A Physical History

I was thinking of calling this post, “I earned my ‘F’, the fuck did you do?”

There was one teacher I used to fight with, back when I was a dance student. She was also the only teacher to push me, to take me seriously as a dancer from the very beginning. I think her modality was that if a student worked hard, pushed themselves, tried to improve, then her role was to be there. This was, and remains a rare experience in more than 20 years of having teachers. The default — in academic and athletic training — is the teacher who only has eyes for beauty, for the good ones, the ones who both look the part (at that moment in time and place) and who are already accomplished. The stars. They shine bright because the teacher holds the spotlight. This teacher though, we shouted at each other in class, which I think was shocking to at least some other students, who’d maybe never even considered pushing back against abusive demands.

I don’t want to say she was abusive though; she did as she’d learned perhaps, and simply wanted to help me improve. When her pedagogy coincided with me neatly, the memory remains for me a good experience: being pushed hard, exceeding one’s self, being rewarded with a “Good!” from the hardest teacher around. I remember her holding me back between classes, those precious 15 minutes when we’d all rush to grab a snack, get changed, catch ourselves from the previous 90 minutes of ballet before the next 90 of contemporary, and making me do the same steps over and over in the vast and empty unlit studio until I got it, or at least began to get it. Giving a shit on her own time. When it didn’t coincide though, it was nasty shit that still unsettles me. I remember why we shouted at each other in front of more than 30 of my year, me at the barre, sweating, in a unitard, nowhere to hide myself, pushing back hard ’cos there was nowhere else to go. Same person. Same people.

The why occurred to me today while I was wobbling and sliding on a half-log of wood, the lower half a semicircle rolling back and forth, and me on top breathing in and raising my arms, breathing out and lowering them, working my voice, back there again, learning, being taught. Before I had to stand on that unstable log, we’d been doing the same exercises, knees ever so slightly bent, and after a year of solid cycling with almost no problems, my knee did that so familiar twinge. This shit’s supposed to be behind me. And we start standing on one leg, waggling the other, a movement I’ve done so, so many times in dance classes back to the beginning, and there’s me, fucking crying.

Yesterday, I read that Dr. Rachel McKinnon won at the 2018 UCI Masters in the track sprint. First on Helen Wyman’s Instagram, then all up in my cycling news. Then I read the pile-on. Because Rachel is a trans woman. I’m holding on to women like Wyman, and Amanda Batty, professional cyclists who stood the fuck up in the moment, and sucked up a torrent of abuse (which is why I bailed from Twitter) to defend Rachel. We’re still so close to the shit I grew up in, which Laverne Cox, when talking about those ‘bathroom bills’ said (paraphrasing here) the purpose of this is to exclude trans women from public life, to erase us.

I described myself as an ex-dancer today, in voice therapy. The why of regarding myself as that currently is to do with this exclusion; the why of my preference for training alone and solitary physicality entirely bound with this. I describe it as ‘potential bullshit’, as in minimising, or reduction of. What bullshit will I have in a dance class? From the teacher, from other students? How do I deal with the changing rooms? How do I balance my need to dance, to be physical, and my selfhood, with a ballet teacher whose life experience has been built on achieving a kind of perfect heteronormativity? I’m just here to dance, but have to drag around a sack of shit in case ‘potential bullshit’ has to be dealt with.

I started serious cycling a few years ago to improve my aerobic endurance, and to deal with those unhappy knees. Which grew immediately into a love of shredding in forests because I am a) a high-speed, high-risk bogan, and b) fucking love forests. Which grew into my currently primary ‘dance’ training, and so much more. And I do it alone because, well, see how Rachel got treated for daring to not fuck off and die. In all this, I did find new things which, you know, cloud, silver lining, etc, like Amanda Batty describing herself as an “insanely competitive, capable and angry racer”, and fuck me do I ever see myself in that, and it’s aspirational.

But there I am, wobbling on half a log, saying to my coach, “Yeah, this is really fucking with my head.” Because of shit I had to swallow, compromises I had to make, in order to both stay with dance (’cos it literally saved my life), and stay with myself, and 20 years later, that still has to be dealt with. I think there’s something in how trans, non-binary, intersex people negotiate physical training, be it dance, sport, singing, playing an instrument — all of which is highly gendered and rigorously enforced — that becomes a sort of chronic abuse and trauma. I want to differentiate this from the default abuse and trauma that pretty much every cis woman, female or feminine-identified dancer or athlete I know of has personally lived through — and all have witnessed and had to work within — which in its mildest from manifests as a bitterness and cynicism towards those early training years, those teachers, and to the practice itself, even while both abuses are indisputably part of the same situation. And another qualification: When I talked about the stars, those accomplished young dancers, I’m not criticising them as dancers or people, or the work they put in: even the ‘natural’ ones worked themselves raw and gave up so much just to be there. I’m criticising the narrative which is addicted to the success story of the naturals, or conversely that of the one who everyone said was talentless but who persevered and made it. There’s still the rest of those 30–something dancers in the studio, and all of us, including those two have their lives and training defined by these fairytale narratives.

