Miet Warlop’s Fruits of Labor at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018

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Potsdamer Tanztage
or: 3 × 3 = 8

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Spinal Tap meets Salvador Dalí: Miet Warlop’s Fruits of Labor. Photo © Remi Angeli
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We asked our three Berliners to attend three performances each at Potsdamer Tanztage, to get a feel not only for the festival, but also for the writers themselves.

As it turned out: 3 × 3 = 8 [+ 1 picnic].

Read on to find out more from David Pallant, Evgeny Borisenko and Annette van Zwoll

David Pallant

 

Fruits of Labor by Miet Warlop at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
Louis Vanhaverbeke’s Multiverse at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
Yasmeen Godder’s Simple Action at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
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Friday 1 June, 19.30, fabrik Potsdam

As I enter Miet Warlop’s Fruits of Labor, I’m handed a pair of earplugs. Ominous or promising? The grunge music played by four musicians at the start is gentle enough, Warlop standing on a rotating disc at the back, a glittering catsuit transforming her into a human disco ball. But as the lights go up, all hell breaks loose. What follows is a raucous blend of high-concept rock concert, wacky performance art, and physical theatre parody. Think Spinal Tap meets Salvador Dalí. (If you’re struggling to picture that, imagine trying to describe it.) The performers pelt us with a barrage of bizarre gems, aided by a truckload of props; a polystyrene block and set of drumsticks are put to particularly ingenious use. The ‘band’ exuberantly thrash out everything from screeching rock to melodramatic opera, grinning and gurning, using jets of coloured liquid to make an almighty mess of the stage. The technical trickery is impressive, but treated with a certain nonchalance as though, in this strange world, the normal rules of physics simply don’t apply. Each fragment is compelling, yet fleeting – why, after all, spend too long on an idea, when five others are waiting eagerly in the wings? There are plenty of absurdist pieces around, but Warlop’s extraordinary creativity elevates this above most.

Saturday 2 June, 18.00, Kirche Am Neuendorfer Anger

For Yasmeen Godder’s Simple Action, I find myself in a draughty old church, audience sitting in a circle with the six performers. One stands, offers her hand to the man sitting next to me, and leads him to the centre. She murmurs something, they embrace, and she lowers him gently to the ground. And that’s it: the eponymous simple action. An action which, in various roles and couples, we all execute at least once over the following hour. Set to Tomer Damsky’s haunting voice, soaring over a drone produced by a sort of accordion-in-a-suitcase, it takes on a meditative, ritualistic quality, as we form a continuous loop of slowly crumpling bodies. As a dancer myself, the physical experience was less of a revelation, but watching the pleasure, discomfort, even liberation of my fellow audience members was fascinating. By intelligently dismantling traditional performer/audience dichotomies, Godder offers an authentically immersive, inclusive work with great power to touch.

Saturday 2 June, 19:30, T-Werk

Louis Vanhaverbeke’s Multiverse is very much a one-man show. Vanhaverbeke sits rapping beside a ring of seemingly random household objects, his lyrics flitting between earnest and ironic. Running around his DIY henge, he grabs and disposes of items, building them into temporary structures, using them to act out theatrical vignettes. Portable record players provide a whimsical soundtrack, then serve as spinning cogs in precarious installations. The imaginative potential of normally functional objects is explored with a lightly-worn inventiveness that’s easy to appreciate. However, at one point Vanhaverbeke gets lost amongst the props, and the focus of the piece blurs. Hints of pathos to his performance lead us to search for meaning, yet none emerges. His attempt to show the nuanced ‘multi’ nature of everything, engagingly unconstrained at first, becomes aimless. Multiverse’s many stand-out moments shine brightly individually, but require a stronger centre of gravity to keep them in orbit.

A question for David

Evgeny: David, you’ve recently performed as a dancer in Potsdam yourself, and now you are here as a critic. Has your dance background influenced the way you watch, and conversely, has your newly grown critical eye informed the way you dance?

