“Consolation“, Maria Rutanen/Valentina Menz/Gábor Hartyáni ©Dieter Hartwig

Sorry For Your Loss

On the 11 September 2022, two contemporary dancers and a cellist came together in a collaboration called “Consolation”, which was performed at Dock 11 as part of the international festival for contemporary dance and music, soundance berlin 2022.

On paper, the soundance festival berlin brings together composers and musicians with choreographers and dancers, who, as far as I am aware, have always worked hand-in-hand. So, what makes the works shown at the festival so unique? They are a “stimulus for dialogue between various disciplines”, the website claims, “from Post Butoh to New Jazz and improvisation”. The programme certainly promised an eclectic mix of styles. And there I found myself sat in front of yet another couple of contemporary dancers accompanied by a cellist, experiencing déjà vu. Was it just my luck or was there something more to be discovered in what Maria Rutanen (Choreographer and Performer), Valentina Menz (Performer), and Gábor Hartyáni (Cellist) were calling “Consolation”?

To ‘console’ someone means to give them comfort after a great loss, most typically psychologically speaking, with reassuring words of sympathy and hope. And yet here was the word being enacted with the body. Or, between bodies. Indeed, it was the space between the dancers’ bodies, and that of the cellist’s, that spoke most pertinently to the pain they suffered and were trying to comfort. For the space was not uniform—carved out in perfect circles or on parallels—but swelled with inconsistencies. And that’s when the subtlety of the show hit me: the fact that Rutanen and Menz were not moving in sync with the pizzicato of Hartyáni’s cello, but responding to his improvised and impressive plucking, which of course meant that the dancers were always one nanoscopic step behind, or was it in front, of the music, as Hartyáni in turn responded to their movements. The dancers were also never quite in perfect unison but were rather reacting to one another’s actions. This gave the overall effect of the tide at sea, as if I were sitting on the beach, with my toes in the sand, watching the waves rising and falling, and rising and falling, in continuous cycles. So recurring were their responses, however, that I soon found myself tiring and wondering when, if ever, the piece might pick up pace and momentum. When might the crest of the wave break with such a force that the fall of the tide cannot be seen for all the foam?

Had I been in a different mindset, perhaps, then I might have been able to relax into what was clearly an invitation to meditate—to meditate on the circuitous nature of grief and how we, slowly but surely, get through it (though perhaps never completely over it). But then again, grief is no routine thing, but rather a rollercoaster of emotions that, if they are to be consoled, necessitate varying approaches. And this is what I find is fundamentally missing from Rutanen’s concept. While the dancers might have started off rocking, then turned to swinging, and at last swaying, the differences between their movements were so incremental so as to go unrecognised. In fact, they mirrored the arc of Hartyáni’s bow, which swept back and forth, and back and forth, to hypnotic effect—hypnotic if it weren’t for the gnawing sense that I kept hoping that the performance was going somewhere.

Then, when it finally did go somewhere, I was caught off guard. Unexpectedly, they turned to headbanging and beating their fists in the air as though they were at a rock concert, cellist forgoing his cello included. Or were they better yet a trio of toddlers throwing tantrums? Their protestations and wailing certainly felt excessive, as if they came from nowhere. Which, in fact, they did. For only moments before were all three performers standing still at the back of the stage for what felt like too long a pause in the performance. Which brings me to my main critique of “Consolation”: that it expected too much of its audience. Too much patience. Too much care. Indeed, it felt as though I was sitting in a therapy session rather than watching a dance performance, which, while moving at times, left me feeling exhausted.

Interestingly, the programme to the show writes about kinaesthetic empathy, which refers to the sensation spectators can feel, even when sitting still, of experiencing, if not participating, in the movements they observe. The only time that I kinaesthetically emphasized with what the dancers were doing, however, was when, towards the end of the show, they lifted one another in their arms, as if carrying each other to bed. For sleep is often the greatest consolation. And perhaps that’s where “Consolation” always meant to take me. With its cradling music and repetitive movement, it was only time before I let go of my expectations and succumbed to its meditative mix of sound and dance.

Consolation” by Maria Rutanen was presented at DOCK 11 on 11 September 2022.

soundance festival berlin 2022 is a festival for contemporary dance and music and brings together current pieces and new collaborations by international Berlin artists. The 6th edition took place from 7 – 11 September 2022.