Educating dance today Acrobatic Dancers and Dancing Acrobats

Constanza Macras/Dorky Park „The Ghosts“
Constanza Macras/Dorky Park „The Ghosts“ | Photo: Manuel Osterholt

Masterful movers, such as dancers, acrobats and breakers, entered into an alliance long ago. That has inspired choreographers. Circus and urban performers are profiting from the dancers’ theatrical expression.

“Every body-artist, regardless of his special abilities and his personality, brings along to rehearsal a wealth of valuable experience of a wide variety of different dance techniques and somatic practices,” says Stephanie Thiersch. After lengthy preliminary work, the Cologne choreographer engaged a mixed group of acrobats and dancers for Corps Étrangers – Fremdkörper – after all “acrobats and dancers have a command of similar but also very different physical techniques,” she observed and recalled that “as well as engaging in discussion on the content, we took the time to understand each others’ techniques and even, as far as possible, to learn them.“ As a result, the physical scope has been extended, stimulating the choreographic imagination. Thiersche said that her working methods were designed “so I can engage in an exchange with all the participating artistes on the form and concept of the creations, regardless of their discipline.“ A “cool troupe” emerged from Corps Étrangers – Fremdkörper, “one that perhaps was only able to fully develop its potential through merging“.

Martin Schläpfer „Reformationssinfonie“ (Reformation Symphony), Ballett am Rhein (Youtube)

Performers as partners

Particularly in the independent scene, which embraces experimentation, performers of all disciplines today are partners. But choreographers such as Martin Schläpfer (Reformation Symphony), Nanine Linning (Synthetic Twin), Mauro de Candia (Brahms’ First – Reflection), Davide Bombana (The Trial) or Richard Wherlock (Juditha triumphans) also integrate breakdance and acrobatic figures or formations in their ballets. No-one to date has demonstrated the union of acrobatics and ballet so perfectly and poetically as the multiple award-winning Chinese production of the acrobatic ballet Swan Lake. Western-oriented ballet dancers demonstratively show solidarity with circus acrobats, who are currently underestimated in China. The international dancing company Constanza Macras/Dorky Park deals here with the fate of this marginal social group through referring to the hungry spirits of Chinese mythology. The first production of The Ghostswas performed at Berlin’s international dance festival Tanz im August in 2015.

Nanine Linning „Synthetic Twin“ (Youtube) 

Some simply try out new movements when they fit dramaturgically or if a soloist has something unusual to offer. Anything goes if it works. But there are times that it does not work. A recent example at a renowned theatre was when three dancers dropped a famous ballerina at the premiere of Giselle after a high throw. In his Odyssee, Patrick Delcroix planned such difficult horizontal poses for Penelope that the dancer did not fend off her undesired suitors by means of mime, but reached out her arms to them, seeking to hold onto something. For trainers, such scenes are taboo. “For us, the stage is sacred. You are only allowed to show what you can really do well,” insists Ralf Stabel, Head of the State Ballet School and State School of Acrobatics in Berlin.

Mauro de Candia „Brahms’ First – Reflection“, Theater Osnabrück (Youtube)

En route to a New Circus

These two training centres are unique in Germany. They merged in 1991, perhaps to give the trend towards “New Circus” an opportunity to develop. Prospective dancers and acrobats live together on a large campus with training halls and studios, mainstream types of school, a boarding school and leisure area. “When you sit next to each other at your desk in an English or maths lesson in the morning”, reports Stabel, “it is natural that you discuss the other training as well.” Joint courses, for example in acrobatic gymnastics, are planned. What dancers find most difficult to learn is to let themselves fall. Acrobats benefit from dancers by learning from them how to express theatrical effects.

Davide Bombana „The Trial“, Staatstheater Karlsruhe (Youtube)

Networks

Montréal’s Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Éloize are regarded as the most prominent initiators of Cirque Nouveau. Like many other groups that have been set up around the world, they combine music, dance and acrobatics with charm, clownesque humour and poetry to create high-quality intellectual entertainment. The multimedia movement theatre of the Catalan street music group La Fura dels Baus has been causing a stir since as early as the 1980s. The Flemish-Moroccan dancer-choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui combines ballet, breakdance, flamenco, combat sports, folk dances and sacred rituals of the world. In Germany, cross-regional networks have formed from the Neuer Zirkus initiative (Cologne) and the Forum Neuer Zirkus (Berlin). “Circus lives from overcoming barriers and from the wealth of the cultural identity of acrobats from many countries”, we read in the initiative’s preamble.

Richard Wherlock „Juditha triumphans“, Theater Basel (Youtube)

Meanwhile, splits from traditional arts may be observed in all performing arts genres. New alliances become possible, as do individual views on current issues and attitudes of cultures, religions and regions. Many choreographers and performers regret that the contribution of dance is currently not receiving sufficient recognition.