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Gala Moody & Michael Carter, Cie. OFEN: The Vase, at Börse Wuppertal

Six hours on the Autobahn and straight into the theatre to find Gala and Michael hard at it. I reckon they must be near the end, arriving so late as I did, but they keep going, like they were waiting as long as possible for me to get there before they started. In the end I missed maybe 20 minutes of their pre-general on Thursday evening and had the delight of their sweaty hot bodies jumping on me the instant they realised who the tardy arrival was.

Turns out missing the beginning is crucial to understanding what’s going on. Without Gala’s first monologue the piece only has the meaning I put on it; it’s a strong argument for context and against interpretation. So I’ll start with interpretation. A woman in a long, pale-lemon dress, cut just below the half-way line of her calves. Sleeveless, but over a dirty white short-sleeved shirt. A man in Oxford Blue corduroy trousers and a blue-grey unbuttoned shirt over a dirty white singlet. Both bare foot. A stage coated with ash, four wooden chairs, and downstage where the stage manager’s box would be if it were on-stage instead of off, a table, chair, computer, sound and light desks, spaghetti-ing cables onto the floor into a red effects box, and a single microphone on a long cable.

It’s one of the enduring clichés of dance theatre, ballet, contemporary dance and all, the single man and woman on stage, dressed so, performing the clichés of heteronormativity. It would be a comedy, except it’s not. It’s a cliché also of gay male choreographers making such work, almost a compulsion, like having to ‘reinterpret’ Giselle or Swan Lake. I’m watching these two dancers, tall, lithe, strong, who I’ve known for well over a decade in various cities and countries, who have danced together for thirteen years now, who I adore — so let’s not pretend I have any interest in lip service to ‘objectivity’ here — who I love watching dance, especially when it’s their own dancing, especially together. I’m watching them, and without the benefit of that first monologue, wonder how awkward it’s going to be if they fall over into that cliché. And giving them credit here, I know them for mercilessly mocking all the tropes and stereotypes of dance, both with their words and with their bodies. Yet sometimes the piece makes itself, and sometimes even the most caustic find themselves wanting to say something on those roles and identities and selfhoods which are real and lived, which we have to negotiate even if we ourselves are not fully part of, even while they are so often used to fill the void of ideas.

The next day I see the whole work. I pay attention. I listen to Gala say, “Have you said any words of love today? There are no words of love today.” Say, whisper, bellow. Her voice is a typhoon blasting the stage, pushing the air before it. Rage, hate, anguish. This is the story of Medea, who kills her children after her husband’s betrayal. This is the story of Gala. In Genesis, Michel Serres says,

The more I think, the less I am me. If I think something, I am that something. If I simply think, I am no longer anyone. In any case, me thinking am nothing.

[…] Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is the subject known as I. The more I dance, the less I am me. If I dance something, I am that something, or I signify it. When I dance, I am only the blank body of the sign.

When Gala and Michael reference the story of Medea and Jason, the Gods take an interest. Not to say it’s an invocation, but rather to recite the lines from Euripides’ Medea, and to find or thread together multiple variations, be it Euripides, Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio, or their own private lives deferred through these variations is enough to reverse the relationship. It is Medea who dances her life through Gala as much as it is Gala who draws on Medea to tell her own. It is a repetition across time, through each work referencing a predecessor, tracing branchings and bifurcations back to Medea. It is a repetition also in their bodies, dancing themselves, dancing each other.

I want to diverge from philosophy here and write of the awe I feel seeing these two together. Because this is becoming something of a review and not just photography and a travel document, Gala and Michael first danced together in Leigh Warren & Dancers, Michael coming from Oz Ballet; Gala from WAAPA (by way of me and a couple of pieces back when I actually made dance). Michael went on to Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid, while Gala went to Charleroi Danses then Ultima Vez in Brussels. As for why I was seeing them in Wuppertal, Michael joined Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch a while ago. So we’re talking about two highly capable dancer-performers, who have worked across dance, theatre, opera in Europe and Australia while making their own work together for much of that time, and ‘officially’ since 2012 under the name cie. OFEN. They move, alone and together, with brutal clarity. This isn’t the kind of work you can make in six weeks by throwing together some steps and ideas; it’s a knowing of self and each other down to their bones, worked into their bones. Even if they had gone fully into the cliché, I’d be destroyed by the beauty of them together.

