By Sasha Amaya, Alex Hennig, Christine Matschke & Johanna Withelm
The tanzschreiberinnen quartet met up for a joint glimpse back. In addition to individual dance performances, they keep coming back to writing itself. What follows is the confessions, strategies, highlights, and annoyances of the four authors.
Which themes came along?
Alex: When topics like resistance, empowerment, racism, and body image are addressed through choreography at Ballhaus Naunynstraße, when Tanzfabrik looks back on its beginnings during its 40-year anniversary, and Tanz im August premiered with three versions of the “Grandes Fugues” worlds really opened up. Although de Keersmaker was featured twice: with “The Six Brandenburg Concertos” by Bach at Volksbühne and as part of the three Beethoven fugues. So really “high culture” twice. I am really happy to have seen Jule Flierl’s version of Valeska Gert’s “Stimmtänze (Vocal Dances)”. Grotesque body images, distorted powerful vocals, perhaps a homage to the first punk of modern dance.
Christine: The spectrum of distinct aesthetics and topics was certainly also expansive this year —diversity is taking a front row seat in the Berlin dance scene, and that’s good. I think one question that is still relevant is that of present and future ways of living and working together. “THE HALF” (Revival) by Diego Gil, Igor Dobričić, and team and “Projecting [Space[“ by Meg Stuart were two examples of this. For me, this was also connected to the question of how committed we want to and are able to be nowadays. Many artists and creative professionals do not have the opportunity to spend a lot of time continuously working on something as a fixed collective. Do we have to accustom ourselves to temporary communities, and what do they actually consist of? I would like to see more continuity and possibilities for constant exchange. How else can something grow?
Which pieces stuck with us?
Sasha: The piece that has probably stuck with me themost, is Nora Chipaumire’s “portrait of myself as my father”. This workexhausted me, it broke me down, it scared me, and it left me raw—just as it should have. I felt like I was going to cry after theperformance. It gave me a physical experience which has not been my own. Itgave me a new understanding. And as time has gone on, it has also given me somekind of fire and power for new situations in which I find myself.
Christine: It’s still “Still Lives” by Naoko Tanaka. She found an amazing opportunity to unite fine art and choreography. Yes, and then my personal favorite by Martin Nachbar in Theater Thikwa “TANZABEND 4 – Identität ist sowieso Quatsch (NIGHT OF DANCE 4 – Identity is Nonsense Anyway)”. A very humorous and imaginative piece, which proved that the choreographer had a good feel for the talents of the individual performers. It was also well-staged from a dramaturgical perspective.
Alex: A few pieces stuck with me. Ones that were rather calm, and not at all real spectacles. Lee Méir resonated with “Line Up”. The figure of repetition, the need to endure language and transience. How she walks through this row of iron and metal bars, that moved me because it was such a personal piece. Aside from that, Lina Gómez with “A Passo Di Mulo”—back to the past. How people move across the world: flight, migration, life paths, and typical haunting music and a physical power and poetry that I see in her pieces.
Johanna: “Blue-sky thinking” by Rubato. A piece that moved me somewhat, especially because of its quiet political power and the honesty of the protagonists. And “Restraint” by Lina Gómez; it had such a powerful urgency that physically captivated me and left a long lasting impression.
Which pieces would we see again?
Christine: There are definitely a couple that I would see again. The only question is when they’ll be shown again. It’s not always a given.
Alex: …perhaps I’d have to see Sergiu Matis’ “Neverendings” again, with synchronized Russian translation and someone who can explain all the connections to the artists and the revolutions to me.
Sasha: For me, one of the most astonishing works of the year is Ola Majiewska’s “Bombyx Mori”. It reminded me of why I even try to be around and involved in art. It spoke continuously on multiple levels: physical, ephemeral, visual, conceptual, and theoretical—all at once.
Which piece would we recommend to a friend?
Sasha: I thought Maija Hirvanen’s “Art & Love” lecture-performance was fantastic, charming, provocative, and unusual. It provided so many new perspectives on old themes, and was really broachable, I think. So this is a show I would definitely recommend. For those who are interested in quiet, subtle works, I also thought Milla Koistinen’s offering of “On a Clear Day” was incredibly beautiful, technical, and underrated.
Johanna: For those interested in fine arts: “Inside Out” by Isabelle Schad. For those interested in performance: “If You Ask me…” by Liz Rosenfeld. For my mother and everyone who enjoys dancing themselves: “Blue-Sky thinking” by Rubato.
Christine: That depends on the person. But to put it more generally: Clément Layes’ works are for every generation. I can imagine they would appeal to a young audience, too. I recommend Meg Stuart for everyone who likes energetic choreography. Angela Schubot and Jared Gradinger—post-human abandon: lying in the stage sun with closed eyes and noticing as the clouds roll by. I like Verlin as a performance location. Also because what you see there is often amusing.
Alex: I would first take my non-theater/dance friends to de Keersmaeker and then to Jule Flierl. In any case, to Ballhaus Naunynstraße; white people in particular have to go there more often. I could recommend Cécile Bally to a lot of people because you can have a nice night. I feel like humor is a somewhat underappreciated medium in contemporary dance. I recommend Lina Gómez to my dance friends and everyone else.
How did we decide what pieces we are going to write about?
ACJS: We try to achieve a good mix of interesting choreographers and venues. That also means leaving one’s viewing habit comfort zone. It obviously always depends on what works in terms of time.
How do we react to not knowing? What are our strategies to find a position to a work we feel maybe completely lost, or indifferent to?