So back to the chronic abuse and trauma then. My thinking lately is that for trans, non-binary, intersex people, living one’s selfhood is incessantly hit against by the culture, history, and methodology of training. Training often slides uneasily close to abusive, or not so healthy or good — and all those words are loaded in themselves and weapons as well as descriptors simply because of the terrain they operate in, the implicit meaning and value they are given. Me doing intervals or committing to a long session is agreeing to physical discomfort, suffering, a lot of mental and emotional anguish (of the“Please stop, this isn’t really fun” type), yet I know also it’s part of the process and I enjoy it. This is utterly different from being clad in skin-tight lycra and the associated cultural judgement (of bodies in general but specifically here female or feminine bodies, or those perceived as such) from which there is nowhere to hide, which I had in those years of dance training and potentially every time I go out on my bike. And that is different again from doing the same as a trans or non-binary or intersex person. However I might have lived the last twenty years, every time I step into a training environment, part of the process will be receiving hits for having the body I do, for living my selfhood. I walked away from dance because of this. I train alone because of this.

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Neukölln from KINDL

In the middle of Isabelle Schad’s 3-hour performance series, INSIDE OUT at KINDL, Neukölln and Berlin bringing it on a hot summer evening.

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10 Years With Dasniya In Berlin

We went and saw Mission Impossible: Fallout and laughed for 2½ hours at the brilliant kinetic absurdity: Tom Cruise, part of the Jackie Chan and Buster Keaton lineage of getting audiences to pay stacks to watch them do mad stunts. We ate chocolate and ice cream and nachos – cinema nachos! – and drunk Sekt. In the Kino. This is Germany and everywhere is drinking erlaubt. Ten years today, ago Dasniya and I met in her Fabrik studio in Uferstraße.

Isabelle Schad — INSIDE OUT, at KINDL

Isabelle Schad, in the first space I’ve seen her in, whose architecture really deserves her work (outside of Wiesenburg, of course), at KINDL in Neukölln for INSIDE OUT. I saw first rehearsals on Thursday last week, almost 3 hours of being transfixed. Still the best in town.

  • Thursday, 16.08.2018, 18:00 – 21:00, world première
  • 17.08.2018, 18:00 – 21:00
  • 18.08.2018, 15:00 – 18:00
  • 19.08.2018, 15:00 – 18:00

Admission possible at any time

In her performative exhibition INSIDE OUT Isabelle Schad shows choreographic sculptures that are experienced in their powerfully sensuous moving forms. Her work situates itself between dance and visual art, draws on her ongoing fascination with Aikido-Zen, community building and her long-term collaboration with Laurent Goldring, whom she invited to participate in INSIDE OUT. With subtle exactness they form bodies, material such as clothing, lengths of fabric and movement into sculptures which define their own space and evolve a contemplative quality.

Credits:

  • Concept & Choreography: Isabelle Schad | With the participation of Laurent Goldring
  • Artistic Assistance: Claudia Tomasi
  • By and with Jozefien Beckers, Barbara Berti, Frederike Doffin, Naïma Ferré, Josephine Findeisen, Przemek Kaminski, Mathis Kleinschnittger, Manuel Lindner, Adi Shildan, Claudia Tomasi, Nir Vidan, Natalia Wilk
  • Lighting & Technic: Bruno Pocheron, Emese Csornai, Emma Juliard
  • Sound: Damir Šimunovic
  • Costume Consultancy: Charlotte Pistorius, Lydia Sonderegger
  • Production Management: Heiko Schramm
  • Production: Isabelle Schad
  • Co-Production: Tanz im August / HAU Hebbel am Ufer Berlin

Funded by: Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa. Supported by: Wiesen55 e.V., with kind support of the Croatian Ministry for Culture and defacto Zagreb, Institut français, Polish Institute Berlin, Embassy of Israel in Berlin

In cooperation with KINDL – Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst

Dasniya Sommer — “Bondage Duell” At Sophiensæle Again

Dasniya Sommer’s banger, Bondage Duell is on again at Sophiensæle, part of Performing Arts Festival Berlin 2018, one of my favourite performances from last year, which I wrote about and photographed. It’s already on, two more nights, get your arse there.