The inevitability in their dancing. They compound that with dialogue, or with just the mundane acts of technical concerns, changing the lights, sound. There’s a moment where Gala is on all fours, around the centre of the work, the light and the energy has gone into a dark place, like blood is going to be spilt — or already has and you don’t even feel it yet — and Michael, barely above a whisper, spits, “Get. Up.” Savage. A slap to the face. Hatred where there was supposed to be love; betrayal and resentment and spite. You want to see work like this. You want the shit mediocrity of the cliché exposed for what it is: violence and abuse. Those saccharine dramatic conceits of the love story rest on the unmentionable bodies of murdered women, and while Medea might have murdered her children, this is projection: it is not women who are the murderers, not terrorists who women must fear, but the men in our midst, the men closest.

It’s a fucking hard, brave work.

It’s a beautiful work. I’ve said that already. Here is the violence of abuse, and here also is something to aspire to, here is a way out. Michael and Gala, Gala and Michael. Maybe a decade and some years is what’s needed for such a work. The care they take with each other, the familiarity, even or especially when they get rough, when it needs to be endured. The matter of fact getting on with it, like digging in the garden, there’s a complete absence of pretence that also doesn’t try and be some shite authenticity, like here’s the genuine, essential, real Gala and Michael for your entertainment. I want to say more, but then it becomes personal, and the point of a performance is to defer biography. So I will end with the end. Michael is back at the table. He and Gala have danced together, separate but together, increasingly apart, the light has increased for this last somewhat third or act, he sits and watches her as she comes from upstage in front of the chairs, dancing, dancing, and fades the lights, she’s smiling. Alone, survived, no longer Medea, Gala dancing, smiling.

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Gala Moody & Michael Carter: The Vase, at Börse Wuppertal

Several hours in a car hooning on the Autobahn somewhere around the 180km/h mark, arriving in the evening getting dropped off outside Börse theater, and straight into an already underway dress rehearsal. Michael had called the day before, asked if I could take some photos during one of the runs. I was bringing my camera anyway because art, and hoping I’d get to do exactly that. This is one from that Thursday evening run, a beautiful, hard, glorious work by two dear friends whom I’ve watched for almost all of the thirteen years they’ve been dancing together. Two of the very best.

Gala Moody & Michael Carter, cie Offen: The Vase. Dress rehearsal at Börse, Wuppertal
Gala Moody & Michael Carter, cie Offen: The Vase. Dress rehearsal at Börse, Wuppertal

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Schwebebahn Remains the Best Bahn

Because I’m obviously in love with the best public transport in the world, here’s some photos of the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn from Bahnhof Landgericht, which is the stop for Börse, where Gala and Michael were performing. It’s colossal, science-fiction engineering of swaying beauty.

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Schwebebahn is the Best Bahn

No one told me they sway! Side to side. And lean into corners like they’re racing. Wuppertal’s Schwebebahn is the best 13km of public transport in the world. So good, Gala and I made a song about it. It’s the title of this post, repeated until you’re bored. You won’t be though, because Schwebebahn is the Best Bahn. The only thing that could make the best better would be Schwebebahn racing. Not especially fast, but especially awesome.

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Wuppertal

In Wuppertal. Home of Pina Bausch, Schwebebahn, Micheal Carter, and for some days and nights, Gala Moody. In town for their première. The view from where I was staying with Gala, looking south across Eberfeld and the Rathaus to the University. Sun and heat and a crazy two days with my Australian darlings.

Wuppertal from Friedrichschulstraße
Wuppertal from Friedrichschulstraße

The Vase — cie.OFEN, in Wuppertal

The beautiful tall ones, Gala Moody and Michael Carter, are finally performing together in Germany. In Wuppertal, as in home of Pina Bausch and Tanztheater Wuppertal, or Wuppi as the locals seem to call it (dunno if that’s a local thing or Aussie local thing. Strayans would probably call it Wuppo.). Trailer on Vimeo, and I’m debating with myself whether to bike some of the way over.

Dear friends,

Cie.OFEN is delighted to invite you to the german premier of The Vase, the latest work by Cie.OFEN which premiered at Wim Vandekeybus’ ‘Ulti’mates’ festival in Kortrijk, Belgium.

