“I NEED A HERO”, Camilla Pölzer © Mayra Wallraff

For Small Heroes and Anti-Heroes

What does it mean to be a hero? With “I NEED A HERO,” Camilla Pölzer presents a journey through the expectations and norms of the character of the superhero. The 50-minute performance for all ages nine and up premiered on 22 February 2023 at TANZKOMPLIZEN in Podewil.

On the otherwise empty stage stands a platform surrounded by a scaffold made of metal bars. White fabric panels are stretched across the scaffolding, providing surfaces for video projections and supertitles (set design: Pauline Heitmann, projection and video: Declan Hurley). I am looking at a depiction of the facade of an imposing building which reminds me of a number of Berlin institutions. A flawless configuration of windows: symmetry, anonymity, perfection. But the image slowly distorts, the projection wavers. On a piece of the set, the question pops up: “Can everyone be a superhero?” The children in the audience read the sentence out loud and then shout, “Yes!” They all agree.

Enter choreographer and dancer Camilla Pölzer, dressed in a shiny turquoise jumpsuit (costume design: Carlo Zeit). She drags a large white suitcase behind her. In her luggage she has her application letter for the school for superheroes, from which she reads aloud: She is 161 cm tall and has blue shoulder-length hair. She has a physical disability. She is adventurous.

Her delight at being accepted to the superhero school is immense. Especially since the “best superhero,” played by Camilla Przystawski, will be her trainer. A training sequence straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster ensues. The protagonist masters several stages: running, jumping, boxing, parcour, fighting. The music and sound effects give the whole thing a computer game ambience (music: Jana Sotzko). Each time she experiences exhaustion and fatigue, she recites the mantra “Never show weakness!” to herself. More than once, the trainer blasts a whistle: faster, higher, better. But never tire. The uncompromising persistence seems to pay off. The student successfully passes each stage; bestowed with a neon yellow cape, she is declared a superhero and promptly sent on her first mission. Transported to a distant galaxy, she fights against invisible dangers and applies everything she has learned in superhero training. 

Suddenly, we are torn out of the fantasy world by a loud “STOP!” Pölzer says, “I can’t do it anymore.” Muttering grumpily ( according to the supertitles), she takes off the impractical cape, which has been constantly getting tangled under her feet or wrapped around her neck. Out of some of the elements of the set, she builds herself a bed. My shoulders relax, I release a tension I hadn’t noticed I was holding. I realize I am witnessing a moment that is missing in all hero stories and films: exhaustion, weakness, and recovery. In this moment, the questions that Camilla Pölzer explores in “I NEED A HERO” are almost palpable. How can you tell a heroic saga today? What is the journey of a hero with a disability? How can you relate these stories without (as so often happens) glorifying disabled people based on their disability alone? The hero’s journey comes to a fork in the road and chooses, instead of the canon of the lone fighter, the path of mutual support. The two dancers come into contact, touch and hold each other. They take turns leading each other through the space. A relaxed game develops, a joyful dancing-together. With sweeping arm movements, the two spray graffiti on the wall of the house, which seemed so imposing at the beginning of the piece. This final gesture of disobedience, of vandalism, makes me think of the quote by scholar and writer Sara Ahmed: “Questioning dominant modes of power (…) is understood as vandalism, the wilful destruction of the beautiful. But if you think that asking questions about what and how to teach is vandalising, then just know that we’re willing to be vandals.”

The play takes the children who it has invited as its audience seriously. Packaged in playful and action-packed scenes is a discourse conducted on equal terms with those in whose eyes the dream of being a hero still shines. So I am not surprised when after the show, a bunch of young girls gather around Camilla Pölzer to take selfies with her.

English translation by Cory Tamler

„I NEED A HERO“ by Camilla Pölzer (from age 9+, premiere: 22 February 2023) can still be seen tomorrow on 25 February 2023 at 4pm at the TANZKOMPLIZEN im Podewil, remaining tickets available on tanzkomplizen.de.

Concept, choreography, dance: Camilla Pölzer – Dance, choreography: Camilla Przystawski – Co-choreography: Paulina Jürges, Johanna Jörns – Music: Jana Sotzko – Projection, Video: Declan Hurley – Costume design: Carlo Zeit – Stage design: Pauline Heitmann – Dramaturgy: Amelie Mallmann, Lisa Sziedat – Production management: Agnieszka Habraschka, Lisa Sziedat – Audio description: Silja Korn, Emmilou Rößling – Education & outreach: Amelie Mallmann, Kira Shmyreva.