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Letter from Berlin, 11-8: Tanzoff!
Terry Dean and Katie Meet Lucky Trimmer & Co.
By Angharad Davies
BERLIN -- Cross-pollination is a good thing. It results in the
variety, adaptation, and development of a species; when it comes to
dance, perhaps the most endangered of all artistic forms, it can be
just the thing to keep the medium vital. The Lucky Trimmer/Danceoff!
Berlin/New York Dance Swap performance presented by the international
dance festival Tanz Im August literally did just that. In
representing two cities where individual funding for dance is either
dwindling or relatively non-existent, Dance Swap, which organizers
hope will be an annual event, celebrated the tenacity of its
participating artists. The idea was this: a multi-artist
cabaret-style evening shared by Berliners Lucky Trimmer, directed by
Clint Lutes, and New Yorkers Danceoff!, directed by Terry Dean
Bartlett and Katie Workum. The only rule: the selected works could
not exceed ten minutes. At this August 23 performance at the
Podewils'sches Palais, the inaugural swapping of space, ideas, and
resources resulted in an entertaining -- if inconsistent and long --
evening of dance.
Copyright 2007 Angharad Davies
The program kicked off with Luis Guerra's "Human Being," a highlight
for its smack-you-in-the face-and-wake-up physicality. Performer
Guerra runs screaming up the aisle, while guitarist Rogério C. Pires
plays otherworldly, atonal screeches of dolphins underwater, amped up
about a million times. With snarls, squeaks, growls, small bits of
text (did I really hear, "Precious, oh my precious"?), Guerra makes
his descent back to the stage. It's a cartoonish, sped-up history of
time unfolding with every movement of his body. He shifts with
alarming ease from Bart Simpson to a lurking raincoat flasher to the
penitent to the postulations of a free-styling B-Boy. Guerra has a
remarkable ability to make lighting-quick shifts, every movement
crystallized, like a flip-book of human existence. The blasting
hurricane of energy in his slight body persists until our demonic,
demented Everyman simply waves goodbye and slips offstage.
Another offering from team Berlin came in the form of "They Survived"
by Ini Dill and Thomas Jacoby. What would have happened if Romeo and
Juliet had never touched the poison to their rosebud lips or drove the
dagger home? The two sit atop a kitchen table in plastic deck chairs
with their names sprawled across the back in red, our Juliet slumped
into a catatonic-like state, kicking one leg like a dreaming dog,
while Romeo slurps out of a silver thermos, in time to medieval
classical music in a recording by Ensemble Micrologus. The pair move
around, over and under the table, always returning to this opening
image, the long ingrained patterns of an old and disenchanted couple
that once burned with the flames of youthful passions. Lesson:
Survival did not, in fact, defend this Romeo and Juliet from their
'tale of more woe.' It just prolonged it. The piece has all the
makings of a fairy tale -- they feed each another with rusty knives,
Juliet gives birth to a cauliflower and scores more miraculously
appear, to be chopped into a mountain of snow. Despite engagingly
strong visuals, however, "They Survived," with it's too-abrupt
conclusion, ultimately dissatisfies.
The Berlin camp also included artists Maya Lipsker, with her intensely
committed, though at times puzzling, duet "Bruno," American ex-pat Ami
Garmon in her George Carlin-quoting solo "All There Is," (Carlin did
it better) and Christian Schwaan and Alexander Ambite y Mensen with
their corny pantomime of Blossom Dearie's song "Peel Me A Grape."
New York was represented by three ensembles: Dance Gang (a.k.a. Kennis
Hawkins and Will Rawls), with the somewhat banal contribution "The
Shaggy Egyptians," Ivy Baldwin, in whose company I once danced, with a
delightful and tragicomic excerpt of her newest piece "It's Only Me,"
and Katie Workum and Terry Dean Bartlett, who as the Danceoff!
directors had the luxury of bringing two comic interludes to the Dance
Swap. They might have benefited by only bringing one of the pieces.
In "Love and Bubblegum" they sit across from one another, looking
lovingly into each other's eyes, shoving sticks of gum into their
mouths. A frenetic tango breaks out and ends with Workum sticking her
entire wad of gum into Bartlett's mouth, saying, "I think I need to do
this alone." Climbing onto Bartlett's shoulders, Workum exposes the
very precarious essence of her love for him, flaws and all, as his
knees buckle and sink. She says "You make me feel like the skies over
HanoverÉ no, Tuscany. No, actually, Hanover." This gets a big laugh
from the mostly German audience. But why does she love him? He's a
putz. Only when Bartlett falls completely prostrate, gasping for
breath, does Workum realize what she has done and apologize. Love,
with all its disappointments and imperfections, lives on, even under
Hanoverian skies. As they attempt to put a funny, metaphorical spin
on the annoying elements of being in a relationship, the audience eats
it up like warm apple strudel.
In their second piece, "Dance for a Girl Unnamed," the characters are
reprised. They are dressed to the nines, Workum armed with a cello,
Bartlett with only his physical prowess. Workum plays a few notes;
Bartlett responds to each note with a back flip, landing flat on his
belly, with a loud splat. (Don't worry -- a gymnastic mat breaks his
fall. And besides, Bartlett, recently fired by Streb Extreme Action,
knows how to land like a cat in more ways than one.) And
so, the piece goes on... and on... and on. Workum drives Bartlett to the
extreme. She lowers her bow, and simply looks on, with her
wonderfully mobile face. Taking pity on the poor fellow, who has
literally been doing back flips for her, she leans in for the
predictable kiss. Lights out. Groan. Though it's definitely
superficial shtick, Bartlett and Workum know their audience. Hey,
they are entertainers and this is entertainment, right?
Bumping up flagging energy levels at the end of an extended evening
was "Tingle Lore," choreographed by NYC to Berlin transplant and Lucky
Trimmer organizer Clint Lutes. Egged on by the kick-ass electro music
by Patrick Blasa, performers Lutes and Melanie Lane gyrated, thrusted
pelvises, and then gyrated some more. With a regrettably thin thread
of frivolous narrative -- club kids on the prowl, shouting over the
music, looking for action and the hottest beats -- the piece was
nonetheless an amusing vehicle for vamping, preening, foot stompin'
and general tail feather shakin' under the mirrored lights of a
twirling disco ball.
After more than two hours in a stuffy theater, not counting
intermission, the festival goers poured out like bees to honey, in
search of refreshment at the bar downstairs. While it wasn't a
perfect night, it was a wonderful experiment for cross-cultural
exchange that should only get better if given the chance to mature.
Angharad Davies is a freelance performer, choreographer, and teacher.
She holds an MFA in Dance from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and has
worked with several companies including Drastic Action, Gina Gibney
Dance, Ivy Baldwin Dance, and Ze'eva Cohen. She has taught for the
Lincoln Center Institute, and at universities including George
Washington, Princeton, and Yale. Since decamping to Berlin in 2006,
she has worked with directors Livia Patrizi, Mariano Pensotti, and video
artist Annette Godde, and collaborates as a performer with director
Hanna Hegenscheidt. In addition to teaching professional-level
contemporary dance classes, she works as a teaching artist for
Berlin's dance-in-schools program, TanzZeit.