Based on the theater work Purgutorio by Ariel Dorfman, The Vase shows the clash between Medea and Jason, who are trying to repair a broken love. Condemned to their own reckoning, they find their fates are entwined.

The Vase will be performed for one night only at die börse, Wuppertal (Germany) on Friday, 2nd of June at 8pm.
Tickets: €12,-/€8,-

For more information please click here or email: michael@cieofen.com
Looking forward to seeing you at the show!

Gala Moody & Michael Carter
Cie.OFEN

The Vase — cie.OFEN, in Wuppertal
The Vase — cie.OFEN, in Wuppertal

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Michael & Gala: One Final Evolutionary Note

A couple of days ago we were looking at Michael’s website and saw a new video in the progression of One Final Evolutionary Note. Michael and Gala dancing. Two of my favourite people and I love seeing them dance together. Yesterday I chatted with both of them, (and had dinner with Michael’s family, doing the Grande Tour of Europe), so with little else to say, other than I’ve watched it a few times already.

lucifer fallen

Gala left for Brussels yesterday; Dasniya for Berlin this evening. Me, tomorrow, and Michael to ballet in the morning. The latter three of us went to a café by a fountain on Calle de Argumosa behind Reine Sophia Museum for a breakfast that was more of an early-afternoon snack, and then for a wander into the gardens of Palacio de Cristal, really just for me to see La Fuente del Ángel Caído, the statue of the fallen angel.

He did seem to be appalled by the brilliance of the sky, dear Lucifer. Curious also, the serpent who appears so often at the sites of the fallen, is there, wrapped around his legs. We thought the setting was perhaps too gentle for such tragedy, as though the blue heavens, the warmth, the casual Sunday visitors, the circumference of flower garden gaiety all conspired to render his fall one which only he could appreciate the enormity of. Better were he to be on his plinth in a desolate abode of the park, beneath heavy trees, in the dimness of a graben, where the sadness could leech into the earth.

A few more wanderings for me tomorrow, and then a flight north and east. I’ve become very fond of Madrid in such a short time; certainly made so by the people I’ve spent my days with. I would like very much to return soon.

Lucifer falling; appalled at what a contrail denotes
Lucifer falling; appalled at what a contrail denotes

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Madrid rehearsals day 5 – casa de campo

Today was the last day of us together as the foursome rehearsing. Instead of going into the studio, we arose early – 7am, and caught a bus to Casa de Campo. Many bags, some pastries and other food, a suitcase of ropes, cameras. We made shibari in the dry grass, trees, bushes … For now the photos are for us, not even sorted or made sense of, but some I thought are nice to be here, maybe that find something of the feeling of the day.

a tree in casa de campo
a tree in casa de campo
michael, gala, dasniya, suitcase of ropes
michael, gala, dasniya, suitcase of ropes
ants taking breakfast for a walk
ants taking breakfast for a walk
moss, branch, rope
moss, branch, rope
tree bondage
tree bondage

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Madrid rehearsals day 4

Ballet first with Dasniya. In ropes. A pity no pictures of that. Something in the distraction of being tied up while at the barre gave some new freedom. Maybe also the last two weeks of regular class (along with wobble board and free weights in the studio) is starting to have an effect.

Later … I work on something that I think will go in abjection. Perhaps it won’t but I know at least that whatever it is that it becomes, the start was where I found myself. Namely in fondu cou de pied, with arched back until my view was that of the ceiling and my sternum stretched open while arms, fingers, twitched and fluttered.

I decided after yesterday to throw away as many of my habitual ideas as I could as they showed up. Gone for now is years of improvisation technology methods, various other things from other choreographers, theatre directors, others, that I have worked with; gone also any physical habit I see on my body. Gone too for this, is working with other people; it’s just me and solitude. It’s a lot to junk, and of course I’m not possessed with the illusion that some kind of year zero is possible or desirable … necessary, but it seems – if I am starting again – like a good place to start.

It’s curious also, that after all these years of study, choreographing, performing, and my attendant agonies with dancing – as in the regimented physical representation of choreography – I feel I can now dance and it’s for something.

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Madrid Rehearsals 22
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Madrid Rehearsals 29