Dance Scene and Trends in Germany

Body Presentations between Image and Perception

Copyright: Whenever our senses were to be honed, dance was the definitive form of art in the past decades.

The body was its seismographic instrument, with which our altered sensitivities in a changing society could be traced far more exactly and articulated more vividly than in the interpersonal dialogue of the theatre. It is probably part of the success story of the dance theatre in the 1980s and 1990s that its associative dramaturgy, its emotional visual power and physical intensity have meanwhile flowed back into other forms of art such as the theatre of the spoken word.

A changed perception of the body

Increasingly, as with Cristina Ciupke or the Duo Wilhelm Groener, influences are coming from the fine arts, which with their more abstract view of the body, as in the work of the Berlin-based choreographer Xavier Le Roy, wish to offer the audience a different, alienated perception. With the development of the new digital media our view of the body has changed. The presentation of an authentic body, which determined the specifically German development of dance in the 20th century – from the free dance of Mary Wigman to Pina Bausch’s Dance Theatre – has become questionable against this backdrop. Instead, work on the body image is moving into the foreground – work which responds to the disappearance of the body with its weight and immobility in the medial visual worlds. The new bodies are difficult to move, a fact which constantly pushes dance as the art of movement to the limits of its means of expression and into the arms of other arts. What characterises dance in this changed situation is the concentration on body, language, movement and image beyond psycho-social motivations. It produces emotions without having to resort to the established historical patterns of expression in order to be successful with the audience.

International dance scene in Germany

Due to the establishment of international co-producer networks Germany has meanwhile become a popular location for international dancers and choreographers. Production centres such as the Choreographisches Zentrum PACT Zollverein in Essen, the Tanzhaus in Düsseldorf, North-Rhine Westphalia, the Kampnagel Fabrik in Hamburg, the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Frankfurt, the Tanzwerkstatt Europa in Munich and the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) in Berlin with their excellent infrastructure consistently offer foreign artists residencies to develop new works or invite them to show their productions in the regular programme. International festivals such as Dance in Munich, Tanz Bremen, Tanztheater International in Hanover and Tanz im August in Berlin have become well-established and also help to ensure that the international scene can present itself in Germany.

Many of the city or state-financed ensembles, which are still a guarantee of continuity in work and are thus also of interest for foreign artists such as, for example, the American Kevin O’Day in Mannheim, have absorbed aesthetic impulses from the free scene. Hence the Irish Marguerite Donlon is causing quite a stir in Saarbrücken with her mixture of classical and contemporary styles, while Gregor Zöllig in Osnabrück has been blazing new trails, work which he will now continue in Bielefeld. The Berlin Ballet under Vladimir Malakhov has consolidated itself and is celebrating great successes with classical dance. Audiences in Mainz are still justifiably proud of their ballet which, under its director Martin Schläpfer, has become one of the nation’s leading ballet companies.

With his new "Forsythe Company; William Forsythe displays most vividly in Three Atmospheric Studies his sensitivity for atmospheric disturbances in our age, afflicted as it is by natural catastrophes and worldwide terrorism. Sasha Waltz, like her Berlin colleague Constanza Macras, questions the validity of current body images transmitted by the media in order to convey through the flood of pictures a remnant of sensuous, vulnerable and sensitive humanity. The American Meg Stuart with her company "Damaged Goods" is joining the Berliner Volksbühne, where she will continue to work on the problem of the dissolution of private and public spheres.

Abstract movements in small stories

Aesthetically, many performances of the last seasons are based on the attempt to make abstract movements perceptible and understandable in ever new and different ways by means of small stories. The search for different approaches to movement, which with Meg Stuart or Antje Pfundtner leads to disfigured body images, goes hand in hand with a new enthusiasm for telling stories. The "dysfunctional" body questions the normative body images of both classical and modern dance in order to elicit an increased sensuousness from the body by disturbing traditional and firmly entrenched methods of perception. In Verdeckte Ermittlung Martin Nachbar invents a short detective story in order to trace the fleeting nature of movement. The old topic of relationships between two people is impelled with the help of video pictures through various media formats, including dance, by Jan Pusch from Hamburg. The relationship of the sexes to one another appears to be staged by the media, no longer arising from an authentic feeling.

One can observe how the body slips through the perception of the viewer to become an image, for example in the works of Stephanie Thiersch, as in those of Eszter Salamon who in Reproduction plays with the characteristics of gender identity. Dance still sets in motion our perception of that which we regard as reality.

Gerald Siegmund
Dance-theatre critic and lecturer on Applied Drama Studies, University of Gießen

Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

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August 2005

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