Wanda Golonka in an interview
Laboratory of Perspectives

Wanda Golonka
Wanda Golonka | Photo (detail): Diethild Meier

Wanda Golonka is the head of the Master of Arts course in Choreography at the Inter-University Centre of Dance (Hochschulübergreifendes Zentrum Tanz) in Berlin. In this interview she talks about the power of imagination and her enthusiasm for a rather different view of choreography.

Wanda Golonka, you have just returned from New York. How was it?

Great. In New York you don’t waste any time. In fact, everyone seems to be dashing off somewhere, even in the offices there are at least three, four exit signs in each room. I immediately thought of Georg Büchner: “My feet would sooner go out of time.” Or of Hermann Melville’s Bartleby: “I would prefer not to.” In New York you don’t have time, you don’t sit in a coffee house – in search of lost time.

Are these association chains included in the instruction of budding choreographers at the Inter-University Centre of Dance in Berlin?

Of course. I send the students off to look for places that inspire them, to which they develop a special Connection – or that they hate. They take photos and talk about it. From this there emerges in a kind of mapping an association space. This can be a paper model that we then, in the second step, turn upside down and thus look at it differently in order to redefine the choreographic space.

Does a new definition of movement emerge from a new definition of space?

Not directly, I don’t actually want to invent something really new. I just want to find different perspectives on that which exists. Dance usually takes place in ready-made spaces in which the bodies control attention. It is precisely this view of the body that can be changed. One can view a body from above or from below. Each time the perspective becomes, literally, “de-ranged”. To choreograph is to move the perspective of the audience.

How does that work?

The inducement of perspectives? (She seizes an iPad, shows photos of urban canyons). That is the view from my New York window. Take a good look only at the colours, and now only the surfaces, or just take the shadows on the house walls, or concentrate only on the people you spot. An almost endless number of views can be extracted from one picture. Choreographically, one can now already tell a story. For this one just has to allow the movement of the eyes from one focus to another.

Is the choreography course a school of seeing?

You can see it like that, yes. Movement renders much more visible than everything that stands still. One can inspire the students – they’re all between about 25 and 45 – and motivate them to do their own research so that they scrutinise their visions and also engage in an interdisciplinary discourse with other arts.

Is the practical know-how of choreography also taught?

What is practical know-how? A sum of experiences. The aim of the course is to produce not make-up but conduct. It’s about artistic development and maturity. Choreographing has nothing to do with volition but with openness to your own experiment, also to the feedback from the others. All students complete their Master’s with a piece, and they have learned, step by step, what they need not only to realise a product but also to take seriously the process from which the performance was able to emerge.

Are there not misunderstandings when one talks about a process? The refusal to show dance as a product often seems to me to be half-cooked, half-finished.

I don’t agree. A process is not negative, but it is stress. When, as at the moment, five students of scenography work for ten days with five would-be choreographers for ten days and are supposed to produce something presentable, they experience above all the risk that they incur. They know that it’s an experiment. And that they experience a freedom such as only the universities are – still – able to offer them. They are taught to beware of routine and, despite all understandable ambition on the part of the students, also to stay relaxed. Of course, they all want to have connections to the dance world as soon as possible, to be networked, best of all they’d like a job right away. But not everyone can cope with a city theatre. You have to learn to make the right decisions in accordance with your own temperament and structure.

How difficult was it for you to take the step from dance artist to pedagogue?

Not difficult at all. And I find it’s really great fun, which is something I wasn’t expecting. I’m also fairly anonymous as the students don’t know my works from the past.

“Rrungs!”, the space exploration 2010 at the Volksbühne, was your last work here in Berlin.

That’s a long time ago. It’s only now, with the students, that I realise how much experience I have. For them I’m more of a mentor, not a pedagogue, because I don’t interfere in their processes. I observe, describe what they are doing. I can give impulses, point to parallels in well-known works, but I stand apart from evaluation and taste. I look individually to see who is missing what. The students are poised on the threshold between dance and choreography. With some I see a high quality of movement, but also the difficulty of transferring it to others. Only there am I a pedagogue, and I show them how it could work better. I’m lucky in that the students are always new people with new kinds of problems. This saves me from routine. It feels as if I still had a company, one consisting of all sorts of free people.

Wanda Golonka, born 1958, began her career as a dancer in Cannes and continued it in the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen. Until 1991 she was a member of the Tanztheater Wuppertal and during this time she founded the avant-garde group Neuer Tanz in Düsseldorf, which she directed until 1995. From 2001 to 2009 she was resident director at the Schauspiel Frankfurt, since the winter semester 2013/14 she has been a professor at the Hochschulübergreifendes Zentrum Tanz (Inter-University Centre of Dance) in Berlin. In January 2015 she became head of the Master of Arts course.