Experimenting With The Unspeakable
There is one theme that has quite noticeably been preoccupying many dancers – identity. A particularly topical theme in these times of “flexible” people with their pieced-together biographies sewn into an unstable social fabric that is teeming with all kinds of “immigration influences”. Who am I? Art is straining to get to the bottom of the individual elements of the ego, of relationships, of memories, of the de-spatialisation of the borders between the private and the public, the real and the virtual, the body and the computer screen. That may indeed seem like quite an undertaking, but is there maybe even a little more to a this kind of human being?
The spiritual egoIs this new religiousness having an effect on the way we view our egos? According to sociologists and theologians this increased religiousness has been around for quite a few years. The phenomenon is hard to define; analyses so far have revealed seemingly opposite developments. It is however not just a question of hyped-up media reporting – of spectacular events like the World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, the election of the Pope, of quasi-religious events or glorifications of products or ideologies (e.g. “Your health is your most vital asset!”). If you ask a dancer about his or her thoughts on religion, you will often get an answer that is so typical of our times – scepticism towards the institution of the church that at times often makes it sound like an old coat that does not fit anymore. “As a child I was an altar boy, and I even enjoyed it,” says Marco Goecke, born in Wuppertal. “Today though I have nothing to do with religion.” Toula Limnaios from Greece can remember “all the icons”. When later they decide on material that warms the soul, many of them call it “spirituality” instead of religiousness or faith. It sounds better, less geared to the past or authority and less isolating. Is this then visible on the stage, too?
When it comes to stage drama the boom in religion is quite easy to spot. All over the place there are productions of The Ten Commandments, series of performances á la Glaubenswerkstätten or plays about people on a quest for religion. The words and the titles let people know what it is about. It is the same with dance pieces about biblical stories and characters like Esther, about angels or about the passion of Jesus Christ. The question is however just how does the art of dance go about finding the divine beyond the somewhat theatrical limits of the stories? Die Große Messe (The Great Mass) by Uwe Scholz seemed to despair of the question about the meaning of life, about the meaning of dance, too, with all its empty exercises.
Looking for a lost unityDance is actually not so far removed from religion. It was originally an integral part of cult worship, evocation of spirits, celebration – even Christianity embraced it up until the 3rd century, until the sinful body was forced back to the spiritual straight and narrow. Helena Waldmann’s FeierAbend! Das Gegengift gives us a taste of this forgotten pleasure. She says the party on the stage, to which her team of hosts invites the audience, deals with the “unification” of people with the various disciplines of art. This “becoming one” is also one of the themes picked up on by the Italian, Morgan Nardi, who like many other dancers has become a Buddhist. His spiritual approach to life influences the way he establishes the common ground between performers and audience – by opening up spaces. The end, too. In the novel that inspired his production of 1 the shadow dies, but with Nardi the stage figure is united with the shadow. Reconciliation, Salvation? Martin Schläpfer from Switzerland, who in an interview stated that he was not religious, produced a piece called Reformationssymphonie in which he has a man on his knees silently wrestling with himself and his prayer – yet by the end of the ballet you get the impression that the human being is a majestically sincere being. A miracle?
It is in the eye of the beholder – whether it is the choreographer who projects one form of spirituality or another into his work or whether we just interpret it like that. The raised arms of the dancers, as in Vollmond (Full Moon) by Pina Bausch, seem like gestures of yearning, the boundless desire for a vast infinity, for release – or maybe even for a supreme being.
Dance as a form of prayerIn an interview Ms Bausch compared the almost never-ending sequences and repetitions of dance in her Tanzabend II with saying the rosary. In her piece One, Suna Göncü, a woman from Cologne with a Turkish background, choreographs bodies that rotate in circles the whole time, slowly moving away from each other. Influenced by Sufism, she wants to give expression to the ritual, unifying force of dance. In contrast there is Helge Letonja, who calls his Verwandlung, Metamorphose a Catholic rites principle that fits in with his choreographic ideas – transformation of bodies, their condition, spaces, times. In his piece Maat there is a section called “Geistige Körper” (spiritual bodies) in which showers of rice rain down onto the stage – with no particular form in mind. Life is perfect by Toula Limnaios is about the bearing of misery and shows people crawling up from below into a coat, as if they had a removable husk that could be exchanged for another – Me, not-me.
The invisibleDance performances in churches these days are no longer unusual. Not all of them however place any particular value on the locality itself. Das blaue Fleisch by Dieter Heitkamp staged in Frankfurt cathedral posed the question, “What is left over from life?” The performance quoted Yves Klein’s “Anthropométries” (Body Imprints) and words from Derek Jarman’s film Blue – “Pray that you will be liberated from the images.” Dance in its ephemerality is the symbol par excellence of a humble life in the face of death, says Toula Limnaios. The fact that it needs no words is fully in line with the spirituality experienced beyond the powerfully eloquent dogmas of the various religions. Whether the movements flow or break, whether bodies sink to the ground or lightly float – there is the occasional precious moment when one thinks one has seen something that is not there. Is that what it is all about?
has been active in the field of cultural promotion and international cultural exchange and since 2005 has been working as a free-lance journalist.
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion
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