“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.
It’s the sixth week of lockdown and my coping strategies seem to be failing me. Energy is seeping away, I can’t keep hold of my thoughts, and my skin feels like it wants to separate from my body. And although I consider myself one of the lucky ones — with affordable housing, government support, work to do, and someone to hold — I am in need of comfort. It’s only after the conversation that I realise this need. My spirits are lifted by these three people, coming in to my living room as pixels through two little screens.
How are you doing today?
ANDRÉ: I feel like a blocked river. The situation has totally interrupted by physical life. We had been working so intensely together, and now I am in isolation. I’m trying to restore my body, but actually, my body wants something else; it wants be be back in the group.
LEA: The last time I touched anyone was when I was with you guys in Potsdam over a month ago. Now everything has become so enhanced, just seeing someone is overwhelming. My feelings are coming in waves; I go from worrying about the world we’re living in, to realising how fragile our profession is, from feeling restricted and useless, to weirdly excited.
LEE: The situation in Berlin is quite different in relation to some other places in the world. We can still go outside and see each other, many of us received support from the government. These are privileges that a lot of my friends don’t have and that I’m super aware of. For freelancers, the future is often unknown, and although currently there are big political questions that scare me, I feel that personally I have tools to deal with the uncertainty that we’re facing.
Can you share the core of “Von hier nach dort”?
LEE: The piece is a collective ritual to deal with death and saying goodbye. Death is not something much talked about, and grieving is not a practice we are trained in. We especially feel the need to protect children from it, but in fact, children are forced to deal with loss all the time.
ANDRÉ: We seem to lack rituals and space for grief, especially around kids. Funerals don’t always allow space for children to express their ways of saying goodbye. Experts, for example in palliative care, stress the importance of creating rituals for children and adults together. “Von hier nach dort” provides that space.
Death is a place of not knowing. When my mother passed away three years ago, I
was very much confronted with the question: Where is she? Despite the things
that science or religion tell us, adults and children both still experience
this question of the unknown. This unknowing actually creates a lot of
creativity, because all that is left is the imagination. There is something
about crafting that helps us deal with these philosophical and existential
questions when they are thrown in our faces. For this reason, we created a lot
of possibilities for audiences to apply craft, like creating a costume or
playing music. They would have made
little figures that represented something or someone that had gone. We were
planning to hold a procession to
the river at the end of the piece where we would have put the
figures on little boats and set them to sail.
LEA: A body dying is also material transforming, disappearing, changing. And it cannot be changed back again. To be in touch with material is a gateway to re-appropriating that which has gone, and to acknowledge physically what is lost. Like we do with a gravestone.
Has this practice of dealing with the unknown helped you with this current situation we are all facing?
ANDRÉ: During the process, there had been a lot of proximity between us. We had been living, cooking and working so intensely together, and had also been trying to create a collective ritual. So to be placed in isolation feels like the opposite of what we had been doing. It was a shock to find out we couldn’t premiere the work, and after a few days, I realised that I was going through a kind of grieving process for it.
LEE: You never really know how the work is going to affect you and your life. Sometimes you find out during the process, sometimes two years later. But the question of how to navigate our way through concepts that overwhelm us – which was very vivid in the process – is something that we have to deal with right now as well.
LEA: When we found out that the premiere wasn’t going to happen, we decided that the three of us would stay for one more week to mostly work on craft. There was a practical reason for this: planning-wise, it would have been a nightmare to be able to get back together in the same room again. But for me, it was also a way of landing in that new situation, a way of digesting and processing it. In that sense, it was week of transition.
Do you think this situation with Covid-19 will inform the future of the project?
ANDRÉ: I can imagine that the topics of farewell and death will be even more present when we start again, since the fear of losing something or someone is very current.
LEA: In any group of kids, there are always one or two who have a closer relationship to the topics of loss and death, but after the Corona Virus, I think it will be more present for many of them. This will invite us to be even more sensitive and delicate. Practically, we will need to reconsider the work in terms of proximity: What will we do if we can’t come any closer than 1.5 metres to one another? From a broader perspective, this whole situation questions the very notion of productivity. The system has been shaken. There has always been this mode of going through space as though we are carrying a machete and we cut everything out of our way that we don’t think is connected or of consequence to us. We cannot ignore the fact that everything is connected anymore. How do we approach this? How can we slow down and look at productivity differently? Accepting that it’s OK to do nothing has been the biggest practice for me. It’s a process of un-learning what the system has taught us.
“Von hier nach dort” is part of explore dance, a network bringing together the three partners fabrik moves Potsdam, Fokus Tanz / Tanz und Schule e.V. Munich, and K3 | Tanzplan Hamburg. The network aims to develop a sustainable structure for the production of contemporary dance pieces for young audiences. The premiere of “Von hier nach dort” has been postponed until further notice.
Click here for more information about explore dance – Network dance for young audience.