“Beethoven 7”, Sasha Waltz & Guests ©Sebastian Bolesch

The Music Rushes Through the Struggling Bodies

The two-part, nearly two-hour evening “Beethoven 7” (Sasha Waltz & Guests) premiered on 11 March 2023 in Radialsystem. Choreographer Sasha Waltz asks questions about freedom and social constraints, set to the music of contemporary composer Diego Noguera and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

I. Diego Noguera “Freedom/Extasis”

Filled with fog, the Radialsystem performance space feels like an endless dark cave. The bodies of the dancers, too, which appear as if out of nowhere, seem alien. Their costumes, constructed of stiff transparent material, wrap their translucent silhouettes in a kind of cocoon (costumes: Bernd Skodzig, Federico Polucci). Humming and cracking recur in Diego Noguera’s composition. The dancers’ knees repeatedly collapse inward; at times their arms gesture as if operated from above by strings. There’s something insectlike about the quality of motion, something that feels like it’s being controlled by remote. Taken together it is reminiscent of a clip from a dystopian science fiction film. As the music increases in intensity, the tension among the 14 dancers also increases: now they flit with rapid movements like a swarm of locusts across the stage. They throb, they stomp; aggression is palpable in the way they move and reflected in the music as well. In the last quarter of the approximately 40-minute first part, the acoustic elements gain the upper hand. It is the kind of sound that you don’t just hear, you feel it—because it makes the entire auditorium shake. It is the kind of music that makes me aware I’m holding my breath at irregular intervals; such is its volume and force that the applause that follows sounds like a whisper.

Picture: “Beethoven 7”, Sasha Waltz & Guests ©Sebastian Bolesch

II. Ludwig van Beethoven “7th Symphony in A Major, Op. 92”

Following a 30-minute intermission I return to the theatre for the second part. The space is clear of fog. The brick wall and with it all the windows and fire extinguishers are visible in the background. Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony sounds out of the loudspeakers, softly, almost. I can hear the dancers’ steps, their breath, as they run exuberantly across the stage. Coming on the heels of the first part’s dystopian alienation, everything feels familiar, human. In the first two movements of the symphony the choreography has a purely illustrative character in relation to the music: an airy “round dance” to match the nimble rhythm of the first movement and a funeral march in keeping with the plodding sameness of the second movement. In the final two movements, straight lines of military severity emerge. Repeatedly the dancers extend their arms to the side; they spin intermittently. A flag that’s visually reminiscent of flowing water is waved around and over the 14 bodies. This may be effective as a symbol for freedom struggles, but together with the increasingly abstract choreography it feels out of place. Bit by bit, movements fall out of line. A shudder ripples through the bodies onstage like the manifestation of an inner struggle. In the final movement of the Seventh Symphony, Sasha Waltz’s choreography gains strength. A steady focus coupled with forceful throwing movements create an aggressive yet hopeful final image.

The two parts share a certain rage. We see a group that sets itself against something, that strives for a common goal. For me, the question about freedom described in the playbill recedes into the background. A struggle, however, is clear: one that in the first part intimidates and overwhelms, in the second part looks optimistically towards the future.

English translation by Cory Tamler

“Beethoven 7” by Sasha Waltz & Guests received its world premiere on 11 March 2023 at Radialsystem. Next Berlin performances from 31 August to 3 September 2023 at Radialsystem (start of ticket sales for these performances estimated in June.)

Choreography / Concept: Sasha Waltz – Music: Ludwig van Beethoven, Diego Noguera – Dance / Choreography: Clémentine Deluy, Rosa Dicuonzo, Edivaldo Ernesto, Tian Gao, Eva Georgitsopoulou, Hwanhee Hwang, Annapaola Leso, Lorena Justribó Manion, Jaan Männima, Sean Nederlof, Virgis Puodziunas, Sasa Queliz, Zaratiana Randrianantenaina, Orlando Rodriguez.