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Dasniya Sommer & Silke Schönfleish — Bondage Duell

Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, I had the great pleasure of seeing Dasniya Sommer’s new performance, Bondage Duell, with Silke Schönfleisch at Sophiensæle. I was there to photograph and film, so saw the performance as a series of movement between the real world, camera screen and intercut with frozen images and instances of blackness. It’s always a weird way to see a performance and detaches me from the actual duration and progression of a work.

Bondage Duell is in Sophiensæle’s Kantine, a medium-sized rectangular chamber on the ground floor, in which Dasniya has set the audience in a shallow arc, like theatre half-in-the-round, on the long axis. Everything is compressed, as audience we’re much closer to Dasniya and Silke than we would be if the space was arranged more conventionally, using the depth. Their movement then, is side to side, long, flattened ellipses.

It’s brutal, touching, sexy, intimate; there’s a whiteout of fog, an audio landscape going from cars (courtesy our annual visits to the shrine of Fast & Furious) to cicadas, light moving from ’90s techno to blinding footlights to the softest, haziest, dreamlike seduction. Yes, there’s rope and shibari and suspension, these are after all what Dasniya has made her art for over a decade. Silke also, first coming to her workshop in Vienna at ImPulsTanz in 2014, and since then gradually working together and towards this performance, fitting it around her career as a Regierungsdirektorin in Berlin and formerly Staatsanwältin with the Bundesjustizministerium (that’d be currently a senior government official, and previously public prosecutor at the German Federal Ministry of Justice), basically deeply scary person when at work.

Dasniya’s last performance in Sophiensæle was MA — let’s give it it’s full and proper title, eh? — MA√ 15 { idiosyncrasy } || sin x = ly – fx²¯ in 2009, all turquoise everything, one of the most significant works bringing shibari into theatre and dance, certainly a huge influence on shibari and performance in Berlin, and particularly for trans and queer artists (especially on the women and feminine sides of those things). That was eight years ago, and the rest of the world has made inroads into catching up to what she was doing then — there’s a lot of brilliant art and performance being made with shibari these days. Dasniya’s also moved on, in addition to her own work, working with the likes of Roméo Castellucci, and being a long-time regular with Berlin theatre group, Das Helmi, which in turn has led to semi-regular collaboration with Zürich’s Theater HORA, as well as slowly and very determinedly taking and forming her ideas around rope, shibari, bondage, ballet, also queerness, feminism, femininity, representation, selfhood, her own history as both German and Thai. Anyone who’s seen what she’s been up to in recent years (like smaller performances in festivals like Männer in Garagen) will recognise what’s going on here.

It’s tough, and I don’t mean just the physical brutality of Dasniya and Silke tormenting each other. Obviously I’m biased as I’ve known her for as long as I’ve lived in Berlin, and I like the work of my friends, nonetheless Bondage Duell is doing what interests me in performance. It’s not passing off superficial, trashy, glib, cool, disposable politicising; it skates dangerously along the kerb with imagery that causes discomfort not just on the stage (like the nude paint orgy scene did in the Helmi/HORA collaboration, Mars Attacks!), and at the end I’m like, “Fuck yeah, that was brilliant.” It’s a little like Melanie Lane’s Wonderwomen, or Iain M. Banks’ Culture civilisation, it’s something to aspire to, a future we are making now.

In the end I saw the generale, première, and closing nights, so I saw the performance evolve over this short season, and some of this evolution was considerable. I know Silke and Dasniya talked through various things and were much more willing to take mutually tormenting each other to places where it became disturbing for the audience to watch, which in turn allowed them to revel in causing that unpleasantness. Whether to laugh or be outraged, they’d already moved on by the time we’d formulated a response. It was the gentleness I noticed as well, how they moved together, how completely confident and knowing each other as they mirrored each other’s movement while dressed only in pink and black lingerie, spontaneously growing in beautiful, tender ways. I loved also how the audience was both shocked and in love, how they were battered back and forth by the continual flipping of these states; by the end it was like they stunned.

So, photos. This is a mix from the generale and première, a mix which conveniently turned out to cover each other’s missed spots, so forms a patchwork of the whole (well, most of, there’s a few surprises yet). It is a patchwork though. As usual, I took hundreds of photos, kind of brute-forcing the limits of my camera in low light and fog to capture something. I ended up with about a hundred I really liked, which together convey the work more faithfully than these do, these which in the end are a somewhat arbitrary choice.

Reading … A 9th Anniversary

It’s that time of year again! Frances’ and supernaut’s Books of the Year for the 9th time. And some most excellent books were read indeed. This time last year, I realised I’d been struggling a bit with enjoying reading. I looked back over what I’d read in previous years, compared it with 2015’s crop, and noticed I’d dug myself into a bit of a hole with mediæval art and history.

What to do, Frances? I dunno, Other Frances, how about read about space travel and stuff? Good idea!

Unlike last year, my ninth iteration of looking back on a year’s reading — and it’s in October because that’s when I first started blogging about reading, almost a decade ago — has some absolute slammers on the fiction side. Last year I didn’t even name a fiction book of the year. This year, if it wasn’t for one in particular, there’s be 4 or 5 smashing at it for joint Book. And in non-fiction the situation’s pretty similar, or even better, cos there’s barely a single non-fiction work I’ve read in the past 12 months that was anything less than well awesome. It’s also one of my least-read years, only 29 that I read and blogged (possibly a couple of others I’ve forgotten); definitely plenty of internet — I mean Rainbow Autobahn distraction in the last year, exacerbating my inability to focus on pages. I blamed my poor reading last year on that distraction as well, probably time to harden the fuck up and put away the internet.

Of those 29, only 10 were non-fiction; the remaining 19 non-fiction skewed more to fantasy than sci-fi, with around 7 works explicitly skiffy, 9 explicitly fantasy, and a trio (maybe more depending on how dogmatically I apply those categories) deftly straddling both. I call those Speculative Fuckery, ’cos I love when the only two genres I read start boning each other.

On the non-fiction side, mediæval Northern European history continues filling my shelves, and there’s a bunch of “not easily categorised on their own” which nevertheless fit predictably into my decades-long interests.

