Dance Pieces for Children and Young Persons Dance in the Mind

“Unendliche Nacht” (2016) by Alessandra Corti, Staatstheater Mainz
“Unendliche Nacht” (2016) by Alessandra Corti, Staatstheater Mainz | © Andreas Etter

Dance pieces for children and young persons are still a rarity in Germany. Yet they are on the increase. Fortunately, as there are some contemporary choreographies that are well worth seeing, particularly those that differ from danced stories and take the license to put themes in motion in a very different way.

Two shaggy creatures walk slowly towards one another. Dramatic music. One is small, the other is human size. It takes the little one in its furry arms, as if after an arduous journey. A touching moment. It–he-she now leads the little one to a refrigerator, opens the door; light streams out like the promise of happiness. The little one is pushed inside, the door is closed. It’s gone. Or is it somewhere else? In the eternal ice perhaps, the paradise of the polar bears. Or was the promise false, just to get rid of the little one, in the manner of the cunning witches in fairy stories. Maybe. One can have all sorts of thoughts about this, be amazed, laugh, feel frightened. This stage piece by the choreographer Antje Pfundtner is open on many sides.
 
nimmer (2014) deals with disappearing and appearing. A fairy tale is narrated here, but not embodied: one hears about talking animals that cook a “stone soup”. One sees how Antje Pfundtner hides her head beneath her body, later in an alien mask, how she dances in angular, snappy and round, swinging movements, remnants of earlier choreographies, apparently meaningless and as transient as a vegetable soup. This elaborate, wondrous, philosophical dance piece, spiced with bizarre humour and staged with loving care, is for children.
 

  • „nimmer“ (2014) by Antje Pfundtner © Anja Beutler
    „nimmer“ (2014) by Antje Pfundtner
  • "||:Ein Bein hier und ein Bein dort:||" (One leg here and one leg there, 2014) by Anna Konjetzky © Anna Konjetzky
    "||:Ein Bein hier und ein Bein dort:||" (One leg here and one leg there, 2014) by Anna Konjetzky
  • “Unendliche Nacht” (Never-Ending Night, 2016) by Alessandra Corti, Staatstheater Mainz © Andreas Etter
    “Unendliche Nacht” (Never-Ending Night, 2016) by Alessandra Corti, Staatstheater Mainz
  • „nimmer“ (2014) by Antje Pfundtner © Anja Beutler
    „nimmer“ (2014) by Antje Pfundtner
  • “Unendliche Nacht” (Never-Ending Night, 2016) by Alessandra Corti, Staatstheater Mainz © Andreas Etter
    “Unendliche Nacht” (Never-Ending Night, 2016) by Alessandra Corti, Staatstheater Mainz

Conquering unchartered territory

Some aspects here are special, others are typical. Never before has this Hamburg-based choreographer created a piece for a young audience. Only a few of the many choreographers in Germany dare to tackle this special challenge. Perhaps because they fear it would damage their reputation if they turned to a younger audience. These prejudices do exist unfortunately, even though it should be clear to everyone that children and young persons deserve the best art and not badly made or harmless entertainment. In the realm of theatre great progress has been made here: theatre for children and youngsters in Germany now has a good reputation. Meanwhile, post-dramatic staging or performance forms are entering this theatre scene. But dance is still an outsider when it withdraws from traditional dramatization patterns, i.e. when it roams beyond the confines of the cutely costumed, Christmassy Nutcracker ballets or tries to be more than a jaunty scene-filler.

Theatre as a bridge to dance

Those dance pieces that are still close to theatre seem at first to be more easily accepted. One could almost call them “physical theatre”. For example, what the choreographer Leandro Kees from the Cologne-based performing group is doing in Chalk About (2012), TRASHedy (2012) and Das unsichtbare Haus (The Invisible House) 2015: the two or three dancers talk a lot, they explain, recount, fantasize, ask, show, sketch. They do not play roles, they say “I”. Kees developed these pieces together with the dancers. Whether they stand, walk, creep like an amoeba or like a crocodile, crawl like a toddler, point two fingers to imitate a pistol, throw plastic beakers or gesticulate as they talk – everything is completely choreographed as movement and pose in a swift rhythm. Thus they revolve around one topic respectively: “who am I”, the garbage catastrophe, one’s own body in relation to evolution and world history.
 

Precise timing and swiftness, slapstick moments and surprise effects are also of the essence for the dancer Alessandro Corti in Unendliche Nacht (Never-Ending Night) that she choreographed for fellow-dancers at the Staatstheater Mainz early this year. A boy loses his way in a deserted manor house. Suddenly windows and furniture start to move, former inhabitants loll on the tables, jostle one another, roll out of cupboards. In the dance phases they whirl, stagger, roll and strut. In this way they characterise the surreal or ghostly elements in the story of a fantasised night.

Dance of fantasy

||:Ein Bein hier und ein Bein dort:|| (One leg here and one leg there) 2014, by the Munich-based choreographer Anna Konjetzky also revolves around imagination. Here, however, the building, stairs and bridges consist of bodies. The five dancers compose themselves, leaning against and on one another and thus carry the one child acting on stage with them. They harass him, support him. This world is constantly in motion: constructing, crumbling. The dancers become the playthings of the boy, who now creates and destroys as if with magical powers. Videos on a screen show sketches of houses and photos of war ruins. In the preparatory phase Anna Konjetzky spoke with refugee children in Munich; however, she did not want to present their specifically experienced stories. With her very own style of dance formations she has choreographed this piece whose flowing images and whispered questions such as “Why are they doing that?” invoke interpretations and empathy – curiosity, joy, anger, fear, loneliness, hope.

Holding on, letting go

The Cologne-based choreographer Barbara Fuchs also operates with bodies and body parts as if with objects. She has already created several pieces for small children, even for babies. Without language, only with some music or sounds. Two dancers climb onto one another, link and twist themselves into a being with two heads and many legs as in Kopffüßler (Cephalopods) 2010. They balance an egg on the foot, play with spoons and mash up butter and flour as in MAMPF! (MUNCH), 2012. No, this is by no means a textbook on good behaviour, it is art, dance. It is allowed to be crazy, to develop its own logic, to remove itself from everyday life. And so Antje Pfundtner dances with a shop-window dummy, with a skeleton, with a billowing sheet, with her memories – and then pushes a child into a refrigerator. This freedom irritates some adults. Children seem to have fewer problems with this. There is still so much to discover on this continent of art for a young audience.