Isabelle Schad — Fugen, at HAU3

Isabelle Schad’s Fugen, for which I was artistic assistance, returns to Hebbel am Ufer this week, for two shows, followed by a return of Solo for Lea at Sophiensæle on the weekend.

Dear friends and colleagues,

We would like to invite you to the reprise of the pieces Fugen and Solo for Lea by Isabelle Schad.

Both pieces are part of a series of works that Isabelle Schad subtitles as portraits and will be shown as Double Bill on the same weekend in HAU Hebbel am Ufer and Sophiensaele Berlin.

We would be very happy to see you here or there.

Fugen
Thursday, 05.04.2018, 19:00
Friday, 06.04.2018, 19:00
HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin (HAU3)

Solo for Lea
Saturday, 07.04.2018, 19:30
Sunday, 08.04.2018, 19:30
Sophiensæle, Berlin

Fugen “… is a complex work that challenges both the choreographer Isabelle Schad and her audience in previously unseen ways. And thus creates opportunities to go beyond borders.” (Katharina Schmidt)

With Fugen, Berlin choreographer and dancer Isabelle Schad continues her work between musical concepts and their expression in movement. Coming from a music background and a lifelong interest in the polyphonic work of J.S. Bach, she attempts to look at her own (hi)story and the origins of (her) movement between discipline and pleasure. Fugen is an autobiographical work in which the performer’s body serves as an example for the construction of the individual within disciplines and systems one cannot escape from.

Solo for Lea, “A study in minimalism, a physical portrait and a sculpture in motion … a sublime draft.” (Elena Philipp)

Solo for Lea is a meeting between Isabelle Schad and Lea Moro. The work attempts to draw a very personal portrait of Lea Moro, dealing with the specificities of her body, its rhythms, its contours, colours and energies, playing with form-aspects of cubism and Picasso’s drawings in one dash. Together Schad and Moro engage in constellations of forming and disfiguring, in which the body itself becomes the stage: the space, place and matter that is the subject of observation.

Shibari & Kinbaku Classes in February with Dasniya Sommer

Three different classes with Dasniya Sommer this month in Berlin-Wedding, all on Tuesdays:

For more info, email Dasniya on workshops@dasniyasommer.de, message her on Facebook, and check out her Instabanga while you do (& sign up to her mailing list)

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As Melanie Said: ✊✊✊💪💪💪💥💥💥💥

Late-night email from Melanie Lane. Wonderwomen, for which I was dramaturg, won the 2017 Leipziger Bewegungskunstpreis. Mad props to Mel, Rosie Rascal and Nathalie Schmidt, Robert Bartholot, Florian Bücking, and Fabian Bleisch — and LOFFT Theater in Leipzig, where we premièred.

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Gala & Michael Headcasts Portraits

Three Australians in Wuppertal, by way of Brussels, Madrid, and Berlin. Last time I was in Wuppertal it was for The Vase, one of three banging works I’ve seen this year. This time, Friday evening, it’s snowing to whiteout, Gala and Michael are talking about the headcasts they’ve had done for their upcoming work, New People. They want photos. Guess who brought their camera? Saturday morning, after a lazy breakfast and before lunch hamburgers, still snowing, the falling-apart printer’s workshops behind Michael’s apartment having their roofless concrete floors jackhammered by the owner, one of those old socialist tradie types who ends up with a bunch of properties and maintains them all himself. It’s proper winter cold, slush and snow and wetness, and he’s hauling shit around like Sisyphus. We bail into the one building with a roof. Milky glass-paned, rusting windows along one wall fill it with just enough light for us to get away with photography. There’s a temporary scaffolding floor erected, we tall ones are nearly smacking our heads on bits of pipe and beam. Their busts go on the ground, then on a plank, I photograph them like I would mediæval art.

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Inadvertently 3-Dimensionalising Gala & Michael

Completely due to a tiny shuffle of one foot in a decrepit former book printer’s workshop out the back of Michael’s apartment (where the owner was totally having at it on a Saturday morning with jackhammers into concrete in the snow and freeing slush), I managed to do one of those mad meme-y gifs that look like they’re 3-dimensional. Tick-tock, back and forth, convinces me every time.