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Review Dispatch, 11-14: Berlin Diary
Waltz from the 'Insideout'; Video no Game for Paasonen
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Tsao
BERLIN -- It was supposed
to be a vacation, but somehow when I got to Berlin to see my friend
Tomi Paasonen's newest work, I learned I also had the chance to
see Sasha Waltz's latest piece. I had seen Waltz's "Zweiland/Zweiland"
in 1999 and "Allee
der Kosmonauten" in 2001, both presented by Cal Performances
at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall, but hadn't written anything about
either. I immediately e-mailed PBI to see if he could use a review.
"Insideout" had just
premiered the week before at Waltz's home base the Schaubuehne am
Lehniner Platz when I saw it on October 17. It is an impressive
extravaganza, an installation rather than a proscenium stage performance,
in which the audience wanders among the dancers while climbing up
and down and strolling in and out a jungle gym of rooms/performance
spaces designed by Thomas Schenk; some are part of a large central
construction, others free standing "buildings"; some are completely
accessible to the spectators, others inaccessible. The central construction
is modular with walls sliding in or disappearing, curtains drawn
open or closed, plexiglass display cases filled with dancers or
emptied through doors on the back. Off to the side there is a separate
small room with a clear front wall and a grass roof with sand on
the floor. Another free-standing space is an aluminum refrigerated
compartment with plastic strips hanging across the door.
The costumes by Bernd
Skodzig run the gamut from g-string, to scanty underwear, to bathing
suits, to loose pajama tops and pants, to street clothes, to grunge
garb, to evening dress, to uniforms, and finally the poster image,
a highly stylized suit, pants and platform shoes with stiletto heels
all joined into one seamless piece, topped off by a hat plus head
covering, all of an overblown black and white hounds-tooth check.
I am certainly awed
by the level of coordination between the wardrobe and tech crews
and the dancers as the logistics of maintaining a smooth-running
show here certainly seem to surpass the choreographic complexity.
(Who knows if the audience noticed, but as a former dancer and choreographer,
I am fully aware of this achievement.)
The evening begins quietly,
the audience seeping across the space, sampling the various sites
where the dancers are moving slowly and simply to musicians playing
Rebecca Saunders's very spare composition, "Solos, Duos, Trios for
Ten." The effect is like looking through a kaleidoscope turning
nearly imperceptibly. At first I assume that I will have time to
make the rounds and take in all that is going on, but then it becomes
apparent that nothing is going to be repeated and, under these circumstances,
whatever I happen to see is what I get. Slowly the pace picks up
and our inner voyeurs capitulate to the surrounding action. It is
obvious that there is no way any one observer can see everything.
Each member of the audience will have an individual experience of
the performance, as in life. At one point I feel a rush of elation,
as if I were Alice in Wonderland.
A woman fills her pantyhose
with sand from a row of bottles. As it settles around her ankles,
one word comes to my mind: elephantiasis. She lies down, raises
her legs, pulls at the knit nylon, and like sands flowing in an
hourglass, the response to gravity endows her thighs and hips with
a gritty voluptuousness. Eventually she walks through several rooms
with now sand bloated feet and is lifted by a wall of hands poking
through small doors. The disembodied hands begin pulling at the
pantyhose, successfully ripping holes through which the sand pours
The rhythm and timbre
of the show grow more intense, verging on chaotic. Dancers chase
each other through the crowd shouting into megaphones; an edge of
violence begins widening until the atmosphere shatters. Some of
the performers convince most of the audience to sit down in front
of several plexiglass display boxes where other dancers put on a
little show. At this point all pretense of freedom for the spectators
to see the performance through their own choices evaporates. They
can be manipulated as easily as a TV-addicted kids.
never regains its driving pace, and it drifts on far too long before
it's over. I am feeling disappointed that there is only the illusion
of interaction between the performers and audience; there is no
real participation by the spectators. What does it all mean? Yes,
it is entertaining and many vignettes are intriguing, but what is
the point of it all? A metaphor for life? If so, why go to all the
trouble of such an elaborate performance?
Almost at the other end of the stylistic spectrum, and clear across
town in the former East Berlin at Dock 11, I had seen a premiere
from Tomi Paasonen, the former LINES dancer, the night before. I
have watched Paasonen's development since 1998 when, after dancing
with Alonzo King's company, he founded Kunst-Stoff with Yannis Adoniou
in San Francisco. While he used to be far more theatrically "over
the top," he has begun exploring more internal and intimate themes
concerning memory, repetition/difference, self and identity, and
he has stripped down both his aesthetics and choreography without
any loss of impact. The emphasis is simply put on other elements
or aspects of the work and the result is a crystalline brilliance.
