anxious audience members check on him from time to time, leaning forward -- but nothing. He will never move again. Rizzo documents the exhibits of failure and loss by placing small, alphabetized placards next to each calamity. The motionless Bambi gets no placard. After Camilletti undergoes a ridiculous search for a certain cookie in a brand new bag, we anticipate his catastrophes will worsen until at the end, we see him face down in a birthday cake, eating it from the inside out.

But this is not heavy work, as it does not drag us down in the despair. It is pleasurably weird, and takes a quiet, sideways look at life's basic evolutionary processes -- death (fall) and regeneration (recovery). Kinkaleri makes theater that will make you, as an audience member, work hard. The audience must settle in and accept its role of silent observer, for it is necessary to be very quiet in the theater, so as not to miss any sound or music (sometimes only coming from a performer's headphones). You will wait a long time for something to occur. To fully appreciate this work, you may have to do as I and several others did after the performance: remain and gaze at the destroyed stage for clues AND read the programs (two of them) a few more times. That being said, I think the fact that we all CARED enough to stay and do this speaks for itself. Be sure to find a way to witness Kinkaleri if it passes your way.

(Editor's Note: On May 15, 16, and 17, "Two Fish" brings its earlier work, "Gabriel-Max-Str. 2, 1st floor left" to the Rencontres Choregraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis, where Kinkaleri also performed last month. For more information on Podewill, please click here.

Julia Ritter is an assistant professor of dance at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. She is working through a Fulbright Scholar Award in Germany for 2002- 2003 and is the artistic director of Julia Ritter Performance Group.

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