“Harvest”, Isabelle Schad ©Dieter Hartwig

Choreographic Cosmic Axes

As part of Offensive Tanz für junges Publikum Berlin (Offensive Dance for Young Audiences Berlin) and a production of the Theater o.N., Isabelle Schad’s new dance piece “Harvest” premiered at the Tanzhalle Wiesenburg. In a fanciful mise-en-scène, the choreographer, three dancers, and a musician play with shifting landscapes, which unfurl through the interaction of sticks and branches.

As “a dance piece by Isabelle Schad for people of all ages”, per the subheading of “Harvest”, the production invites us into an aesthetically sensual space where we can recall the way we used to marvel at the world as a child. Three dancers (Aya Toraiwa, Jan Lorys, Manuel Lindner) share the stage with branches and twigs of varying size and length, which simultaneously figure in as bodily extensions, scenography, and marionettes. Their movements and interaction with these materials is mindful and focused, which creates the impression that the plants are the “fourth dancer”, with an autonomous, albeit fragile, existence. Again and again performative constellations emerge. Sticks extend bodies or become a hiding spot behind which the dancers can briefly conceal themselves. It is clearly articulated in the program that the sticks, branches, and twigs deliberately embody different functions and give rise to diverse meanings: “How does a willow stick sound? How does it rest in your hand? How do the large sticks differ from the small ones? The brown from the green? The old from the young? And how do they become a marionette, the belly of a whale, or a forest? How do they become a monster or a ship?” This play on different narrative possibilities and interpretations makes the piece suitable for children aged 3 and older. Everyone is invited to formulate their own cosmic significance.

The choreographic vocabulary is generated via repeated systematic circular movements, which activate the branches and twigs on the one hand, and set bodies in motion and guide them across the stage on the other. With regard to the title, “Harvest”, the cyclical movement structure can be connected to the periodic time rhythm of nature. Moreover, the spinning of the dancers around their own axes ushers forth associations with the cosmological dance of the dervishes. Situations in which the long sticks simulate pencils create the impression that the movements are a genuine act of writing: the writing of movement and the movement of writing. Besides sticks that are slightly thicker and longer, there are two other types: medium and small. These are bundled together and also suggest multiple meanings: broom, forests, whips, bushes, tents. And beyond that, the small branches are scattered all over the stage at the end of the piece, an allusion to the traces left behind by the choreography. The leitmotif is the surprising sculptural and visual quality of the objects, which is enhanced by the lighting design (Emma Juliard) and displayed in all its sensuality. The sound design and sound effects, which are manipulated live (Damir Šimunović), are an important element in the structuring of the performance. They contribute to the creation of the atmosphere and shape the acoustic resonance of the dance.

Photo: “Harvest”, Isabelle Schad ©Dieter Hartwig

As a shrewd aesthetic event, “Harvest” unravels a thicket of possible stories and scenic images, which are at once affectively and speculatively charged, stimulating us to feel as well as reflect. Initially, I focused on the dancer’s deferential handling of the material, which I perceived to be an ecological gesture. Through this gesture, the relationship between man and nature, one which is currently under heavy strain, comes to the fore. The scale, or rather the difference between individual sticks and smaller branches, directed my attention even deeper to the question of the equally degenerate interaction and the lost balance between individuals and the collective. These two perspectives ultimately brought me to the association revealed by the act of vertically positioning large branches. In his book The Sacred and the Profane, religious scholar Mirce Eliade formulated the concept of the “Axis Mundi” (cosmic axis), which in numerous shamanic and mythological beliefs denotes the sacred connection between heaven and earth. In most cases, this refers to a sacred tree (or mountain) that allows shamans to move on different planes of reality in order to heal the community or protect it from evil spirits. Isabelle Schad’s choreography made it possible to take a similar journey. It is the cartography of a spiritual substance that, like the ecosystem and the forests, is under ever increasing threat and is disappearing before our eyes.

English translation by Melissa Maldonado

“Harvest (3+)” by Isabelle Schad premiered on 16 September 2021. Following shows until 22 September 2021 at Tanzhalle Wiesenburg, Information about Theater o.N. and tickets under www.theater-on.de.