dasniya sommer dvd

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a project for Dasniya Sommer, for whom I did her website last year, and have messed around together on various ideas in the previous 12 months. Late last year I filmed her performing G4 in NACHTUNDNEBEL, and spent some of these weeks editing the almost half hour performance into a 4 minute video. The remainder of the time has been assembling a DVD of her work from 2008 and ’09.

In part this was so she could have a document of all her work, interviews, and photos for all the various requests she receives for this, but firstly for the Shibari Festival we went to in London over the weekend.

Almost all video is in widescreen format, and it is now for sale via her website (or email her directly) for €15 plus postage.

What’s on it:

MA√ 15 { IDIOSYNCRASY } || SIN X = LY – FX²¯
La Zampa
Atemkontrolle? Hustenanfall? Pheromoncheck?

Sang Bleu
Schatten Auf Berlin
MA√ 15 { IDIOSYNCRASY } || SIN X = LY – FX²¯
Mel & Dy

Media (interviews and documentaries):
Arte Lounge


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.

Jana Unmüßig – HAUS

I had planned to see only a couple of performances in Tanztage, I thought perhaps one a night over a few days with Sunday off would be plenty. Then I found that each performance was a double bill. Lucky for me then, that the performance I wanted to see, Hermann Heisig’s Themselves already Hop! was preceeded by Jana Unmüßig’s HAUS, which, barely a week into the year will have to be met by an avalanche of superb performances in the coming months not to make it to my 2010 theatre list.

The Sophiensaele Festsaal is in itself a beautiful decrepit venue, high ceiling with peeling paint and rust-tainted girders, vast windows along both sides and the circle above, stripped for the most part of its floor retains only the metal and rivet skeleton of the balcony railings and arches behind. Quite a perfect setting for one of the most minimal, intellectual and considered performances I’ve seen.

Yes, I though HAUS was brilliant, even with its flaws, and had some debate afterwards with Jakob, wanting entertainment and Dy, who I think was nearly as taken as I. As with Clint’s Get a Leg Up, Jana has compiled this piece chronologically from three previous works. She quotes Walter Benjamin in the programme notes:

„Die Geschichte stammt aus China und erzählt von einem alten Maler, der den Freunden sein neuestes Bild zu sehen gab. Ein Park war darauf dargestellt, ein schmaler Weg am Wasser und durch einen Baumschlag hin, der lief vor einer kleinen Tür aus, die hinten in ein Häuschen Einlass bot. Wie sich die Freunde aber nach dem Maler umsahen, war der fort und in dem Bild. Da wandelte er auf dem schmalen Weg zur Tür, stand vor ihr still, kehrte sich um, lächelte und verschwand im Spalt.“

Walter Benjamin

A first sign of conceptual minimalism on arriving, the seven (and then later I discover an eighth) dancers in muted clothes, almost could be rehearsal gear, but with enough attention to detail to obviously not be thrown together, some standing, some sitting, by the walls on either side, or closer in, at the back. They wait, very still and patient. Silence.

For the fifty minutes not a sound of music. Once, one of the dancers makes a sound twice, like, “Uh”. I think. It could have been from elsewhere. Much later, almost at the end, another sound, like someone rattling chopsticks in a large glass of water. Maybe it wasn’t there. In-between only the sound of dancers, their clothes, their bodies moving on the floor, walking, occasionally louder in the rare moments of momentum, and because of the state of dance reduced to first instances, beginnings and then finishing, the silence was enormous.

(I am sorely tempted to unleash a diatribe against those in the audience who could not refrain from coughing, hacking, shuffling and otherwise showing their inability to remain attentive for a mere fifty minutes, as well as damaged the opening minutes, instead I will suggest that using a handkerchief or the crook of your elbow (“Dracula Sneeze” did win ‘Most Creative’ word for 2009), does muffle and render far less audible your tuberculotic outbursts.)

This is not a performance that lends itself to a linear, temporal description. Nothing much happened, yet it happened so fast and continuously that I felt I missed half the work every time I looked down to scribble another note. After the microscopic beginning, fingers and wrists twitching, puzzled looks (or perhaps exceedingly concentrated directing of gaze), a leg is thrown. On the left side of the stage one stands, another sits for perhaps half the performance, not once moving. The same over the other side.