Then there’s the new, or maybe to say newly clarified bunch that I kinda want to call Islamicate Studies, though that might miss something, so it encompasses that, human rights, identity, philosophy, feminism, and is primarily from women from and/or writing on Iran, Near/Middle East (I’m a bit iffy on this appellation right now, and have been trying out ‘West Asia’ also because it shifts the centre and subject of focus out of Europe, dunno though), and people from or descended from those regions in Europe, North America, Australia. I arrived at this field of interconnected subjects after increasing dissatisfaction with how feminist/queer/left-ist writing addressed brown and/or Muslim identities; regarded these people living in Europe, North America, Australia; and when I spent some time thinking about how the diverse subjects I was reading needed to come together. Also it’s a lot of living in Berlin/Germany/Europe and getting increasingly pissed at the racism against anyone not unequivocally ethnically correct, and the white feminist/queer/left-ist bullshit distractions, and my own personal, slow movement towards identifying if not myself as Turkish/brown/West Asian/Muslim, then definitely my family history (as you can see from all the slashes, I have no idea).

Books! I have read them!

Fiction first. This was a fine year. If I hadn’t read Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, she’d still be my Fiction Book of the Year with The Winged Histories, though sharing with a few others. I don’t actually know how I would pick a book of the year from a pile comprised of that plus Jo Walton’s Necessity and The Philosopher Kings;  Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng’s The Sea Is Ours; and Ann Leckie’s masterful finish to her debut Imperial Radch trilogy, Ancillary Mercy. Impossible. I would probably give it to the latter, but then … Necessity, a brilliant conclusion to another trilogy, and The Winged Histories: sublime. So I could possibly get it down to a trio of exceptional literature, but no further. Lucky then A Stranger in Orlondria saved me from that anguish.

I don’t want to say it’s ‘better’ any of those other three — though perhaps that’s the case when comparing it to The Winged Histories, which would lose its spot in the trio just as The Philosopher Kings does to Necessity. I think of the two Samatar has written it’s a more major work. If this is my final trio then, I’m not claiming one is better than another, simply A Stranger in Olondria has had a significant effect on me. Would that effect stand up under re-reading? How would that re-reading compare to one of Leckie’s trilogy? If I read them both back-to-back, what then would be my judgement? The best questions always involve more reading.

This is all anyway just writing from memory, how I remember a book made me feel. I’ve been thinking recently that eventually my memory of a book dissolves until it’s just feelings, colours, a glimpse of an image or two. It’s like sediment, like geology, layers upon layers of this.

A quartet of other books I liked a lot: Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, Genevieve Cogman’s The Masked City, K. T. Davies’ Breed, and Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space.

Breed was a romp of Oglaf proportions and probably the most fun I had this year. I wish she’d write more of this. Reynolds’ Revelation Space I read because I needed some hard operatic space sci-fi, and his Slow Bullets novella was a favourite of mine last year. This one was good enough for me to slog through the whole, uneven trilogy. I like him, but there’s a hopelessness in his work, like the heat death of the universe.

As with Reynolds, Genevieve Cogman is another whose previous works got me to read her latest. The Invisible Library, which I also read last year was well tasty. I was super excited to find she had this sequel — and OMG! Just like last time when I discovered The Masked City, she has a sequel to that! Excellent! The immediate result of me writing about my favourite books is I’m ordering more.

Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning. Yeah, loved a lot. Glorious cover art, almost almost one of my first choices, but a few flaws in it, and the cliffhanger “Will bad things happen? Stay tuned for Book 2!” guaranteed to piss me right off. Please, don’t do that to me. I’ve paid for a story, not half a story. If your story’s too big for one book, then at least divide it in a way that doesn’t leave me hanging.

All of these authors I’ll read again (along with a score of others on my Have You Written A New Book Yet? list). I might be a bit crabby here and there about the works, but I also possess a modicum of self-awareness that I’m a pretty fucking demanding reader. The authors and works above if you’re into sci-fi / fantasy (or if you’re not) are about as good as it gets. Not just for this year, but of everything I’ve read in the last 12 years or so. (And just wait for next year’s Books of the Decade! It’s gonna be hectic!)

Non-fiction!

I didn’t read much of this in the last year, but I lucked out here too, barely a dud among them (and that single one was an old book I realised I’d never finished), running out of superlatives here.

I tried to broaden my non-fiction reading a little again, move outside the clag of mediæval history. So I read Amy Shira Teitel’s Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight before NASA, Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, and Jo Walton’ What Makes This Book So Great. All excellent works in completely different ways, and which remind me I need to read more astronomy, astrophysics, and geology this year.

The Book of the Year though — and I’m forcing myself to pick only one — comes from another trio: Kathryn Babayan and  Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Islamicate Sexualities: Translations Across Temporal Geographies of Desire; Seyla Benhabib’s The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens; and Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War.

Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, in no small part for her writing on the Soviet occupation and war in Afghanistan. Her writing is chilling. Heart-rending. I even said Zinky Boys would be my Book of the Year. Pretty sure I said the same thing about Seyla Benhabib’s The Rights of Others. In truth I shouldn’t pick one over the other, except that Babayan and Najmabadi’s Islamicate Sexualities somehow is tying all this together, mediæval history, human rights, feminism, identity, migration, religion, and it’s so urgently pertinent to the slow stumbling back to the abyss Europe is currently taking. Read them all, or at least familiarise yourself with the writers.

Other books well worth reading: Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics in Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence. Mediæval of course: Miri Rubin’s Emotion and Devotion: The Meaning of Mary in Medieval Religious Cultures, and Gude Suckale-Redlefsen’s Mauritius Der heilige Mohr / The Black Saint Maurice.

And that’s my reading for the last 12 months. As if I’m not sated and replete already, I’ve already got a pile of new stuff.

Reading is a great privilege. It’s not however, explicitly a human right. Article 26 i. and 27 i. of the UN Declaration of Human Rights either directly imply or by extrapolation intend reading as a human right, yet nowhere is it explicitly stated that reading comprehension or literacy, and the opportunity to gain this ability is a right. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, yet I can interpret the UNDHR in a way that fulfils the letter of declaration while still populating my dictatorship with illiterate proles.

