Billed as the highlight of this year’s ‘Tanz im August’ (Dance in August) International Dance Festival Berlin, ‘4D’ was an evening of works by some of the best contemporary choreographers around, organized in co-operation with the newly formed Staatsballett Berlin. The gala was sold out weeks in advance, partly on the strength of the fact that its director, Vladimir Malakhov, had promised to kick off the evening with a ‘surprise’ solo. Imagine a packed, overheated opera house auditorium, full of anticipation and kept waiting for more than 20 minutes, only to be told by an apologetic superstar slipping out from behind the curtain with a faulty microphone that, owing to a recent appendix operation, he was unable to perform – a huge spontaneous heartfelt groan of disappointment. Strangely, the ballet-loving audience doesn’t really like being presented with physical limitations and realities.
The pointed irony of Malakhov’s announcement was that, in a manner swinging weirdly between non-performance and performance (Tino Sehgal sat attentively two rows away), it set the tone for the evening, which turned out to be a kind of dry Conceptual ‘anti-gala’ on this theme. The audience – a combination of devotees and an irritated mainstream minority – was confronted with three minimal pieces executed on a starkly lit, bare stage, set to a combination of silence and soundtracks rather than live musical accompaniment. Each of the three works examined the fragility and manipulation of the body in the context of the historical and institutional framework of dance as well as its relationship to the personal and everyday.
First up, classical dancer Véronique Doisneau walked onto the stage in training gear and with a bottle of water to deliver a poignant solo choreographed by Jérôme Bel, premiered last year. Titled after the dancer, the piece consists of Doisneau relating the story of her career at the Paris Opera, where, despite the removal of a damaged disc at 20, she has worked for two decades but ‘never became a star’. Bel gives her the oppor-tunity to dance some of the roles she missed out on, to the accompaniment of her own increasingly breathless singing of the orchestral score. The piece culminates in a demonstration of what it’s like to be part of the ‘human decoration’ in the corps de ballet in a famous scene from Swan Lake – eyes cast modestly down, frozen in poses, ‘sometimes wanting to scream’, while an imaginary principal soloist does her bit.
Humour, pathos and the idea of performing the self also underpinned dancer Eszter Salamon and Xavier Le Roy’s Giszelle (2001). The work consists of a collaged collection of movement samples lifted from the everyday and from the media, chopped up, looped, slowed down and becoming increasingly abstract. In an inspired sequence Salamon evolves and later devolves from primordial slime through ape to Homo sapiens. The work is at times as brain-addling as zapping between channels on cable television with the sound off.
Set to a soundtrack of distant traffic and an eerie counting voice, Dana Caspersen and William Forsythe’s duet The The (1995), danced by Christine Buerkle and Jone San Martin, provided a de-normed counterpoint. While Giszelle holds a critical mirror to the manic socially and media-determined entrapment of movement, The The offered an intricate ‘human knot’, expressing infinitely complex relationships to inner and outer worlds through floor-bound stylized contortions and double-jointed dislocations.