David: I would definitely say that I suffer from the same curse as many dancers, which is that it’s sometimes difficult to enjoy dance performances on an instinctive level – you end up fixating on the movement in a way which makes it harder to just be swept along by the work as a whole. Perhaps counterintuitively, attending performances as a critic has helped me move away from that: when you know you have to communicate what you’ve seen and felt to other people, you have no choice but to see and feel things more fully. As for my work as a dancer, it still feels quite separate from my critical writing. Let’s say that performing resides in the subjective side of my brain, and dance criticism in the objective – they’re neighbours but, for now, there’s not much community spirit.


Evgeny Borisenko

 

Bora Kim’s A Long Talk to Oneself at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
Dance in Bora Kim's Tail Language at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
Manuel Roque in Bang Bang at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
Martine Pisani’s Undated at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
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Tuesday 5 June, 19:30, fabrik Potsdam

This slightly unbalanced yet imaginative double bill by Bora Kim Dance Company starts with a mesmerising solo performed by Bora Kim herself. A Long Talk to Oneself is a powerful dedication to the choreographer’s grandmother, supported by an intimate video by Jae-Hyung Joo and Antony Hegarty’s vibrant rendition of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’. Dimly lit and clad in a beige, paper-textured leotard, Kim slowly slides to a statuesque mike stand, where she attempts a speech. But no sound comes from her stiff lips, only slimy liquid that drips onto her shivering tendril-like limbs as she executes her dark, fragile confession. In this short and graceful solo, Kim’s charming fragility meets her compelling dramaturgical skills to astounding effect. The second piece, Tail Language, certainly seems weak in comparison. An eight-strong team of dancers languidly perform odd animal movements to a bombastic violin-fuelled music score. They interact with white sculptures set on a white dance carpet, which also waxes into a sculpture at the end. This overblown take on ‘wild world’ choreography offers a wide range of conventional but non the more crowd-pleasing moments though: how one could not like the serpentine of waltzing spectres, scathing silhouettes, and weeping music? But this show severely lacks any motive, and leaves the audience craving for something more.

Thursday 7 June, 19:30, T-Werk

Vigour, repetitive stomping, endurance, clever use of light and music – Manuel Roque delivers a crowd-pleasing and somehow predictable solo in Bang Bang. He is an able dancer, and showcases his skills perfectly, rhythmically punching the stage with his feet, jumping, jogging and literally swirling around the stage space. He further breaks the pace with hasty runs, heavy-breathed surrenders and embracing run-arounds, as if the stage were too small for all his jumping and bang-banging. His physical resistance and endurance are admirable, and the piece is set to a very likeable yet random music selection: Debussy, Chopin and minimal house. But what is the purpose of this jumping routine, of Roque’s sweaty display of endurance? Roque fails to outstrip his own self-evident choreography. To strive for a powerful message while being held back by one’s own actions is a trap into which many have fallen. Roque may be no exception, but he is a commanding crowd pleaser. And he knows it!

Thursday 7 June, 21:00, fabrik Potsdam

Imagine you’re a choreographer with a dozen pieces behind you. Wouldn’t you want to put them all together, gather all your former and current dancers and play a game? Martine Pisani’s Undated plays this parlour game with her ten dancers to a hermetic result – with an empty white stage, colourful street wear and silence as a backdrop. Performers exchange small papers with, one might guess, indications to repeat a gesture from one of Pisani’s previous pieces. The show begins. Or rather, a spare hour-long scenario put on stage with a remarkable economy of means. The dancers exchange friendly taps, push each other, execute short runs, and seem to be quite happy and enthusiastic before the baffled Potsdam crowd. This self-indulgent surrealistic parade is as joyful to watch as an ‘exquisite corpse’ game played on stage. The patchwork of funny gestures and stand-up poses may well be reminiscent of Pisani’s always intricate and demanding œuvre. But if we are not her die-hard fans, what can we take from it other than a nonchalant refreshment, however welcome in the Potsdam summer heat?

A question for Evgeny

Annette: Evgeny, you recently started working professionally as a critic in the dance field, alongside your career as a human rights lawyer. Do you find similarities in the way you approach art and law? How do they complement each other?