My ability to read, at the level I do, at the frequency, my ability to critically consider the works I read (with or without concomitant swearing), to write about them here, to discuss them with others, all this is a privilege. And I mean that in the sense of a special honour. And that necessitates obligation.

Rather than continuing blabbing, I’ll quote myself, first from 2013 and then from last year:

Buy books! Buy books for your friends! Encourage people to read. If you know someone who Can’t Read Good (And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too), help them, reading is only difficult if you’ve been told it is. Support your local libraries!

And:

So here’s to the writers, and their publishers and proofreaders and editors and typesetters and designers and artists and agents and friends and families who make it possible for them to write so that I may read.

SOIT / Hans Van den Broeck: The Lee Ellroy Show

This is a very tardy review of the one show I did see in Vienna at ImPulsTanz. I’d planned to see two others, but the first coincided with getting from airport to apartment, and the second, following a bike-sprint from Arsenal to Schauspielhaus, suffered the fate of late arrival. That latter was Jérôme Bel’s Jérôme Bel, a performance I’ve only seen parts of on video, which nonetheless had a significant influence on my work.

Lucky third then. Hans, of course I could not miss seeing a Hans show, and double lucky only a roll down the hill from Arsenal to Kasino. Outside I find Ivo, who was looking very healthy and relaxed, having moved to the hills outside Sophia; inside, behind the desk were Hans and Giacomo, and on stage Anuschka and Jake. Present only aurally: James Brown (no, not that one/yes, that one). Inside was late, as Dasniya and Florian shuttled themselves post-workshop (I was the early ticket collector), so my seat was exactly in the middle of the back row, where I got to stretch out above all the others squashed in.

The Lee Ellroy Show, then. Hans had been in Los Angeles with Anuschka and discovered that terrifying writer: James Ellroy. My discovery of Ellroy was as a student in Melbourne. A flatmate had a thing for crime fiction and introduced Ellroy to me, starting with the L.A. Quartet, moving chronologically backwards to L.A. Noir, and proceeding forwards again via American Tabloid. On a plane from China to somewhere (or the other way, not that it’s important), I picked up The Cold Six Thousand. I never read his autobiographical My Dark Places then or subsequently; his fiction was disturbing enough without venturing into that. In Melbourne also, I had a chance to meet him when he was doing a reading around the time of the L.A. Confidential film. My flatmate came back with autographed books; I was far too intimidated of him, or his persona as objectified in the inside-cover portraits, him leaning on a wooden chair with seated Pit Bull.

I haven’t read him for years now, but I do have a distinct memory of the emotional and psychological trajectory that occurs like a leitmotif, one where the pressure and stress on the protagonist (usually in first-person) rearranges itself, as if looking into a scene reflected in mirrors which suddenly shift and displace the viewer’s sense of self and certainty, It’s like vertigo, or waking from a nightmare, where it’s only after, once one has surfaced that the inchoate horror of the preceding pages reveals itself. These waves and drownings would repeat through each novel until the protagonist would put enough of the pieces together to drag himself clear, though not without damage.

I mention all of this because Ellroy seems largely unknown, at least amongst the audience of The Lee Ellroy Show; I mention it also to describe the feeling of watching the performance, and how it illustrated that very particular horror which is an Ellroy novel.

So, first: lights! There are few lighting designers as talented as Giacomo Gorini. I can think of only a couple—Henk Danner for Emio Greco, and some of Frankfurt Ballett—that are comparable, and I would watch a show for his lighting alone. He not only designs, but gets up the ladder, hangs the lamps, operates the show (with beer and cigarettes), which says plenty about his personal artistry and just how uncommon a designer he is. Second: sound, the very-much alive James Brown’s fitted like a film-score with the lights and Dirk De Hooghe’s plastic-walled box set. Third: Anuschka and Jake. Anuschka wearing a dress! I’ve never seen her wearing a dress in six years!

It starts as a long, uncomfortable anti-climax: Jake as Ellroy at a book-reading, or perhaps Jake as a Ellroy’s character in 1950s’ Las Vegas; Anuschka either way as the compère. Canned laughter repeats and cuts abruptly. Ellroy as a boy, or again a character—who is always a stand-in for Ellroy—rides in circles around the transparent walls on an old bike. The walls hang and shine like curtains in an abattoir. Each moment of Jake as Ellroy as the protagonist as authorial stand-in is in tension with Anuschka as Ellroy’s mother, murder victim herself, murder victim in the book—either already or imminently—lover or potential lover, not quite betrayer, always there as a mute signifier and witness to herself, never entirely trusted or forgiven.

This is Belgian dance, so they do in fact dance. I’ve seen many brilliant dancers in Han’s works: Ivan Fatjo in We Was Them, Lars August Jørgensen in Messiah Run, and of course Anuschka in everything. Jake and Anuschka together is dance that makes me smile and say, “fuck, yes!” There is dance where the movement, its quality, the bodies doing it are not so far from mundane, most of the audience themselves could, with some preparation, perform no better nor worse. This is not that. This is transcendence of corporeality that comes from dance having so thoroughly infiltrated the person that they are irrevocably changed. It is virtuosity. They collide, fling together, apart, flailing, wrapping themselves around each other, falling and collapsing, now delicate, now explosive, terrifying, there is an inevitability here, as if we can almost see into the future, and when we arrive and look back it seems there was no other possibility. This is choreography.

Hans’ works are cinematographic and have become more so since working with James and Giacomo, who have strong filmic influences in structuring light and sound across scenes and the entire work. I saw the Staatsballett Berlin performing Onegin recently: both works have progression and development over time of a narrative drawn from a novel, and both use choreography and dance to do this. This may seem a superficial comparison, but it does represent the history of dance and its continual involvement in narrative storytelling (as different from “a bunch of things happen on stage and we the audience get to create our own story”, or straightforward conceptual dance). Hans is one of the very few choreographers I’ve seen who manages convincing narrative performance, in no small part by the highly talented people he works with.