Three walk in a circle, jump a little, two arrange one so they can be lifted onto one of their shoulders, a moment of classic contact improvisation. That’s all. It stops. No continuity. Not contact impro. They look at each other. Some laughter from the audience. I wonder if this is nervousness rather than appreciation of perceived comic value. One staggers around, falls to the floor, inelegance and undancerly, yet also becoming of that of a dancer, beautiful.

With the other four performances I’ve seen in the last two days, this one for me will remain special. In the discussion after, a woman asks of Jana and Hermann Heisig, why do they refuse to dance? Jana answers that she sees her work absolutely as dance, and this is rather a question of the definition of dance and the location of its frontiers.

I have been reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others whenever I find myself staying with Gala. She discusses the nature of photography in depicting atrocity. What is important in this is the veracity, naturalness and unartificiality that the camera confers upon that which it documents. In this, she describes how the fascination with these qualities affords an amateurism unavailable in other artistic mediums. Paraphrasing, she says unlike becoming a painter or musician, which takes years of training, anyone can pick up a camera and become an artist, a photographer with their first shot, that this apparent guilelessness of the genuine causes professionalism, training and artistry in the medium to be denigrated.

Thinking upon this in regard to bodies in dance performing, there are, I would suggest, similar tendencies. One is away from or antipathy towards technique and training, that the over-trained body is held in lower esteem than that of the ‘natural’, non-dancer. Another is a choreography consciously distancing itself from technique, again with attention paid to similar qualities. (Still another might be regarding the relationship of dancers with a high level of proficiency and training to the idea of ‘genuine’ movement as it might emanate from a specific, individual body.) That both of these might combine into dance that may seem to be made from people coming from any discipline but dance is perhaps of less importance than the often overly self-conscious avoidance of considering what more might be done in dance while pointedly coming from within the history of the artform.

Or perhaps to say what I find quite entrancing in HAUS was this extremely considered attention to dance and choreography in and of itself.

Two dancers with legs spread hang over, fingers on the floor propping them up and when released their torsos make small oscillations, bouncing with an uncanny precision and unity. Later all eight break the rhythm walking across the stage, rearranging themselves, at times I think of Trisha Brown. Often I find it mesmerising. It seems to be the beginnings of movement, though not an itinerary or listing of movements, but rather the set from which all possible movements can be extrapolated. Jana says later that it starts out with a lot of material, trying different relations, but then crystalises very fast. She also says it concentrates on working in the present tense, watching people watching you. And the rehearsal is as devoid of music as the performance.

Dy says perhaps it is painful, to rehearse, to perform, to watch, occasionally boring also, though possibly to venture into such territory is the point. Forsythe describes watching rain hit a window, it is something fascinating and either you get it or you don’t. I wonder about the unconsidered aspects of such a work, that it comes from its own particular milieu and within that what is taken for granted. What, for example, might the work look like if performed in the costumes of Hermann’s Themselves Already Hop!, yet pointedly without making the clothing mean something, as the neutrality of their dress infers? Dy asks her if she would exchange costuming, Jana laughs and says yes.

Making events, movement and gestures visible lies at the core of my work as a choreographer. I observe, look and sketch like a painter paints scenes; then I work on these first drafts, to hone, add detail and paint over anything that seems irrelevant. The appearance and disappearance of the perceptible and visible is held together by a thought in movement. It is a thought in movement that comes from me and is therefore unique and subjective. And at the same time, it operates on the level of the disappearance of that individual view. This is because I move in a similar way to the way described in the text by Walter Benjamin in my piece, like the painter who strolls “along the narrow path to towards the door” to disappear through its crack.

Jana Unmüßig

An Kaler – Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy

(An aside: Having managed to evade seeing dance for the most part last year, I thought I should take advantage of supernaut to procure seats at various performances around Berlin or wherever I happen to be, mainly because if I a) have free tickets and b) have to get along and write something here after, I’m more likely to actually progress from thinking about seeing to finding myself in the queue at the door. This week is Tanztage, and I shall be seeing a few pieces and writing what decidedly are not reviews. Despite that they appear in the category of the same name.)

