“Deepspace”, James Batchelor ©Gregory Lorenzutti

The Cool, Deep Maths of the Body

Questions of time, space, and mathematics dominate in “Deepspace”, a choreography based in scientific collaboration and research from James Batchelor, viewed at Trauma Bar und Kino in Berlin-Moabit on 14 March 2023.

I am not a very cool Berliner. I am more like a stage nerd who ambles around performance spaces, wearing too many bright colours, taking notes on my second-hand notepad with a few pages a high school student couldn’t quite fill, and avoiding eye contact. Then I go home early to Pankow – perhaps one of the least cool areas of Berlin – drink camomile tea, and try to read my notes, which are often scratched in complete darkness with an almost inkless pen.

“Deepspace” is a choreography duet by James Batchelor with Chloe Chignell, first performed with the same dancer in 2016 and here hosted in Trauma Bar und Kino, an underground club and event space in the perpetually-under-development Europacity district of Berlin-Moabit. Entering the club space, one is overwhelmed with the black everywhere: the audience, also wearing various shades of black complimented by black accessories, is introduced to a dark space for the first part of the evening, the 30-minute audio installation “Sonic experience” by GiGi FM – an atmospheric journey into the digital bliss of nature – before changing to the larger space for Part 2, choreographed by Batchelor.

Chignell and Batchelor are bathed in soft light as we enter the event space, holding metallic shotputs, and begin to sway. As the soundtrack (music: Morgan Hickinbotham) gathers tempo, the dancers – dressed in black, of course – repeat a movement sequence in four directions, in their sliding and pivoting in perfect symmetry. This opening gambit completed, they roll the shotputs gently into the audience, and, together with the music, spread out into a more expansive gesture that begins to encapsulate the whole room. They sweep around the space almost ballroom-style, eventually diving onto the floor, before slowly edging around the room, repeating the circular motion, as if searching out its geometry.

The style of Batchelor is here fixed largely on symmetry as a choreographic device, playing with obtuse angles and shapes of the body in relation to the architecture of the space, and occasional variations as a departure (or perhaps scientifically, ‘error’). The dancers, who perform without words across the 70-minute duration, always act in relation to each other – even later, as one climbs onto the back of the other, or goes to collect a giant inflatable ball, one can almost see the invisible string connecting the duo. Gestures such as spinning the ball mirror slow pirouettes of the body, leading to the finale, introduced by the performers as a pair of white geometrical shaped objects, which roll and pass a tiny ball around between each other.

Batchelor’s concerns here are with miniaturisation and transformation, contemplating the sphere, the circle, and other geometries as abstract means of conceiving internal and external worlds. The developed choreography is deeply involved with a scientific pondering of the human relationship with the world – “an attempt to relate to the untameable forces of nature”. Toward the ending, the top-lit geometrical shapes stick out from the space, themselves entering a slow spin as the soundtrack adds a rattle to its atmospherics. It’s a work that moves sometimes at a glacial pace, deeply concerned with observation and listening. While this has limitations – I get kind of a ‘classic’ feeling from the work that maybe prevents something really radical from occurring – the sense of ritual reaches a satisfying completion with tiny versions of the metallic shotput balanced on the arched back of the dancer, before finally ending in the duo playing with the balls on the available sewer grate, centrestage.

Powerful observations resolve themselves in a neat circular manner – and although unfashionably Euclidian, it’s a work that offers something to recent conversations of the scientific relationship between humans and the world, as a story of abstraction, perhaps best told through art. For some, its focus might be a little too precise, and the approach might seem too conventional – but we don’t have to be trendy all the time, I guess.

“Deepspace” by James Batchelor (Performers: James Batchelor, Chloe Chignell; Sound Design: Morgan Hickinbotham) is performed at Trauma Bar und Kino from 14 to 17 March 2023 at 7.30pm. Tickets at traumabarundkino.de.