On that, a couple of criticisms: I was speaking with someone after—a well-known Berlin performer whose work I also like—who hated it, who thought it was old and tired and unoriginal ’90s Belgian dance of which the world has seen enough. It made me question my own perception, not the least if somehow in the last few years I’ve become old, my critical faculty is only good for ballet, and this new generation understands the world in a way I can never. By comparison, I see the current autobiographical trend in dance as a very late arrival at the Tracey Emin party, absent critical self-reflection. I did agree with him in part on the process towards nakedness, which is a habit of european dance generally. Even flipping this, so the ending was the clothed resolution of a prior nakedness would lend a different reading.

Writing this, I was thinking of British playwright Howard Barker’s Death, the One and the Art of Theatre:

A theatre which honours its audience will demand of its writers that they write in hazard of their consciences, for writers are paid to think dangerously, they are explorers of the imagination, the audience expects it of them. If they think safely, what is the virtue of them? Do you want to pay £10 to be told what you knew already? That is theft. Do you want to agree all the time? That is flattery, and the audience is always flattered, which is why it has become so sleek.

An honoured audience will quarrel with what it has seen, it will go home in a state of anger, not because it disapproves, but because it has been taken where it is reluctant to go. Thus morality is created in art, by exposure to pain and illegitimate thought.

It’s not simple as that, particularly with the last 15-ish years where racism, misogyny, homo- and transphobia are given free rein under the aegis of ‘freedom of speech’, ‘post-blah’, ‘irony’ and with simultaneous resistance of groups targeted by bigotry to (the idea of) “exposure to pain and illegitimate thought” being presented a priori as neutral or unproblematic. Much as I no longer read William T. Vollman, Neal Stephenson, the classics from Hemmingway to Miller to the canon of Anglo and American literature, I haven’t read Ellroy for years: I’m looking for some other perspective, perhaps something of a Deleuzian Minority reading (and self-as-audience) project. I do however find in this quote something of what draws me to Hans’ work, as audience, as performer, as friend. I also think Hans is one of the rare people who manages to be choreographer, director, artist simultaneously. It occurs to me now that he is close to Falk Richter in this, though personally I think Hans is a vastly superior, thoughtful, more considered, and interesting artist.

Gallery

a body – gala moody at the volksroom

The coffee is made thus: In a small bowl two teaspoons or so of sugar for every cup is added. Once the coffee begins to run out of the espresso machine, the first trickle is poured onto the sugar. This is beaten with a spoon until taking on a pale brown colour, emulsifying. Into each small cup, two viscous spoonfuls of this amalgam, and then the coffee on top, stirring until a crema floats on its surface.

This is the coffee of Giacomo, who has been in Brussels the last week and an half while Gala finishes some weeks of rehearsals in a single performance at Ivo’s Volksroom, along with Anuschka von Oppen, who was showing Nearby Buffalo in Brussels after a short season in Berlin.

Gala and Giacomo haven’t been sleeping so much the last week; long nights working on the set, lighting, rehearsing, rewiring, trying ideas and pre-show amendments (a whole scene vanishes, and the sound from a previous one also). Coffee is in abundance, as is beer and cigarettes. A calmness across the days also.

I found myself in the place I am happiest: a theatre, making performance. I do mundane things such as taping things, hanging things, adjusting things. This is not a review, though perhaps can be taken as one.

Throughout is a stillness, waiting attentiveness. For a dancer who has found home in companies where movement is the heart, she makes nothing that could be said to be dancing. Perhaps the floor on which she rehearsed is responsible, but equally, there is no inconsistency between one being a dancer who dances and the same one making performance far removed from this. At the end (less than thirty minutes), had she continued the room would have gone with her.

Rope bondage and suspension. Gala hangs sideways from her waist and abdomen. Giacomo dresses her in a sheet of emergency orange latex. She is in a box inside a room, walls of opaque or transparent plastic, floor reflective Aluminium. Lights stutter and tremble.

Giacomo illuminates the performance with perhaps twelve or so sources, some recognisable as theatre lights, others fluorescent tubes, others common household lamps. At times, a fan pushes the plastic sheeting, undulating and filling the space with sound.

She is naked until the end. This also is a change; before she was naked the whole way through. In the end she is talking, in jeans and a t-shirt. A story, autobiography? A poem. She is swimming, no water, no, definitely water, water goes in, goes out, polluting a little. In ten years, twenty years, only a photograph left. I am paraphrasing here.

Earlier, she is running. On the spot. Endlessly. Throwing dirt or dust or ashes, which haze in the aura of light. Giacomo … his lighting is as music, classical music perhaps. Deeply artistic and romantic, and also precisely technical. Without being obvious, it fills the room, gives not simply form and colour, but emotion, movement, sense, time. He says we should come to the Gorini home, to eat rabbit and drink coffee.

I spend Friday with them watching this, light and performance, trying to find some settings on my camera that will not balk at the conditions. Low light is one concern, and ultimately the difficulty I can’t surmount. The plastic sheeting between Gala and I, the other; the camera resolutely focussing on any light reflecting off the sheet, making her even more unfocussed.

This morning, more coffee. Then a failed trip to the markets for crëpes, arriving too late. Anyway, it was beautiful, poignant. Some photos.

Nein! Nein! Nicht die Wunde ist es.

I heard it slightly wrong. Parsifal, struck with awareness of Amfortas and the wound is physically overwrought. “Sie brennt in meinem Herzen!” he says, and then pauses, realises, “No! No! It’s not the wound!”, it is the anguish of love, immoral longing, and it is, I heard him say, “die Pein des Lebens.”

He didn’t quite, of course. Though he might have. I downloaded the a torrent of the film and in the midst of this, became curious about what Parsifal actually says, and even thought perhaps my libretto is a different version, but here Pasifal does say, not “Qual der Liebe!” but “Pein der Liebe!”

It is not the shock of Amfortas – his wound sliced from him, cushioned on black cloth, paraded, and leaking blood like an unholy vagina – that causes him to panic so; rather it’s his sudden violent awakening to suffering. He becomes human as the rest and sees utterly how this weakness, infirmity, poisoned Amfortas, Gurnemanz, and all the Knights, ruined Kundry, Klingsor, and every last person.

Syberberg’s Parsifal rests on this horror-stricken instant, these lines which I heard and did not hear, yet nonetheless it is there.