The cowboy lies asleep as cowboys do, legs out, boots crossed, hat tipped down to chin, pushed up to reclining by the saddle on which he leans. Bales of hay line half the front, a low white wall behind. wind blows through the fields of wheat stalks projected over this, mournful, vast and lonely. I think I hear cattle lowing in the distance. If I could see his face, there would be stubble lining his chin. The dim light makes his white shirt look as though there is the curve of a breast. His shadow, a dark, timeless silhouette lines large the wall behind.

For a long time nothing happens.

He rises. Into the saddle, face occluded by the brim of his hat, boots into stirrups, a slow-motion bronco ride, circling the saddle, one arm flung behind, the other hanging onto the pommel, arms swapping as he is thrown wildly.

Is this imagination? Who is this cowboy and what is she doing riding this saddle? Is this real, perhaps, and I should assume an equine presence beneath, with all the associated visceral components, hooves, teeth, mane, shit and smell? Perhaps it is a wish?

The cowboy removes chaps, white shirt, hat. A tall, lanky, androgynous, bow-legged cowboy with a mop of short hair, the crotch cut of his jeans make him look like he’s packing. He saunters off upstage.

For a while, I’m not sure what I’m watching. Far too much going on to be Viennese conceptual (un-)dance, and far too little at the same time. I decide then, or it becomes obvious, I am in a gallery and this is performance art. Or, as Ivo was saying of Paris, it is something in a museum, to look at, but she can’t be too close to her performance. There is some distance as well, that is perhaps self-consciousness, an awareness of what is being done, and that while becoming cowboy, the moment of arrival is endlessly deferred. So it is an installation, or performance art, in a theatre, in a dance festival.

Of the three performances I saw on Friday night, intellectually this one gave the most to think about, conceptually also, in the staging and progression, even though as my friend said, it was obvious what would come next. But taking on gender or identity politics in performance for me is like blood to a vampire, and so I think about chewing some meat.

An describes the saddle as “prosthesis and connector, contrasting, blending and overlapping the organic and inorganic”, much in the same way a strap-on functions. It becomes physically real through imagination, or perhaps completion. A cowboy is not complete without his saddle, and neither is a drag king without his cock.

The question though of a cowboy as a choice of subject matter, especially within the context of queer drag is a loaded one. Parenthetically, which “quasi-archetypal, white, male heterosexual hero” cowboy are we regarding here? John Wayne is an obvious choice, though we would find ourselves in two different discussions if An’s cowboy was Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, (I’m hoping he is Franco Nero in Django).

Am I to look at this exposition of frivolous masculinity in the same way that drag going the other way was regarded by a certain polemical and less than sympathetic strand of feminism? Or, rather to say, what is the fascination with such extreme forms of gender representation coming both from the (non-drag) gay scene and its romance with ‘straight-acting’, and the dyke scene with a swathe of heteronormative drag-kinging? If the performance was, say, of Marisol from A Fistful of Dollars, embodying the opposite role within the milieu of cowboys and westerns, what would it take to not be seen as frivolous femininity?

An becomes horse, panting and snorting, jumping, trying to throw off an invisible rider. A silent video of rodeo riding behind, while cowboy at sunset leans on the white fence. An is to my uncultured ear a pointedly androgynous name. Not quite Anne or maybe the first third only of Anthony. If An is female, what are the limits of remaining so when venturing to this realm of hyper-masculinised identity in the guise of a man? And if An is male, does that make this still drag, or a longing for something he’s not?

I was thinking about Julia Serrano in Whipping Girl during some of the performance. in particular where she writes upon the status of femininity in the queer scene. My dissatisfaction with Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy stems largely from this, that while the critical attention has been paid to hetero masculine archetypes and roles, the location of An within a culture that tends towards expressions or explorations of such roles under the broad and elusive label of queer did not offer a corresponding analysis of that culture’s very tendencies in this direction. Of course it is also possible An made a performance about longing to be a cowboy.


MA √ 15’ { idiosyncrasy } sin x = ly – fx2¯

The best show I didn’t see this year, oh… I have difficulty with seeing dance, and then occasionally something is utterly striking, mesmerising and I wonder what is it in that which constitutes for me what I imagine dance should be? Dasniya is quite strange and her performance is… it makes me want to do it too.

Pictures are here and video is here.