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Letter from Berlin, 11-8: Tanzoff!
Terry Dean and Katie Meet Lucky Trimmer & Co.

By Angharad Davies
Copyright 2007 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.

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.

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