Dance as Artistic Research A Utopia of the Independent Scene

„Uncertain States_unsichere Zustände“ (March 2015), Tanzcompagnie Rubato
„Uncertain States_unsichere Zustände“ (March 2015), Tanzcompagnie Rubato | Photo (detail): Gerhard F. Ludwig

Founded in the mid-1980s, the dance companies NEUER TANZ and Tanzcompagnie Rubato are “fossils” of Germany’s independent dance scene. They have been carrying out artistic research through dance systematically for some 30 years.

Emotionality and formal rigour

The independent dance scene is based on the utopia of the self-determination of artistic action outside institutional, traditional theatre. Many only briefly managed to uphold this utopia of self-determination, however. It is thus little short of a miracle that the two dancer-choreographers Jutta Hell and Dieter Baumann ventured out on a research trip by the name of Tanzcompagnie Rubato, which, incredibly, survived for more than 30 years. This long process of artistic cooperation, in which it is impossible to separate their shared life, artistic research and performance, has been made publically accessible to a wide audience in 54 productions. This oeuvre highlights that this is an exceptional phenomenon in contemporary dance and in contemporary art as a whole.
 
“We understand the meaning of artistic practice as being to search, experiment and discover, as a way of allowing knowledge to emerge. (...) As an incessant process of developing creative, critical otherness, as something unfinished.“ That is the leitmotiv of dancers Jutta Hell and Dieter Baumann. These research processes are directly linked with their own physical experiences. They understand knowledge to be embodied action. Over the decades, a unique store of knowledge has been built up, a body archive that faces its audience with every new realisation.
 
In the late 1980s, Tanzcompagnie Rubato went to Japan to take butoh lessons with dancer Kazuo Ohno. In the 1990s, they went to the USA, studying Body Mind Centering with movement therapist and dance educator Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. For more than 20 years, they worked alternately with dancers in China and Germany, producing their work between the cultures, making a detour via China, a subject addressed by French philosopher and sinologist Francois Jullien in his book Ortswechsel des Denkens (Change of Place of Thought - 2002). Such border-crossings between philosophical reflection and performative studies have become the basis of their dance research.
 
What does Body Mind Centering have to do with French philosopher Michel Foucault, the expressive dance form butoh with Francois Jullien, or Gerhard Bohner with German social critic Niklas Luhmann? Unsichere Zustände (Uncertain States) is the title of the first part of a triptych of March 2015, a production that epitomises the work of Tanzcompagnie Rubato on the occasion of their thirty-year history. The experiment concluded with Wiederholung und Differenz – Drei Duette. Ein choreografisches Triptychon (Repetition and Difference – Three Duets. A Choreographic Triptychon, September 2015) and Dis-sens/Konflikt (Dis-sent/Conflict, 2016). The idea was not to repeat productions or to stage a retrospective, but to go a step further towards translating their own physical and mental knowledge processes.
  • „ACT“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato Photo: Gerhard F. Ludwig
    „ACT“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato
  • „ACT“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato Photo: Gerhard F. Ludwig
    „ACT“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato
  • „Greenspans Aktentasche“ (September 2001) Photo: VA Wölfl / NEUER TANZ
    „Greenspans Aktentasche“ (September 2001)
  • „ELEPSIE / MATALE Die Künstler sind anwesend“ (June 1995) Photo: VA Wölfl / NEUER TANZ
    „ELEPSIE / MATALE Die Künstler sind anwesend“ (June 1995)
  • „Uncertain States_unsichere Zustände“ (März 2015), Tanzcompagnie Rubato Photo: Gerhard F. Ludwig
  • „Uncertain States /unsichere Zustände“ (March 2015), Tanzcompagnie Rubato Photo: Dirk Bleicker
    „Uncertain States /unsichere Zustände“ (March 2015), Tanzcompagnie Rubato
  • „Wiederholung und Differenz – Drei Duette. Ein choreografisches Triptychon“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato Photo: Dirk Bleicker
    „Wiederholung und Differenz – Drei Duette. Ein choreografisches Triptychon“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato
  • „Wiederholung und Differenz – Drei Duette. Ein choreografisches Triptychon“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato Photo: Dirk Bleicker
    „Wiederholung und Differenz – Drei Duette. Ein choreografisches Triptychon“, Tanzcompagnie Rubato

 

Gesamtkunstwerke of stage, space, time, light, bodies, sound and movement 

VA Wölfl took a comparable path with NEUER TANZ. The consistent and unconditional development of an artistic idiom, inevitably involving long rehearsal and research processes, was only possible outside theatre and museum structures. NEUER TANZ is dance, but at the same time it is also conceptual art, a happening, performance art, architecture and photography. Its forthright claim to a space for artistic freedom that does not submit to any theatre, museum or ballet structure is perhaps what contributes most to the existence of an independent scene in Germany.
 
Thinking outside the box, making productions that are unimpeded by trade union or operational conditions, going right to the limits, even in not defining their own work, organising themselves in a collective – such is the utopian self-determination of the independent scene. In hardly any other work does it live on as systematically as in the work of NEUER TANZ. This cooperation was founded in the mid-1980s by visual artist and photographer VA Wölfl and dancer-choreographer Wanda Golonka. What emerged from the congenial cooperation between these two artists was a unique stage idiom that was further developed with unbroken creativity by VA Wölfl even after the two had gone their separate ways. Like hardly any other company in Germany, NEUER TANZ examined the fundamentals - the stage, the body, movement, light, sound, the voice and space - deconstructing them and putting them back together in new ways. Wölfl consciously takes up positions of twentieth-century visual art, of Marcel Duchamp and particularly of Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, raising questions as to how to think about the present. NEUER TANZ takes aesthetics as a radical position to the very limits of what is possible. It sees itself as an attack on the observer’s habitual patterns of perception and moves on from that to reveal a new horizon of aesthetic insight.

Ambitious and vigorous aesthetic idioms of form 

NEUER TANZ and Rubato have held their own as an aesthetic research project over a period of 30 years. Their starting point was the 1970s with its pioneering spirit in cultural policy and art that was committed to democratising art with concepts such as “Culture for All” or in Joseph Beuys’ statement “Everyone is an artist”. Art and culture had a utopian core that aimed for individual development. On the other hand, art and culture were also understood politically as a key to democracy and social justice. Taking social responsibility and developing individual creative potential were seen as parts of a whole and were made into a broad movement, by both artists and cultural policymakers. In this respect, the works of NEUER TANZ and Rubato are of inestimable value for the German art scenes. These two groups have not only carried this utopia through the decades into the present. Above all, they have discovered extremely ambitious and vigorous aesthetic idioms of form in which to do so.