Tanz im August returns live

Various venues, Berlin
August 6-22, 2021

The 33rd Tanz im August festival of contemporary dance, presented by HAU Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin, featured many world and German premieres in its live programme in theatres and outdoor spaces, enabling national and international artists (although mostly based in the city) to present new works to the public after the pandemic lockdowns.

Many shows were “under the blue sky,” as Artistic Director Virve Sutinen put it. Newly acquired and unusual outdoor venues, theatres, and unconventional, industrial buildings all around Berlin made the festival a sort of a treasure hunt. It was unfortunate that the expensive tickets made shows inaccessible to many, particularly dancers, however.

Good news is that the extensive hygiene measures proved very effective. For audiences, these included chessboard seating, compulsory wearing of masks indoors, and proof of a test, vaccine or recovery. The artists themselves worked backstage and onstage within bubbles.

Of the 14 productions across 11 venues, I caught four.

WEG by Ayelen Parolin/RUDA
Photo Dajana Lothert

On August 8 at HAU1, Ayelen Parolin/RUDA presented WEG, a work for six dancers and pianist Lea Petra, who made an instant composition with her piano, a few metal tubes, and a pile of plastic CD cases that are literally smashed on the piano during the performance.

There is a tension and a sort of withheld energy throughout the piece, which is dictated by the strident and destructive music. The dancers appear sometimes scatty, sometimes shaky. Their movements repeat. Often one starts, the others follow. They move across the stage looking at the public and at each other while, at times making diverse noises. Some open their mouths as to scream but no sound comes out. They look as though they are deranged and under the influence.

The peculiar and colourful costumes by Wim Muyllaert have a decisive impact on the outcome, where flamboyance meets a perplexing chaos. Parolin is interested to play with instability, opposition and contradictions. She’s fascinated by flaws, imperfections, illogical and incongruous behaviour.

The performers seem to move without specific direction or points of reference. They look lost and dependent on each other. That dependency and the repetitiveness in the choreography is depicted as a sort of an uncontrollable loop from which they are unable to disconnect. It deeply resonates with trends in modern society, in particular the use of social media and the way fake information or news circulates so much that it takes hold and almost becomes mainstream.

Stages of Crisis by Constanza Macras/Dorky Park
Photo Thomas Aurin

At the open-air arena of the beautiful and charming Gärten Der Welt in the district of Marzahn on August 13, Constanza Macras/DorkyPark presented Stages of Crisis. While the garden that is the frame for the work may partly have a fairy tale atmosphere, the piece is based on a sarcastic story depicting the end of the theatre, the economic crisis that has been particularly catastrophic for developing countries, pre- and post-pandemic social unrest, the failure of ultra-capitalism, the unsustainable chain of production-consumption and the depletion of natural resources.

Stages of Crisis is rich in witty jokes and satirical content merged with physical theatre and a large dose of energetic and vigorous dance. It’s a boisterous, well thought and extravagant piece that brilliantly sheds a light on those alarming issues with just the right dose of irony and mordacity. That mix, the caustic theatre, sturdy movement and funny cabaret, combine to make the piece particularly amusing. Much attention is given to the costumes that fit the scene perfectly, and that amplify the colour and delight of the whole performance.

Maillesby Dorothée Munyaneza
Photo Leslie Artamonow

Two days later, on August 15, Rwandan-British musician, author, singer and choreographer Dorothée Munyaneza brought together the passionate and artistic skills of six women who inspired her in different ways in Mailles at the Volksbühne.

Munyaneza describes the work as a remarkable feminine force that makes space for creation, life, stories and convergence. It is, she says, a celebration of a fight that we lead to exist in spaces where we are rejected, and how we enhance ourselves to be stronger than those who denigrates us.

The six women show strength, perseverance and resilience. All African or with African roots, they speak out about their experiences with violence and oppression, while celebrating their power as women. Merging thought-provoking poetry, sensual and fiery flamenco, spiritual singing, and a mix of organic and visceral dancing, the work appears as an experimental and playful set where joy triumphs over gloomy adversity.

The colourful costumes contribute both to the singular identity of the performers and to the assembled patchwork of artistic expressions. Munyaneza’s intention is to bring beauty on stage: beauty seen as disobedience and adversity, as re-appropriation of something that has been denied, and as a deep strength that refuses to resign. She achieves that fully, the performers celebrating their individual and shared force with a cheerful humbleness, strong personalities, radiant confidence and great dignity.

Thiago Granato’sThe Sound They Make When No One Listens
Photo Dajana Lothert

Finally, on August 19, I caught Brazilian-born now Berlin based dancer Thiago Granato‘s premiere of The Sound They Make When No One Listens at Sophiensaele.

Created during the pandemic, the piece is a call to listening as a political act and an act of recognition. Granato wants to shed a light on the invisible people, spaces and movements that still exist. He wishes to listen closely to the narratives of those minorities, especially in reference to the fragility and deterioration of democracy in Brazil. What would happen if, in this age in which we place so much value on communication, listening replaced speaking, he asks. The question speaks for itself.

The piece is danced by the trio of Granato, Arantxa Martinez and Roger Sala Reyner, who take us on a journey of sensitisation. The act of listening is brought powerfully to the fore at the beginning of the performance by some minutes of silence that feels like a relief and as preparation for a sacred ritual.

The sound design is based on a ‘listening design’ developed by musician David Kiers in association with Granato that challenges one to listen to the silence within noises. The three bodies walk slowly and rhythmically, very alert as would be hunters in the wild. They slide back and forth in sync the floor to proceed. They move through and across the space as if listening for imperceptible but recognisable signs. Careful and vigilant, particularly to what’s invisible, they are fully immersed in the endeavour. No sound, no presence, is ignored.

The set is composed of long, vertical metal long poles that hinder the openness of the space. Thinking of Brazil, I cannot help but see it as a reconstruction-destruction of Amazonia; the threesome as warriors ready to attack invisible but menacing invaders. Yet the metal sticks in their hands seem equally to be used to listen attentively to the space through unseen but perceivable cues.

The Sound They Make When No One Listens is an experience of mental and sensorial listening. It is a visual performance where listening appears as the only possibility to connect to the visible and the invisible. The meditative dimension that opens up becomes a vehicle that brings the viewer (and listener) to an uncanny, peaceful place. It’s as if one has been bewitched, or somehow unexpectedly hypnotised, but with eyes open. Granato’s interpretation and execution of this act of otherworldly listening is mesmerising in what is a work that casts a magnetic aura as it activates senses.