The Pit, Barbican Theatre, London
April 12, 2022
Raimund Hoghe started his working life in Wuppertal as a writer. Also a choreographer and performer, a profile of Pina Bausch in the late 1970s led to him becoming her dramaturg before eventually setting up his own company. Known as someone of resilience, grace, generosity of spirit, and an acute observer of the complexities of the human condition, he passed away in 2021.
I was unfamiliar with his work although has been lauded internationally. Perhaps live, it may have piqued my interest. Perhaps it was the mode of presentation and delivery. Probably it was both. But endless short films comprising Hoghe and sometimes other dancers mostly walking and bending down to a variety of dramatic music, interspersed with the editor of his biography Mary Kate Connolly (writer, researcher and lecturer in dance and performance studies) reading interminable eulogies, made for an unfortunately dull evening.
I have never liked being told what to think about a work, and little that Connolly evidently sees in Hoghe’s work resonates with me. We all bring our own experiences to art and this is the problem with the dead end that so much dance has trundled into: it is too often a blank canvas that can be anything but ends up being nothing.
This is far from the works of German expressionism, modernism and the alienation of Brecht. A plié has no inherent meaning, but placed in context to can mesmerise, be harrowing, funny and, goodness only knows, actually beautiful.
Hoghe cites Maria Callas inciting masterclass attendees to focus on the importance of meaning in their work in opposition to using ‘fireworks’ to court easy applause. I couldn’t agree more. But this is precisely what I did see: the easy applause of an audience pleased with itself that it can laud a person with disability on a stage (Hoghe was born with severe curvature of the spine) full of other bodies that are honed to a concept of perfection. Hoghe dons a pair of women’s shoes and walks across the stage. So what? That’s an expectancy violation that has long ago ceased to surprise.
We live in times that are crying out for voices that can reflect the bewildering changes and insecurities of the early 21st century but we seem to have too much art that is inward looking: creators making work on themselves about themselves, obsessing about personal identity, be that sexuality or disability. Where is the Guernica for our age?
In the words of Hoghe himself, as I get older, I have no time for things that do not interest me.