Roméo Castellucci’s Parsifal was also close during the four hours and fifteen minutes. Partly because this is my first return to Brussels since, also because I watched parts of the second act of the film during rehearsals, noting as well, aspects, stagings, intellectualisms, which came from that into his work. The singular difference though, is Roméo’s Parsifal is that of the titular role, whereas Syberberg’s belongs to Kundry.

I left the theatre exhausted, dry-mouthed, dazed. It is a harrowing four hours without pause, and one of the most transcendent moments of art I’ve ever lived through.

I’ll dispense with some technical notes first. The print was heart-rending. Badly scratched, dirty, especially towards the end of most reels, missing sections, and obviously cut together from more than one copy. Naturally this affected the sound also, at times a mess of noise, at others jumping and skipping, unsyncing itself in jarring cuts, and mostly soft, without detail, and slightly muffled.

It is so distressing that a film of such tremendous power is reduced so, and makes me fear for its future. While DVDs are available from Syberberg’s website, this is in no way comparable to the quality of a film print, especially for a film such as this.

Armin Jordan’s conducting would fit into what I probably erroneously think of as the standard arrangement. Its not quite the dramatic brilliance of Solti, and also I’m spoiled by Hartmut Haenchen, whose ideas on how it should be played to my mind bring forth something unique. I found myself wanting Jordan to go faster in places, to not linger so much, to find a sharper dynamic. Still, it’s beautiful and there is care and attention given throughout.

And this Parsifal is Kundry, as it rightly should be. There are two Kundrys, the voice is Yvonne Minton’s, and who we see perform is Edith Clever. Edith is so convincing I thought she was in fact the singer. She is brilliant. I fell in love with her, completely taken, and it was her performance that left me stripped and emptied.

Three Parsifals. Reiner Goldberg’s voice, first Martin Kutter, then Karin Krick, finally both of them. It was likely this that caused some to walk out during act two.

It begins with photographs under water, dirt-stained and begrimed. The camera circles over, sometimes nearer sometimes pulling away. The Reichstag gutted, the Statue of Liberty toppled and half-buried (I thought, is this from Planet of the Apes?), finding a Swan pierced by an arrow, a fetish object; a prelude, Kundry with a young impetuous boy, playing with his archery set, watched on by child-knights, and on into a puppet world, Bayreuth and the first Parsifal. Wagner is there also, but first we pass again by Kundry, asleep with a book open, an etching of the Knights of the Grail at their round table. She has a crown in her lap. She is in white, inky-blue stars around her waist, or perhaps black holes. Absences.

Behind is Wagner’s visage in profile, a death-mask. Here the action shall take place. Behind that is a dead puppet Wagner and Kundry again, and behind that, draped in a cloth, the world and the world tree – Yggdrasl.

More Wagners. The one pounding his baton into a bleeding ear; the one dressed in women’s pink silk attire, again darkness, this time emerging from a padded smoking jacket, the absent body giving it form, and in the depths, stars and night. A pure geometric solid breaks this. A rhomboid upon which a projection hovers. This all shall return, just as the overture’s leitmotifs are played out.

Even from these few minutes, the bottomless depth of this Parsifal is acute. Back through time and space it goes, trapping as in an autopsy all the parts that make a whole. It is perhaps also a judgement. As Wagner himself turns back towards the Germanic romantic history and its imagined form in millennia prehistory – the well-spring of his opera, Syberberg himself from a hundred years after the prémiere turns those years on Wagner. It is a work of love, yet it is never uncritical.

How do I write about such a piece? How do I remember it? I want to say it was for me as an epiphany. I also want to hold this feeling, to not pass it over for the next stimulation. Perhaps to say it is a meditation, a ritual; to go through those hours.

There are two moments when the theme, what this is about, is impossible to misconstrue. The first where Parsifal falls to Kundry in anguish as she tells of her (his mother’s) broken heart waiting for his return. The second at the end, The two Parsifals, male and female – though both so androgynous – come from within the rent crags of Wagner’s profile, regard each other and embrace. It is love.

It is not the confusion of Wagner’s platonic ideal, with its implicit misogyny and homoeroticism, nor of a christian one, burdened with guilt, obligation, and choking threat of punishment. Whether or not the spear Parsifal(Karin) wields closes the wound is perhaps less important than Kundry then lying beside, her last act one of sacrifice that releases the two Parsifals, closes this existential suffering under which all are enslaved. (The Knights no less for their role in perpetuating it, trapped in an endless deathlessness.)

From this, the two Parsifals freed, are able to meet, to see each other. It would be disingenuous as well as mediocre to read this as simply the reunion of male and female, though what this meeting posits, as well as Syberberg’s intention here is difficult to grasp. Perhaps here, the Buddhism which threads through Wagner’s conception of this opera, and which Syberberg never makes so explicit as he does other themes, comes forth. That Martin Kutter’s Parsifal is a beautiful, long-haired boy, feminine and slender, emotional in thought and expression, and Karin Krick’s is boyish, a Joan of Arc warrior in leather, her face blank of expression and emotions the barest flitting to impassivity, certainly undoes this simplistic reading, as well as any interpretation as Freudian familial drama.

As to why Parsifal changes (after the kiss, after “Wie alles schauert, bebt und zuckt – in sündigem Verlangen!…”) is equally elusive, though the overture hints at some possible readings. Nonetheless, she blames Kundry for this fall from salvation.

And Kundry. In the end, the choir sings, “Höchsten Heiles Wunder! Erlösung dem Erlöser!”, as the Parsifals greet each other, we find her lying, now crowned, next to Amfortas, around which all the Grails as they have been represented are accounted for, the world atop Yggdrasl now open and Theater Bayreuth therein, Wagner also nearby in an open libretto, skeletal corpses of the Knights around. The camera pulls back into darkness, emerges from the eye of the iron skull of a bishop in the same water as the overture, crowned and propped up like a macabre edifice, barring permanently any sentimentalism, romanticism the opera’s resolution so seductively and easily gives, and on out, the theatre coming into focus again, embraced in a glass ball by Kundry. She stares unblinking through the final notes until they pass, her eyes grow heavy. Sleep.

stuttgart calixto bieito parsifal (+ andrew)

It seems the nature of seeing a performance in another city also involves lengthy missed trains on the return for Dasniya and I. Departing a minute before our arrival (or probably while we were stumbling around Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof looking for the line to Berlin), we decided to jump on one to Frankfurt on the next line over. Opting not to get off at Frankfurt Flughafen, instead waiting 11 minutes to arrive in Frankfurt itself, those minutes passed until we landed in Bonn.

