Connection, unity, trust and support: Heidi Weiss’ interbeing

Dock 11, Berlin
May 12, 2023

Seven mature dancers from Berlin (Esther Cowens, Francisco Cuervo, Lourenço Homem, Jean Marc Lebon, Jennifer Mann, Jessy Tuddenham and choreographer Heidi Weiss) gathered in interbeing, a work that tackles questions around the ageing body, the social conditioning related to that, and the separateness that often happens between people of different generations, contrasting opinions and divergent backgrounds.

‘Interbeing’ is a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) based on the idea of the Interconnection of All Things. “We cannot just be by ourselves alone; we can only inter-be with everyone and everything else,” said the Tibetan monk.

As Buddhism teaches, all phenomena are interdependent. The pratitya-samutpada (Dependent Origination) teaches us that no phenomenon has independent existence. This message emerges throughout the performance from the constellation of the seven bodies who interact in a constant flow of closeness, detachment and ripple effects through abandons, lifts, spirals and shifts.

interbeing by Heidi Weiss
Photo Mayra Wallraff

With fluid and delicate swings of the arms and hands in slow motion as the public take their places, they appear as caressing the air while connecting to a higher force and preparing the space for a mystic experience. Slowly they diversify, moving in different ways before they start being part of entangled compositions that unfold in solos, trios or as a group.

Soft touches ignite new phrases as the dancers look at each other, vigilant of every single movement. They are fully present and receptive within the group dynamic, attentive and full of care for one another. They are beings with their own stories, personalities, bodies and souls but who come together as a union, as part of a whole. Looking at them moving across the stage and seemingly moved by a stronger force, I started thinking of schools of fish or flocks of birds moving beautifully and organically. As in nature, one or a few might shortly step out from the group before being reabsorbed in common purpose and shared intent.

Union, trust and support for one another with a general understanding and complete respect for something bigger, something that can’t be controlled, seems to be the central theme of interbeing. Bodies age, situations change, catastrophes happen, but despite the sorrow, the worries, the fears and the scars that every human has, there is trust in our human-ness, sense of belonging, compassion, goodness, and in the benevolent community.

I couldn’t help but think of the war in Ukraine and the many other dreadful wars still happening in the world. Polarisation, greed, individualism and absence of empathy are notorious sicknesses of modern society that can lead to destructive isolation, mental and physical anguish and an alarming detachment from the real essence of what it means to be human. This consequently led me to think of the equally alarming disconnection and disrespect seen worldwide towards Mother Nature. It being the source we belong to and fully depend on, it should be treated by all as a deity.

interbeing by Heidi Weiss
Photo Mayra Wallraff

A big luminescent circle hangs behind the dancers at the back of the stage. At times, videos of waves are projected in it. At others, it is empty yet rich of meaning. Circle, a symbol for the cyclic nature of the universe, the passage of time, the cosmos and the cosmic unity, the divine and holiness, eternity.

The work is dedicated to the choreographer’s father, and to her mentor Manfred Fischbeck, both of whom departed in 2021, and is very much inspired by the book The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Life and death are part of the creative journey that Weiss went through with the constant support by her peers. Perceivable but undisclosed are the stories that each dancer brings to the stage in a work that appears as an intimate dialogue between old friends. All in their 50s, they use their bodies with maturity and control, making their energy, commitment and enthusiasm for dance fully visible and inspiring.

Based in Germany for 25 years American dancer and choreographer Heidi Weiss is an icon of the Berlin dance scene. She and her long time friend Jennifer Mann, another American dancer-choreographer based in the German capital, developed their own Weiss-Mann technique. Often, I recognise parts of their vocabulary, a combination of modern dance, pilates and yoga, strongly inspired by nature. Traces of sand coming out of a tube and a small drift of earth appear as shy but relevant presences on stage. The enveloping music by Canadian Scott Monteith, also based in Berlin, infuses the performance with a numinous touch and fortifies the central point of the work that every being and everything is inter-dependent, and that each and every one of us is on an ongoing personal journey that is always interconnected to what happens to, in and around us.

There is and always will be large mysteries around life and its infinite traits and nuances. In the constant search for balance and truth, spirituality plays a pivotal role, often helping one to stay anchored and find some relief through challenging times. In interbeing, Weiss portrays this through relational dynamics on stage and the choreographic content that showcases how being truly connected to and relying upon others, both in times of joy and sorrow, and having faith in ourselves and the universe’s equilibrium, is crucial if we are to go on and grow as individuals within something bigger than us.