Oceanic Rushing

On 14/15 November 2020, Josefine Mühle is showing a video work on the ada Studio website as a teaser to the performance “LOTUS. the child was stung”, which has been postponed until next year. In this video work, she weaves aspects of prenatal psychology with our own fantasies into a lush dream landscape.

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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.

A Utopia Beyond the Norm and Anti-Norm

In a garish tutti frutti aesthetic, Angela Alves’ “NO LIMIT” (Zoom premiere 16 June 2020 at Sophiensæle) stages a distorted world in which the handicapped make up the normative majority and the unhandicapped suffer from syndromes like CCD (Can’t Calm Down) and KNL (Knows No Limits). The game show provides us with a lesson in accessibility without lecturing us.

Pre corona days, I wouldn’t have watched “NO LIMIT”. I would’ve been home in bed with a freshly operated on, swollen knee that I couldn’t bend and that had to be cooled and elevated – and I would’ve watched something uninspired on Netflix. I wouldn’t have subjected myself to the  effort of hobbling to the Sophiensæle and having to sit still for an hour with a constant twitch in my knee.

For a while now, the Sophiensæle has been offering so-called “Relaxed Performances”, which are intended to offer greater inclusivity in a casual atmosphere. You’re allowed to go in and out, to talk quietly, and to move around. That would make Angela Alves’ “NO LIMIT” a hyper-relaxed performance since the show wasn’t performed live as planned, but rather in the virtual realm with the help of Zoom. And it is precisely this aspect of the digital that permitted me – temporarily immobilized – access.

As the cool pack rests on my elevated knee, “NO LIMIT” begins. The show, staged in a garish nineties aesthetic, aims to create the greatest possible level of accessibility for viewers. Its rhythm is determined by translation aids,  arranged in parallel,  in the form of audio descriptions, sign language, subtitles and the option to have the descriptions read out loud in a chat room by a screen reader. The pauses that arise, translation cuts and duplications and the resulting decelerated tempo, sometimes make those of us unhandicapped, with our efficiency thinking, impatient.  And they make quite clear that our expectations of how best to use time productively and efficiently are extremely questionable and egocentric. That is why all the performers leave plenty of time for their introductions. The sign language translator, Gal, the deaf moderator, Athina, the narrator, Simone, the dancer (and artistic director of the show), Angela, the musician, Christoph all describe in great detail how they look and their settings. Their garishly colored retro costumes, starry-sky backdrop, and the rainbow stairs are obviously invoking the parody RTL show “Tutti Frutti”from the early 90s – and “Tutti Frutti for All” is what today’s invitation to “NO LIMIT” promises. It takes on an interactive show element; a questionnaire where we can share – but are not obligated to – whether we have e.g. a disability, whether we’re part of the norm, or whether we know what a crip is  – namely, a community of people that feels like it belongs to a discriminated minority.

The actual main part of the show clarifies what it’s all about. During a talk show sequence in which Angela Alves, the personified representative of the minority of unhandicapped people, is interviewed by Athina, we discover: people without disabilities would have a harder time here if we didn’t join in solidarity to ensure their inclusion. Because it’s the handicapped community that defines the norms here. But Angela doesn’t want to be included. She calls for empathy, the recognition of her unique individual maladies (CCD, KNL), and needs. She immediately gets sympathy for her lamentable minority status: Athina refers to it as “diversity aid”. And how does she dance despite her lack of handicap? But then Angela gets cut off… No one really wants to know the answer.

Towards the end of the show, as  Angela, Athina, and Gal perform a kind of senseless sign language choreography in three Zoom windows, a choreography that becomes evermore chaotic, Simone’s linguistic translation reaches its limits. And it hits me: this is not about me –handicapped or unhandicapped – being able to follow everything. Instead it’s about a dedicated serenity that cares less about definitions of inclusion and more about a constant renegotiation of our social norms. Especially now.


“NO LIMIT” by Angela Alves will be performed once again tonight, 18 June 2020, at 8pm in the Sophiensæle. Duration: 75 minutes. Participation via Zoom. You can get a personalized access link to the webinar with pre-registration (ticket price: 5 euros).


“NO LIMIT”, premiere 16 June 2020, Sophiensæle Berlin — Artistic director, choreography, performance: Angela Alves — dramaturgy: Alexandra Hennig — performance, choreography: Athina Lange — performance, sign language translator, choreography: Gal Naor (The progressive wave) — performance, audio description: Simone Detig — sound, performance: Christoph Rothmeier — set design: Philippe Krueger 


English translation by Melissa Maldonado

Back to the Classics

Event cancellations due to Covid-19 measures didn’t just affect the dance scene. How did major theaters respond during the pandemic? A brief glimpse at the Staatsballett Berlin to mark Polina Semionova’s appearance in the concert performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ “The Carnival of the Animals” at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

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On Bodies Communing: An Interview with Isabelle Schad

The plan was for Isabelle Schad’s trilogy “Collective Jumps“, “Pieces and Elements” and “Reflection” to be shown for the first time in one stretch at HAU Hebbel am Ufer in June. She talks with Jette Büchsenschütz about contemplation, the collective, and the power emanating from interlocking bodies – and it becomes evident how relevant her pieces are today.

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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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City Expansion — (Out)Stretching the Senses to Our Urban Surroundings

After days of being homebound, practice lab EINS from Sabine Zahn’s project “Stadterweitern (City Expansion)” gave me a chance to rediscover my senses (and with them a piece of Berlin). During the first of four five-day labs to take place in different central locations in Berlin from May to November 2020, I had the opportunity to experience Ernst-Reuter-Platz close up. Lab EINS also included a performance lecture and a discussion.

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Against Translation?

On the opportunities for performance art in the age of the contact ban and why the shuttering of theaters can also be seen as an opportunity. Reflections on the festival “Reclaiming the live aspect of the Performing Arts in the current times” initiated by Felix M. Ott and Diego Agulló and supported by Tanzfabrik Berlin

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HOW ARE YOU?

“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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Another Kind of Kinesthetic Empathy Is Transmitted on Screen

In the times of corona, when live dance events are (still) not possible, the digital format remains. You can love it or leave it, and not everything is suitable for filming. However, there are dance films, films explicitly choreographed for the camera and the screen: available for viewing until 6 May in POOL 20 – Spring Edition of the Internationales TanzFilmFestival Berlin at DOCK 11 online.

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On Hospitality, Collaborations and Dining Culture: Questions for Sally De Kunst about the Book “This Book is Yours”

On 21 March 2020, Sally De Kunst was scheduled to present the book “This Book is Yours – Recipes for Artistic Collaboration” at the Berlin office of Vexer Publishing House with a cooking workshop. Like many things in Berlin and worldwide, this event – a collaboration with Tanzbüro Berlin – could not take place. So I invited Sally De Kunst to respond over Skype to a few questions about this unusual recipe book on cooking and artistic collaborations. I found it particularly relevant at this current point in time as we’re spending a lot of time at home – probably also cooking – and gaining a greater awareness during this period of isolation for how very much our way of life depends on collaborations.

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