Alex: It is actually the worst (and actually also happens often to me) when I get home after a piece and feel so indifferent. When I’m aware that there is interest and physical research behind a piece but the execution somehow didn’t really capture me. This is often the case for pieces which are primarily conceptual or are marked by too many self-references. However, most of the time I try to find some kind of approach, a moment or a feeling—from an observation, a question. Sometimes I really see the piece with different eyes. Writing a text about something already implies an interest in seeking something out. If you don’t want to simply write “they moved around, didn’t really do much for me”. But sometimes it’s not that easy.
Sasha: I try to identify the artists’ goals and interests, and how they have approached “solving” their own problem, so to speak. When I try to think like they might be, I almost never feel lost. I don’t mind seeing pieces that aren’t “working” or that are in different stages of progress; it’s really important that people still get to experiment and show stuff on stage that doesn’t work so well.
Johanna: That happens to me quite a lot. But when I’m writing, I usually notice that I do actually have some opinion about it. Sometimes it only develops during the writing process. The pieces live on through the writing, and sometimes they change in the aftermath: it might be that something I enjoyed watching comes across as less good in text. Or pieces that I couldn’t really connect to while watching become interesting upon reflection and when writing. And if nothing helps, it can be good to be upfront about my own cluelessness in my text and just write about it. That is often more fruitful for the text than a strained attempt to do justice to something or someone.
Christine: I find that we often react too quickly. That is why I also think it’s terrible to judge a piece right after the performance. I usually sleep on it one night. Unless I’m so preoccupied with it that I have to put my thoughts directly on paper. If I’m totally clueless about a piece, I try to find some starting point to wriggle my way in. I brainstorm and/or do some research again. I find that my cluelessness doesn’t necessarily mean that a piece didn’t work. And like Johanna already mentioned, your opinion of a piece can change while you’re writing.
If we don’t like something, what do we think are the reasons for our response?
Christine: If the sequence of a performance is too predictable. Or even worse: if the accompanying text for a piece is overloaded with philosophical ideas, an attempt at wanting to come across as particularly intelligent. The catwalk atmosphere of “The Six Brandenburg Concertos” by Anne Theresa de Keersmaeker, the dog and number boy inserts, totally annoyed me. It came across as staged. I also felt, for the first time in a de Keersmaeker piece, like I was sitting in a ballet. What remains astonishing is how the musicality is transmitted to you in the movements of the dance with their geometrically precise nonchalance. I felt like I could agilely move, almost fly, through the audience streaming out of the Volksbühne. What I miss in the Berlin scene is pieces that address current political events.
Johanna: Sometimes I don’t like things because they make me feel excluded or patronized. Sometimes because they are embarrassingly moving to me (but that can also be a reason to like something). Sometimes I don’t like something because someone didn’t make any effort, sometimes because I don’t like the protagonists. Or because I notice that they have nothing to do with me. I think when you’re watching a piece, a lot is about whether we can recognize a part of ourselves in it.
Alex: When I’m not just clueless but also annoyed it’s usually because of the dancers/performers’ approach on the stage, which I sometimes find withdrawn or “too cool”. When I get the feeling that someone really didn’t take the work seriously, or doesn’t risk anything but gets on the stage with an “obviously what I’m doing is cool because it’s me” attitude. Or if a piece claims political issues for itself as a way of legitimizing itself, but you notice it doesn’t really grapple with the issue. I think it’s really bad if clichés are simply put on display and repeated, and this is meant as a critique. It’s also difficult when there’s no space for humor, when a piece takes itself too seriously. I also have a hard time enduring pseudo-intellectual monologues/dialogues or dancers who comment on their movements the entire time (like: “yes and now I enter the floor, I place myself here, I am a dancer”). In general: text on stage when it is badly written or spoken—really really bad! But it is so interesting what affects you and what you can’t stand—it often says something about you yourself by implication.
Sasha: Writing about dance has actually made me far more appreciative of dance more generally. Before I was writing, I used to dislike or to be unsatisfied with a fair number of pieces. Now, I very rarely actively dislike a piece; there is always something interesting happening, and the process of writing about a piece often clarifies for me what was interesting about it. When I do dislike a piece, it usually has to do with works that are both simultaneously complex and boring, viz. Self-centred, somehow! I really don’t appreciate it when pieces are egotistical, or, worse, cliquey.
How do we start writing? Why do we enjoy writing?
Christine: I don’t have a cookie-cutter approach. Sometimes I just start writing. Sometimes I look for beginnings and find it difficult. After all, writing is a very personal process. As a friend once said to me: “You can’t just tick things off.” For me, writing about dance is about passion, in a positive and negative sense. Because writing about dance is actually a physical impossibility. You can only ever “narrow down” what it’s about. But this narrowing down, this getting closer is a cognitive process that you live through, and that’s what I like about it.
Sasha: I had written and danced quite separately for some time, and started writing about dance very suddenly and rather by chance! This was a great thing, and now I have spent a lot of time watching and thinking about dance through words in a very new way. Most of all, writing on dance has sharpened my memory, and has also made me more generous. I also enjoy the play of words that bound forth sometimes after a performance.
Johanna: Getting started is usually difficult. Sometimes it takes a while until something hits me. Once I’ve got that, itusually gets better. Sometimes automatically writing works as a strategy to getpast the initial block. I like writing because it lets me better sort and understand my thoughts, positions, attitudes. However, there is also permanent self-judgment: when I feel like I have produced something good, that pushes me forward. When I don’t like what I’ve written, I feel bad. To that extent, I also believe that writing hass omething to do with vanity and vulnerability.
Alex: I find writing, especially about dance, so exciting because it actually is clearly impossible. Because you can never really honor dance with words, because something new always arises with text. I often start with really sloppy, terse thoughts, I attempt to take a step back from myself and then enter into self-discourse. Sometimes I surprise myself with what emerges. I think writing is a great way to observe your own thoughts.
English translation of texts from Alexandra Hennig, Christine Matschke & Johanna Withelm by Melissa Maldonado