S-Bahn to Köln, another quick change and on to Berlin via Hannover and other interesting places. Only an hour late arriving but the last three nights had been short on sleep, so I proceeded to do just that.

Calixto Bieito is new to me. Andrew Richards told me about him in Brussels and thought I’d love his style of mayhem, and with Andrew being Parsifal in both productions, taking a cheap-ish train to a city I’d never been in for a night of Wagner seemed like a good idea.

Firstly to say that while I made comparisons between the Castellucci and Bieito versions while watching and after, there is also a gulf between them which makes some a matter of aesthetic preference. Nonetheless, even though the two directors are quite distant from each other in both intellectual and aesthetic concerns (as meta-analysis in the role of director as well as in artistic choices within Parsifal), they seem to me to share a commonality I’ll try and elucidate.

The music then. (And the theatre.) I thought the orchestra was smaller than at La Monnaie, though also heard different that it was larger. Stuck in the right crook of the gods for the first act (a not-good location both for acoustics as well as line of sight due to the staging construction), it all felt a little distant. Acts two and three though — we spied a couple of seats, stalls second row far left, empty! (Turns out these were probably the ones reserved for us anyway). A brilliant location, close enough to feel the warmth of the flamethrower!

I can’t compare the conductor here favourably with Hartmut Haenchen. It’s a matter of intensity. Haenchen has spent years immersed in Wagner, his understanding of subtleties is acute, from the phrasing of consonants to the speed in different sections; the build at the beginning of act 2 for example. The audience thought Manfred Honeck did a fine job, but for me I feel a little spoiled after Haenchen.

Two moments underlined this. The first being the shout of the knights at the end of act 3. Heanchen (ok he also had 200 extras adding weight), timed it a little later, just before a melodic change, and also the shout was more of a roar, like the ocean, it had a pronounced, shivering emotion, yet not one specific emotion, somehow this gave a resolution that the roaring in Stuttgart seemed artificial in comparison.

And the ending, “Höchsten Heiles Wunder! Erlösung dem Erlöser!”, the harmonics, this is an earth-shattering moment, it should bring one to tears with its beauty, its finality. But it was lost. Perhaps in part because the knights were all dead, but this still left the female chorus, yet all of this felt truncated and unclear, all the way to the last notes, which sounded unsure and lacking in certainty.

Flamethrowers! I’d seen this in the trailer for Die Singende Stadt and thought, who the fuck would put a flamethrower on stage? and how did he get away with it? Especially with Klingsor wielding it like a two-handed battleaxe. And dirt and grime and mess and blood. And testicles. (I thought they were fake, some kind of horrific goiter swimming in blood, as most of the cast were afflicted with ruinous weeping sores on face and head, but it turns out not.) And smoke too.

It’s not until the end of the third act, where Parsifal, now returned as the redeemer, leads the grail ceremony (which is preceded by slaughtering Titural in an iron bathtub with an axe passed around to each knight for a hack or two), and heals Amfortas’ wound by shoving the spear through his ribs, that the sarcasm and blasphemy of Calixto is made unavoidably clear.

This brings up the question of how Calixto engages with Wagner. Visually, he follows the dramatic path and action of the libretto closely, and in one respect there is nothing especially radical about the staging. There is a grail, a spear, the ceremony in the third act, all as Wagner had written. That they are a gang of LSD-fueled apocalypticarians and Parsifal might have more in common Frank from the Wasp Factory, nonetheless doesn’t alter this.

Under this perhaps, lies Calixto’s engagement with Wagner proper, he of the erotic, almost orgiastic on one side, and the one seeking redemption in a chaste religion on the other. Whereas Roméo regarded Wagner from a specifically intellectual perspective here, engaging with Neitzsche, Calixto seems to do similar but almost loutishly mocking him.

As with Roméo, he celebrates the music, but also as with Roméo is not uncritical of whence it springs.Not bothering with obvious philosophical references, he simply piles religious icons one on top of another, pointing to the confusion within the libretto (and in Wagner by adding his bust to the idols hanging from Parsifal’s gown). It was in the third act this mockery became clear, and perhaps if I’d seen the whole work with this in mind from the beginning, I’d think of it differently.

As it was, until the final act, I found at times an incessant busyness, a lack of pause to think upon what was taking place. Whereas Roméo used the profile of Neitzsche and the snake to pass the first act’s overture, before plunging us into darkness, from which emerged a single source of light, Calixto had the desolate highway overpass seething with action even before the first note.

It’s admittedly a difference of aesthetics, and perhaps if I’d seen only this version I wouldn’t be saying this, but even so, I felt the need for a pause at times from this, which didn’t come. And while Roméo’s performers struggled with doing nothing, and the sloughing off of performance artifice this entails, Calixto’s seemed to at times be unaware that performing chaos and mayhem doesn’t always mean chaos and mayhem. Dasniya here remarked that having dancers involved would have helped in providing a corporeal attitude that wasn’t simply one of performing-anarchy.

Which may sound like I didn’t enjoy it all, or thought it was weak. Not So! I feel very fortunate to have seen two exceptional productions in as many months, either of them alone would have given me an inspiration for theatre I’ve been missing. I think it also would have been a remarkable work to have been involved in, one of those where you come away feeling this is what theatre should be.

And to finish with Andrew. From the asceticism of Roméo to Calixto’s bacchanalia, he really belongs in such theatre as this (even when performing the most miraculous undressing in which he reveals absolutely … nothing!). Besides a voice which can drive a nail into the gods, he is believable — all the more terrifying when his face is awash with a mad smile.

parsifal andrew richards
parsifal andrew richards

einstürzende neubauten 30

Between U- and S-Bahn returning home, Dy said, “Why don’t you write about this? After all, it’s a performance and you write about performances.” I replied, somewhat evasively, “errr…”, something about it not really being my field of knowledge, and also blogging is a particular, spontaneous occurrence, and when I’m reviewing, I’m thinking during the performance what I’ll write. So finding the thought shoved in and having 45 minutes to kill, here is something of a review.