Evgeny: It’s true that my professional legal writing has mainly consisted of words like ‘necessary in democratic society’ or ‘proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued’. First, I found it amusing to keep this cold logical approach to dance performances. I was then surprised to find out that many good shows are in fact dissectible in this way, which probably means that they were imagined with the same tools with which an attorney drafts a brief. Now I’m trying to be a spectator rather than a judge in my reviews, however difficult that may be. And certainly, shows which blow away my rationalist hat, and take me aback instead of reassuring me in my judging and reviewing capacities, help a lot.


Annette van Zwoll

 

Zsuzsa Rózsavölgyi’s 1.7 at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
Spotlit jugglers in Humanoptère by Clément Dazin/La Main de l'Homme at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
Begüm Erciyas’s Voicing Pieces at Potsdamer Tanztage 2018
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Saturday 9 June, 15.00, on the banks of the Tiefer See

It’s a sultry summer day when I make my way to the former factory where the Potsdamer Tanztage is based. I arrive early, lay out a blanket and enjoy a picnic and a little nap by the waters of the Tiefer See – only to find that that the performance I was planning to see is being presented on the other side of town. And that’s how I miss Begüm Erciyas’s Voicing Pieces, a ‘journey to the world of resonance’. Oops!

Saturday 9 June, 19.00, T-Werk

I do make it to 1.7, by Hungarian Zsuzsa Rózsavölgyi. 1.7 is the current birth rate in Europe, and with this decreasing number in mind Rózsavölgyi explores femininity in contemporary society. When we enter she is fully covered with long, satin cloth, reminding me variously of a ghost, a burka and a priest. The cloth is peeled off, revealing a refreshingly recognisable female body, with a slightly flabby belly and strong thighs. Naked, she sits on hands and knees and sweeps her long brown hair in circles on the ground. The supporting song is by a man extolling the natural beauty of black girls’ hair: ‘Let my fingers run through your natural hair.’ ‘NO’, I want to shout. ‘Black girls (or any others) don’t need to be empowered by men glorifying their beauty. NOO, beauty is not the core of their existence and NOOO, you cannot run your fingers through their hair because it’s theirs and you don’t have any ownership of it!’

The piece works best when Rózsavölgyi keeps it close to home. We see how online Hungarian ‘information’ on abortion spreads lies about death rates, diseases and more. The most confrontational moment is when she confides her part in keeping the birth rate low. She tells us about her abortion. She tells us about her second abortion. And she tells us about her third abortion. And I can’t help but think: can’t you just use some birth control?! Then: ‘NOOOO, it’s her body. I don’t have any ownership of it!’

Saturday 9 June, 20.30, fabrik Potsdam

Humanoptère by Clément Dazin/La Main de L’Homme starts with six men waving in the wind, like grain, moving diagonally in darkish blue light. The sound of wind and thunder brings an exciting atmosphere, but on stage all is serenity. The six break up, each finding a spot to sit on their knees. They take out juggling balls and rhythmically repeat an energising phrase. It’s an enticing and poetic start but it doesn’t hold up. The soundtrack and light design are consistent and thought-through, but the presentation of bodies is not. After the abstract start, the piece disintegrates: some of the performers fall into comedy, others try to act, while others keep a certain abstraction or communicate with symbolic gestures. The juggling continues to fascinate, and that is where the strength of the performance lies. But the lack of focus doesn’t bring the core of this performance to its full realisation.

A question for Annette

David: Annette, you work a lot with dance in a professional capacity, as a dramaturge, project initiator, programmer, text writer etc but the performances you saw in Potsdam also provoked a very personal reaction. Do you consciously decide how much distance (or not) you take from a work, or is it something instinctive? Does it change depending on the role in which you watch it?

Annette: It’s a conscious and political choice to be personal. On the one hand my writing is a method of disrupting the claim of neutrality of a critic (that in our context is usually a white, highly educated and therefore very specific voice). On the other hand, I find reflecting on myself as well as the performance as an insightful way of laying bare certain blind spots and mechanisms we – me included – all fall into. The acknowledgement of discrepancies between certain responses and emotions and our value systems can trigger us to define what we really stand for.


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For more information on the festival, visit the Postdamer Tanztage website.