The second performance of Saturday night in Tanztage’s Festsaal, Hermann Heisig’s THEMSELVES ALREADY HOP! is superficially opposed to almost the entirety of Jana unmüßig’s HAUS, elaborate staging and costumes where HAUS was stripped bare, music and delineated scenes against an endless emptiness, and an apparent careless, undancerly attitude to choreographing and performing in place of an unapologetic singular dedication to movement analysis. What might then seem to be a curious choice of programming belies the similarities of these two works.
Three chairs, a table, another small cabinet with champagne and glasses, a square burgundy, parquetry floor. Four visitors, perhaps at a party. The first in large fur coat, he wears black patent shoes, beige trousers, a red shirt and black tie. Then, a smaller woman in black perhaps tulle dress, black fur bolero jacket, gold tiara and ballet slippers, a taller lanky man, moustache, black leggings with white panels down the outside, also a bolero jacket but longer red top, and lastly she wearing white chiffon dress, sequined jacket, heels. All have perfectly groomed hair.
Somehow I find myself being more critical of this piece the longer I think about it. In contrast to HAUS, it was easy, light, engaging, entertaining, which does not automatically preclude it from being liked or loved despite my predilection for darkness. Perhaps to take a line or rather a word from both the german and english programme notes: autistischem, autistic.
After heterosexual love stories, the second most pervasive narrative in contemporary dance is madness or mental imbalance in all its forms. I was deeply critical of this in Tanja Liedtke’s 12th Floor, especially the rape scene which I found simply offensive rather than dark or challenging, and so to casually throw such a word as autistic into programme notes begs a very good reason to do so. Whether this can used in good faith with a subsequent word, ‘multitasking’ also is something troubling.
Perhaps I read too much into it. The four are awkward in silence once the music stops. They try and sit down. Not enough chairs. Things aren’t going swimmingly until someone pours some champagne. Despite being alcohol-free, the placebo effect loosens them all up. They begin to dance and undress, ah only their coats though, and prepare a picnic.
Obsessive hair grooming from black dress is met with constant bouncing or shaking from white chiffon. Things start to move, the repose of the picnic broken by the two men moving individually all the cutlery and crockery off the picnic rug, into an accumulation and then around the room. Things get rather energetic.
Something I noticed in almost every performance in Tanztage was an identical dynamic progression, kind of like this arrow if it were more slanted: ↷. Things start off, established, made clear. After a time someone will behave a little more sharply, abrupt, staccato, a hint of frenzy. And this builds up until it becomes this, very ordered and choreographed but frenetic. It reaches a climax of sorts and then comes to a fairly swift finish. Perhaps they look around slightly embarrassed as if coming to their senses, or drift on into the next section.
For me, and especially in this piece which was one of the more accomplished pieces I wonder why this has to be done. Why bother? Does it add something to the piece, is it trying to say something, how is it necessary to slavishly follow this dynamic path while dressing it in various accoutrements? I feel like an anthropologist uncomprehendingly observing a native tribe’s rituals in deepest Guinea, and of course I am going to load my own interpretations on top. I would like to be given no option to do so.
This was especially the case during two scenes, or perhaps one longer rambling one. They all join in stomping, until hair becomes disheveled, faces flushed and all a bit sweaty. In a circle making claws and faces at each other. One ends stops and sits down, the others swagger around, they begin to lead, whoever is front makes the movements, the others follow. Later, arms around each other they stagger run fall across the parquet, back and forth, up and down, then only holding hands. A pile fallen over trying to help each other up but only bringing themselves down, making it worse maybe.
Was there enough in this to make it mean something? If I say, “Yes, it is like that”, is it the same as, in agreement with, the identical utterance from who sits beside me? It reminded me of hours-long group tasks with Wendy Houston, which are interesting enough in themselves, if for nothing else simply as play, yet do not necessarily say anything. They are tools and methods with which to make context perhaps but on their own produce the semblance of meaning, a simulacra. Perhaps to say a more rigorous opposition to relativism within such intangible choreographic methods is necessary.
I was also thinking about Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others around this scene, which I wrote about in HAUS. Though whereas Jana’s choreographic attention is paid to an almost excruciating technical attitude to dance and dancers, Hermann’s shows an aesthetic which is aligned closely with Sontag’s ideas of the role of perceived amateurism in the creation of the authentic. While seemingly opposed, Jana’s and Hermann’s works do exactly tangle with questions of what constitutes dance, dancers and performance, the display of technique or absence of, questions of authenticity. What I questioned in Jana’s, that of the aesthetic milieu of conceptual minimalism in dance, equally applied to Hermann’s. To make such a piece relying on recognisable staging, parquetry flooring, old semi-retro chairs and furnishings and similar clothing is to play quite safely within the bounds of the particular form.
Coming to an end, all the furniture, bits and pieces are stacked together, a castle or bulwark. Still in the white chiffon dress though hair much messier, she swings the rug overhead round and round until draping it over the pile, hiding behind or in also. Music again. They roll out, pouring drink, toasting each other to a finish. I was thinking of John Jasperse during this, not so much the movement but the sensibility, it was something intangible, a sense of human intimacy.