Not in any particular order.

It occurred to me now, Einstürzende Neubauten are one of very few groups from my teens that haven’t disappointed me when I’ve seen them years later. Perhaps because they’re not doing reunion tours for the money (though the merchandise sales of the first night of their 30th anniversary tour at Columbiadamm probably paid for half the tour), nor for some asinine ‘love of the music and performing’ vapidity which is either dissembling on the first or an excuse for moronic 12-bar riffing that tries to capture what worked for earlier ‘hits’. Not an exersise in sentimental nostalgia in other words.

The 16 year old punk-goth wannabe Psychik (Temple of ~ Youth) TV-erin would have slid over in uncontrollable rapture; I was thinking, “I’m in Berlin! … At Einstürzende Neubauten!! … With an after-party pass!!!” Had it been when I was 16, I suppose the party would have been slightly less sedentary, home-before-babysitter-charges-for-overtime, but I think much of the audience was experiencing bewilderment at how they came to be almost middle-aged anyway, and how Neubauten went from punk holocaust at the forefront of industrial music to avante-garde chamber orchestra sextet.

I wasn’t quite convinced by the first piece, only three on stage in dark suits, Blixa singing, “You will find me if you want me in the garden … unless it’s pouring down with rain”, looking much like a Vegas crooner, tumbler of something strong and neat in his right hand, (Dy said his glasses) and wow, didn’t he used to be skinny bones in a heroin habit kinda way?, Alexander Hacke in white singlet (the only not in a suit), tattoos and handlebar mustache, possibly Lemmy and Peter Hooke’s lovechild … and then …

Uh! Brilliant! Moments of fucking brilliance. I should have been up the front having my eardrums savaged. I’ve never seen such a carefully orchestrated performance from a group that nominally falls under the experimental music genus outside of classical. So well-rehearsed, and not in a ‘tight’ sense of technical accuracy, though there was that also; rather the sense of timing and coherence present as a sextet is something I’m more used to seeing in chamber music.

Blixa, not so much band leader as principal of the group and all so clearly paying attention to each other even in moments of catastrophic noise; an unconscious familiarity that comes from being together for so long. The control also – this is perhaps what the rawness of thirty years ago was exchanged for: a depth, sophistication and subtlety; understanding the effectiveness of an explosive staccato bar amidst tense restraint. Music that breathes.

The last record I remember having I think was the one with the horse pissing. In the meantime, Blixa (and others) got married and had a child, whom Dy tells me he sings about. Yes, Neubauten on the joys of parenthood. I kept thinking back to the video I saw of them, somehow it made its way from the north to New Zealand, me not really understanding what they were or what Berlin was, them with a Butoh group DaiRakudokan, Halber Mench, … one of my proto-influences in how I thought of making art and performance, and now, unlike most groups they haven’t gone too far into making ‘songs’ with recognisable verse-chorus-bridge structure, melody shortcut to boredom – for that alone, that their attention has stayed so close to what they were doing thirty years ago… I wonder also about seeing Throbbing Gristle, that other monster from my youth, that wave of industrial music which pushed the idea of avante-garde contemporary music so far and which for me is the descendant of Musique Concrète, Ligeti, Stockhausen and the other classical troublemakers.

The lighting – on a different thing now – was beautiful. A flat backdrop tinged with muted secondary and tertiary tones, winter light where the intensity of colour comes from the near-empty palette – how saturated in hue icefields can be be … and cut by stark, hard white spots, shafting across the stage to draw focus, and at times … a half-cut drum full of shining blunt metal tubes. The attention brought to it by removing the light, the backdrop darkly bare until in its absence focus could only accrue there. Then lit by a single source as the metal fell like snow, like hail.

Maybe in the third or fourth piece, a noise, so out of place, cutting through, snagging and tearing as it ascended, losing the ragged mess it dragged until becoming a sharp, hard scream. Blixa. I can’t convey its unhumanness, it should be something that strips flesh and it gives me goosebumps to remember. Like Diamanda Galas and her voice, I think if anything Blixa has gone far beyond what he had thirty years ago.

In their entirety I thought this also. While somewhat subdued – or maybe it’s just a memory of the suffering loudness of so many industrial shams who confused volume with composition, I’ve falsely attached to Neubauten – it’s obvious they’re not simply uncritically trawling through their old stuff. Met with their own artistic growth is that of the technology they’re working with … ah moments of utter, overpowering awe … sublime, intoxicating percussion (and synchronised dancing) … I thought, “If only dance could be this good”.

(I’m not sure if it’s just I’ve ruined my ears, or being far up the back, but the left side sounded a touch murky at times, particularly when the bass melody fell into the same rhythm as the bass percussion, it became difficult to separate the two. But that if it was really there and other mixing issues will probably have been sorted out by the second show.)

Anyway … Disobey Disobey Disobey It’s the Law (I heard ‘Break the Law”, Dy heard, ‘Discipline’.)

anouk van dijk & falk richter – TRUST

The set is moody, gloomy, dark, chrome chairs and black leather sofa, matching seats, a stylist-industrial minimalist clutter extending back into the cubic-framed box rectangle making the second storey, and then into murk behind. Some structures and pieces, a white tulle dress on a rack never get touched. The vast space of the Schaubühne, late modernist but not post- amplifies this with low-level white light glare, barren walls and aesthetic functionality. It is a film set, perhaps for a music video.

They enter, there are ten of them altogether, well-dressed. The beginnings of movement, and I have this small thrill that perhaps I’m going to see something I really want to be in. She begins talking, into a microphone, “…das war so anstrengt… das ist alles meine…”, stutters often, repeatedly, “…das tut mir leid…”. She dances, a loose, boney, unravelling movement, both acutely technical and yet half-thought, growing from the ordinary. “…die Geschichte deine Korper… I wouldn’t change anything…”, phrases of doing and their opposite, finally come to, “yeah, I can’t trust you.”

