A bewitching show of dance, light and sound: HEX by Carly Lave

Hošek Contemporary, Berlin
June 28, 2022

HEX, the new work by Carly Lave premiered at Hošek Contemporary, a gallery, performance space and art residency located on a historic boat built in 1910 and now moored at Fischer Insel (Fisher Island), where the non-profit association, Historischer Hafen Berlin (Historic Port of Berlin), renovates old ships. It was definitely a pleasure to find an old Berlin treasure that has not been destroyed or removed, as it happened to too many historic beauties from the city of the 19th-century.

The suggestive location and Apricot Productions, producers of HEX, welcomed the spectators on board as the sun was setting. Once everyone was settled in the unconventional and cool space, a woman introduced the pre-show Sound Ritual by Groundtactics + Sophie Spiral, a meditation accompanied by a sound design installation. At the same time a sound healer gave personal treatments to the more curious.

After around half an hour, we were guided inside the vessel’s cabin to find blue lights framing a hexagonal stage, a cloud of synthetic smoke enveloping the dark and fascinating setting. It felt a very private and intimate milieu as, with spectators seated all around, the show began.

Carly Lave in HEX
Photo Max Eicke

Carly Lave appears as a strong yet endangered being of some sort. Her focus is engaged, her stage presence self-assertive and impactful.

The show’s synopsis explains that HEX is non-representationally related to the word ‘Hexe’ (witch in German), the root of which comes from Hecke (hedges) where the witches used to live, and some believe, still do so today. ‘Hex’ is also the beginning of the world hexagon, the form of the stage, which in sacred geometry represents the potential for life.

There is surely a play between ‘edge’ and ‘hedges’ and their related meanings but probably also a connection to ancient sagas. Witches are at the edges of society, outsiders, ones who don’t belong but that do exist and have healing powers. HEX, says the program, takes inspiration from this archetype without intending to represent their identities.

Lave enters into an intimate dialogue with herself and her story, exploring the alchemy of being bewitched under a spell. At the edge, she explores that space between dimensions. She seems to be constantly transforming energy and identity, while reconstructing, deconstructing and witnessing herself in relation to old wisdom and power bestowed by the sorceresses.

That wisdom and power is honoured and performed in its complexity. Layers of enchanting, mysterious, non-representative and spellbinding movement keeps the attention on the seemingly possessed creature. Lave moves with full awareness in the given space which is simultaneously a cage of intimacy and an energy-filled portal where she goes through a ritual of self-empowerment ritual or, perhaps, a healing process.

Her face bears a serious and concentrated look as she moves from one part to another of the limiting and artificially illuminated hexagon. LED lights change from blue to red in synch with the intensity of the movement.

Lave’s often elongated limbs seem to reach out to somewhere else. Extended back arches appear as bridges between two dimensions but also resigned to inexplicable forces. She looks as going through a transformation. Her focus and unexpected broken movements keep the spectators engaged.

Pain, distress, loss, helplessness and psychic dysphoria are clearly demonstrated through her body. Sometimes, they appear to possess her, yet elsewhere are transformed into strength and resilience.

But there’s more. At times I also saw untamed and restless trapped animals, and imaginary figures in the gravity and physicality of her dance. At the beginning, I envisioned a bird trapped on an oily sticky surface unable to take flight. Later, a helplessness mermaid netted and stranded in a bleak setting, followed by a sea lion, calm now but potentially aggressive and full of intimidating force. And why not? After all, there are not so many differences between witches persecuted for centuries and animals today that are silently oppressed by the constant ignorance, negligence and insensibility of many.

But there is also the rebellious woman that emerges and stays alert; a warrior woman ready to fight and reclaim her power, identity and force. The programme tells us the dance is “an ode to the futurist glitchy witch whose meticulous imperfection confronts the patriarchal need for predictable, objectified beauty.” This sounds as an assertion as much as a notice and I can see the strength and determination in Lave as she makes this clear.

In making HEX, Lave was also strongly inspired by the book In Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, a history of the body in the transition to capitalism, which traces the European witch hunts as a pivotal turning point where patriarchal control supported capitalist and racist strategies. Surely a good reading to engage with.

Witches, with their special abilities, healing powers and wisdom have been condemned and derided for centuries. Today, where despite all that we have there are many unsatisfied and dispirited people, it seems more urgent than ever to look back at those stories and chase new understandings, healing practices and truths. Only questioning how we act, what we have and what we really feel and need, will we find space for real well-being and, potentially, self-resurrection.