The Expansion of Joy — An Interview with Anna Nowicka

‘Dear Anna, I hope you are well! […] Due to this second lockdown, we cannot review any performances in the theatres anymore. As an alternative, I would like to interview you on the topic of ‘bodily joy’. It comes from my realisation that, due to the distance, the lack of spontaneity, and the absence of live get-togethers, I find it hard to experience joy in my body myself. And it’s a loss. Therefore it would be great to talk to you about how to keep finding joy in the body in these awkward times. […]. Best, Annette’

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Together Together

“isson – a solo for two men” by cie. toula limnaios has a transformative history. Already in 2003, the performance, then called “isson – a solo for two women”, had its premiere. For its 20th anniversary in 2016, it was restaged with two men, and then remained in the repertoire. Leonardo d’Aquino and Alessio Scandale were supposed to dance it live again this November, but due to the current lockdown, it was presented online instead, broadcast from the Halle Tanzbühne Berlin, and remains available for viewing until 28 November. 

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New Growth

Ballhaus Naunynstraße is one of the few (the only?) theatres in Germany that is committed to showing and supporting the perspectives of BIPOC and of those who identify as queer. It offers a strong impulse to development of postcolonial discourse and practices. Here, performance artist Nasheeka Nedsreal presents her first solo performance “New Growth”. 

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Apes and Humans

On the opening night of the first part of Tanznacht Berlin Vertigo (9-13 September, the second part will hopefully take place in July 2021), Antonia Baehr and Latifa Laâbissi land in Studio 5 at Uferstudios where they merge with the chimpanzees Consul and Meshie. 

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Walking as an Act

It’s the fourth of September and five old men are playing a game of boules, while a soft sun peeks through the tall trees. I’m sitting in front of FELD Theatre for Young Audiences in Schöneberg, an area that is unfamiliar to me, and I allow myself to soak up the holiday atmosphere in anticipation of the premiere of Jo Parkes’s “The Walking Project”. 

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In-Between Past and Future at Potsdamer Tanztage

The thirtieth anniversary edition of Potsdamer Tanztage was supposed to have taken place in May 2020, and has been postponed to 2021. Under the motto ‘We Need Art!’, however, a smaller corona-proof festival was created between the 5 and the 16 August. I visited three performances — from Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion, and Michiel Vandevelde — in which past and future intertwine. 

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An Oscillator Exchange

Performer, photographer, model, author and speaker Roland Walter was born with a lack of oxygen, causing spastic paralysis. In 2018 he proposed to choreographer Renae Shadler to develop a work together, which led to a research on the creation of a shared movement language. The duet “SKIN” premiered last Saturday 1 August 2020 at Uferstudios. 

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The Human in Trans-Humanity

The first post-lockdown indoor performance at Uferstudios was the premiere of “Transhuman Hai” by Porson’s Khashoggi, 24 July 2020. This performance on the possibilities of artificial humanity fit well into Studio 1, which resembles an indoor swimming pool with the audience seated looking into the deep-end.

These days, trans-humanity isn’t solely restricted to the realm of sci-fi movies. The real-world possibilities of altering the body through technology — and thereby moving beyond its physical limitations — have grown and are growing every day. From pacemakers that regulate the rhythm of the heart to bionic hands that are capable not only of receiving commands from the brain, but also of touching and feeling through connections with the nervous system. At the other end of the spectrum, a humanoid robot named Sophia had social conversations with her visitors, and robot dogs are used in elderly care to fight loneliness. These are just a few examples in a vast and thought-provoking world, some elements of which are simply beyond the bounds of my imagination. What would happen to our identities if we didn’t have physical bodies anymore, but rather existed merely as uploaded minds? Could one fall in love with a robot? Or is this distinction between robot and human already far too binary?

“Transhuman Hai” by Porson’s Khashoggi (Xeni Alexandrou and Andrea Rama) aims to tackle some of these questions. Their work is dedicated to “the vision of overthrowing the established notion of the human body as an organic system.” In order to do so, they’ve created a sterile laboratory for “Transhuman Hai” in which — according to their programme notes — personalities will be encoded into computer chips, and preserved brains implanted into the skulls of brand-new clones. That laboratory has been aesthetically portrayed by fifteen or so large grey cardboard bodies without feet that hang around the room. Many of them are suspended just centimetres above the ground. Judging by the curve of their hips, the female body has been taken as a model. These forms floating in the white space impart a deep sense of serenity that is emphasised by a living body that is slowly crawling around at the back of the performance space. The sound of dripping water makes me feel as though I’m looking into an underwater world in which time has been slowed down and movements are ponderous. This is even before I realise that the body at the back resembles that of a merman with a big blue tail instead of legs.

These first few seconds of serenity are brutally disrupted by a soundtrack made up of fragments of sentences repeated over and over again with apparent randomness. They seem to be texts taken from fiction or documentary films and each has a specific soundtrack underneath it. These snippets talk about topics such as morality, character building, psychology, claustrophobia, books. The soundtrack is so overwhelming — so intense and constant — that it becomes difficult to pay attention to what’s happening on stage anymore. I feel relieved when we’re given a break from the barrage of words, even though it is in the form a song, instead of the silence I’m longing for.

In the meantime, another figure has appeared on stage. She talks to us in Italian, but her words are drowned out by the soundtrack. She walks among the suspended bodies, touching and caressing them — but there is no warmth in her touch. The lighting design reveals the previously invisible transparent fishing wires the bodies are suspended from, with multiple bodies hanging on each thread. She slides them to one side, forming a group. It’s interesting how her touching and manipulating the bodies makes them seem even more inanimate — even more obviously made of cardboard. It’s the human body here that is unambiguously in control of the material. I let out a silent cheer for the one cardboard body which breaks as it is handled. The resulting bend feels like a sign of rebellion.

All the while, the merman has continued along his trajectory through the space. Due to the lack of water, his journey to the front of the stage has been heavy, as though he has had to drag himself. Even so, his arm-movements are still somehow soft and flowing. Half-man, half-fish, he survives by doing whatever he can in the conditions he is given. At one moment, the human performer leaves the stage, walks to the rail along the edge of the ‘pool’ and leans over it, looking down on the laboratory beneath her. From this position of apparent domination, even the merman seems to be under her control. “Transhuman Hai” left me feeling confused. I had expected an exploration of the messy interaction and intersection between the human and the non-human, and the possible futures arising from that. In the images that this work creates, however, humanity appears to overpower trans-humanity at every turn.

Nah Dran – interconnecting the studio and the screen

NAH DRAN — ‘close by’, ‘proximate’, ‘intimate’. Attending this research series, existing through the continuous investment of ada Studio in young, Berlin-based choreographers, usually means gathering in the small studio number 7 at Uferstudios. As an audience member, you are almost close enough to touch the performers. This time, however, it’s different.  There is no physical proximity, there is only the online medium. 

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You OK, Bitch?

The Battlefield Nurse has existed for over 5,000 years. She is a hooker, healer, sister, lover, mother, and a midwife of the dying. Together with an army of other battlefield nurses, she cares critically, by addressing the structures that make us sick. In the online performance “You OK Bitch?” choreographer Jeremy Wade’s alter ego aims to unpack the Covid-complicated now. 

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“Von hier nach dort” didn’t premiere on April 23 in fabrik Potsdam as planned. When the news came in that the show was going to be cancelled, André Lewski, Lee Méir, Robert Konderosi, Lidy Mouw, and Lea Kieffer were already in the last phase of preparing this participatory project for kids on the topic of farewell and death. I had planned to see and review the work. Instead, I’m having a Jitsi conversation with Lee, André, and Lea.

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