I should also say there was much talking in this, many monologues of some length, and much repetitive phrases, reminiscent of Barbara Kruger. And almost all in German. So firstly my comprehension was not always great, and secondly because of that, I indulge in a degree of interpretation. Perhaps I write about a piece that wasn’t performed. Contra that, what I did understand and those sections that were in english corresponded closely enough for me to not feel that it is too likely I am inventing a work that didn’t happen.

Somehow it comes across as very straight. The couples are all heterosexual. Some short moments of two men together, falling into each other, being thrown flying onto the sofa, but the reading of this is not homo. It seems to exist as notable (by me) with all the male-female arrangements, but in itself means nothing. After a time, they all come to the sofa, writhing in dim light, not sex though. A guitar drones and crackles.

One falls, another reacts to save them. Too late. It evolves into three pairs all doing this, the movement itself is graceful in its catastrophe, but the metaphor placed on it in this context is something I’ve seen before. There is a desolation here that could attract me were it not for both the exclusionary narrative and the uncritical use of stock tanztheater devices.

In white open-neck shirt and black suit, he begins a monologue that builds into an hysterical, sharp, witty tirade, the kind of raconteurship that is brilliant just for its seemingly inevitable flow. One of three long texts, the second as irritating as this one was clever and ended both fittingly and unamusingly with her being buried in a packing crate, because that’s what men do with a woman who won’t shut up. The third darker, in Shanghai on the 27th floor, a tint of numerous pre-apocalyptic writers, the anaesthetised nihilism of Bret Easton Ellis, the techno-cool of William Gibson, the claustrophobia of Ballard.

After two hours, I was numb, I wanted it to stop long before, and unlike say, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma’s No Dice, which ran for four hours of which the second two were largely a repeat of the first, TRUST did not have enough to sustain itself for this duration. Most of the climax, the arguing in the upstairs room could have been cut with little effect on the piece. Indeed the typical narrative arc building to a climax could have been more successfully tampered with in the context of such a nihilistic work by leaving out precisely this crescendo.

Towards the end, she, now not wearing my Christmas lunch black sequined halter-neck top talks of two children, the stress of the day, each a repetition of the previous, how she goes through the routine and has to come up with something amazing, unique, profound, completely from her, yet universal, accessible, and maybe, as she writes the next funding application which is due and has to be equally all this, maybe she wonders what she’s got herself into. But she wanted children and all this, and I’m sitting there thinking, “Oh who cares? So what? With two billion people living in squalor, if the hardest thing in her life is that she has to stage another well-funded performance, then it’s no wonder Berlinerinnen have a habit of burning their autos.” But perhaps that was the point.

The difficulty in such a performance, the mechanics of creation in tanztheater make it complicated separating the performer from their role, especially when individuality and subjectivity are so prized. So I find myself loathing both Anouk and the other performers as well as the characters they embody. They are inseparable, and the mediocrity of the characters’ lives, writ large by their inherent privilege and centrality in western cultural imagination becomes the real identity of the performers themselves.

Performing such stereotypes, however grounded in the real they may be, begs a criticism then of how much they reify those roles, make them normal and perpetuate them. If however, these roles are just the product of the imagination of theatremakers, then why do they strive to portray what would obviously be fantastical as real? And what does the audience get from this? At best a sleek satisfaction knowing that however flawed they may be, they are not as bad as that, not as unhappy as that?

I read the programme notes…

[The ensemble] explore the shaky foundations and mechanisms of human bonds against the background of current crises. Relationships build up and break down in ever shorter time-scales; they become a resource in an increasingly intense competition. Binding, seperating. Buying, selling. A picture is presented of human beings who, over the years, have radically intensified modern individuality and celebrated independence as an ideal.

TRUST is a group of whiney, grown-up children of the baby-boom generation; spoilt middle class heterosexual wankers. I found it oppressive, and not in the way I suspect was intended. Which is to say, I suspect there is an implied sympathy to be felt towards these fraught people, who are snared and drowning in an ecology not fit for survival, that I should look for some intrinsic goodness that redeems their actions. Perhaps I am uncharitable in finding them wanting in this regard, that their selfish individualism is not deserving of sympathy. Which makes TRUST like a movie where you don’t care for any of the leading actors.

I struggle wanting to level the queer, feminist, cultural theory, identity politics big guns against a piece so evidently far from those (my) thoughts. A work that despite its darkness (metaphoric and literal) exists in a safe, small bubble, never too far from the normal, never too alien. Yes, dark. But recognisably so. Not the darkness of the radically other alterity, but that of the post-nuclear family relationships; small and familiar. I thought of American Psycho, prestige measured in g/m2 and fonts.

A question then, on the intended audience. Is it possible to say anything (of consequence) about a performance in which you are not the intended audience? In the same way watching a ballet of Giselle requires a different aesthetic, critical language and perspective that watching Forsythe, in part due to the temporal separation of the two works and the milieu from which they derive, I wonder if a performance in one theatre with one imagined, intended audience compared to a performance in another would also require these differences.

I cannot understand such a work because I am not the intended audience (irrespective of language difficulties). What might it say to those who exist within this sphere of intelligibility. What am I meant to draw from a performance that comes to no obvious conclusions, yet is weighted with implicit ‘truths’, a performance that exhibits an idea of western european materialism I am likely never to partake it, more likely to be ground up by and for if not completely ignored, that makes concrete and substantial such an idea of culture and relationships?

I shall say some other things. The performers were in their various ways beautiful. I could have watched the movement evolve for hours, and the first monologue, shot square at the audience is virtuoso in its own right. Carefully rehearsed also, the detail and internalised timing (I’m thinking of the sofa scene with one in red boxer shorts and a bald ape/monster mask where they all become afflicted by an irruption, a spasm of fear or revulsion which eventually hurls them across the room), the looping and snatches of text phrases and paragraphs, the lighting and exceptional timing of snap changes all I found much to keep entranced by. It’s simply that I didn’t believe the piece, and despite all this accomplishment of staging, I was bored.

Hermann Heisig – THEMSELVES ALREADY HOP!

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.