Paasonen is the only
choreographer I have ever seen who uses video projection as an integral
element of what he is trying to communicate. I can't begin to count
the number of times that video is really just a part of the visual
design, or a means of allowing the audience to see facial expressions
in great detail. With Paasonen the video is another performer on
stage, evoking responses from other performers, or from the same
performer who is being video-taped, either at the very moment the
action is taking place or at a later instant when the video is shown.
In fact, the cast for the three pieces on the program is two dancers,
one cameraman, and one projectionist. Paasonen himself is responsible
for the concept, direction, choreography, costumes and video direction.
Lights and sound are by Markus Schulte and Mike Kokoska, while a
special installation by Carle Lange and Ulf Knudsen is discussed
As the audience finds
seats, the performers have already begun with an introductory section.
Fernando Pelliccioli stands on one leg in the middle of the floor.
Carlos Osatinsky walks very deliberately around the perimeter of
the space. A perky Japanese woman, Yuko Matsuyama, playing off the
stereotype of the smiling, obsequious Oriental, periodically rushes
to the front to announce how happy she is to be here. She disappears
and the first piece, "RE: Repetition and differencE" starts.
Osatinsky dances a movement
phrase to some German oompapa music, an almost militaristic waltz,
as Pelliccioli aims a spot light at him. When he finishes, Pelliccioli
puts down the lamp, runs forward and gives a video tape to Paasonen,
who inserts it in a video camera. Osatinsky begins the same phrase
to the same music again. Halfway through Paasonen projects the video
of the version he just danced before. Sometimes the steps match
up perfectly, at other times there are distinct variations between
them. Matsuyama comes out in the first of a series of elaborate
costumes and delivers a speech in German while Pelliccioli grovels
at her feet, wiping the floor. My companion explained that it really
didn't matter that I hadn't understood precisely the meaning of
what she said because it was mostly a string of plays on words,
which I had understood. Then the whole process of solo dance being
video-taped followed by a speech is repeated three more times. In
the final version, somewhat like the effect you see when you sit
in the middle of a room with mirrors on the opposing walls, you
see four video dancers, one above the other, on the wall behind
Osatinsky. Each version is different, some only slightly and others
drastically, as the dancer has both tried to repeat and deliberately
vary the movement phrase.
"W (double you)" was
first performed in San Francisco in October 2002. I loved it then,
and thought it was one of the very best choreographic works last
season in the Bay Area. This time around it is expanded and because
it is performed by two entirely different dancers, it almost is
like another piece. In brief, the image of one dancer is projected
onto the other dancer as they move either alone or together. There
is also a section where the dancers literally chase their own projected
images. In the end, we realize that the two dancers are struggling
to individualize themselves from each other and yet can't help seeing
how much they are alike. The way in which Paasonen brings us to
that realization is very impressive as it is done only with movement
and the superimposed projections.
The last piece, "O (lOOp),"
utilizes an ingenious instrument/lighting tool created and played
by Ulf Knudsen. He built a panel of twelve iron nails connected
to 1000W of electrical current, and by stroking it with a piece
of metal, he completes electrical circuits which control the lighting
and create part of the sound score. As Matsuyama sings and moves
and Osatinsky runs and hurls himself against the wall, I suspect
that most of us can relate to the experience of wanting to flee
from oneself. While the idea comes across clearly, the dance itself
could be tightened up considerably and shortened.
The difference between
the two choreographers' work I saw here is akin to the difference
between Henry Fielding and Emily Dickinson. Waltz, like Fielding,
takes on life with all its dimensions and layers, as if a caterer
had laid out a smorgasbord of food from every ethnic street vendor
in the world, allowing one to sample a limitless array of concoctions.
Paasonen, like Dickinson, distills facets of that same life down
to pure essence, then concentrates and purifies the liquor into
a potent elixir that frees the imagination to muse upon the meanings
that were previously elusive, but have now been brought into clearer
focus. To partake of one or the other is only a matter of personal
taste. Ultimately, I feel that with Waltz, in this particular piece,
art imitates life a bit too much. I don't experience enough of her
own individual point of view. I value Paasonen's artistic process,
because his ability to shape his work into new forms leads us along
uncharted paths. He opens up our eyes to see his unique perspective,
to hear his voice. While with some choreographers the journey is
through all too well-known territory, Paasonen allows us to explore
his country with unjaded senses.
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