Tanz im August, Berlin’s summer dance fest, is full of variety

Various venues, Berlin
Week 1: August 5-13, 2022

Week 2; Week 3

This year’s 34th edition of Berlin’s Tanz im August festival is the ninth and last directed by Virve Sutinen. As always, the programme has a rich variety of performances, this year giving particular attention to BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) communities and women’s productions.

Since becoming artistic director, every two years Sutinen has dedicated a retrospective to a choreographer who she feels hasn’t yet received enough international recognition. This year, ONCE OVER TIME is dedicated to Cristina Caprioli/ccap, and draws on 22 works from 2002 to the present. In her series ‘Leafing’, viewers are invited to see shows over three weeks with the thematic titles Silver, Spoons and Undercover.

On the opening day, I caught part of Caprioli’s Silver ‘choreographic book’, The Missing Children, which includes the duet, ‘at tatt2.22’ and ‘The Piece’. Silver coats worn by the performers and audience recall space suits in both. In the latter, they are piled up in KINDL’s big hall, looking like dead bodies laid on the floor. Cruel images of the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine come to mind.

Cristina Caprioli’s Scary Solo
Photo Franz Kimmel

In ‘at tatt2.22’, calm ambient noise accompanies the cold and somewhat sterile yet precise movements of the four impassive performers. Simple forms start but do not end, lines get interrupted by following movements. It’s like witnessing a conversation that is even, doesn’t say anything specific but that keeps flowing. The performers look as fully engaged in the controlled moments and in an internal dialogue that doesn’t want to be unveiled.

Caprioli’s Loops: Scary Solo & Omkretz2.22, seen at HAU2, features a solo by her, then a duet danced by Madeline Lindh and Philip Berlin. Caprioli’s Scary Solo is a casual, seemingly improvised, random dance. For half of it, it’s like she wishes not to be seen, the dance taking place in front of a massive projection onto the back wall. Besides her unconvincing and shy stage presence, I find myself questioning the seemingly incomprehensible message, simplistic dancing and, indeed, the whole intention behind the piece. The music is way too loud too.

Lindh and Berlin’s duet, Omkretz2.22, is well executed but again was spoiled by Yoann Durant’s live music being played at excessive volume. Again, the message contained within the dance’s clear, unadorned and simple lines across the stage, remained to me quite enigmatic.

Jurrungu with Ngan-ga by Marrugeku
Photo Prudence Upton

Also seen on opening night, Jurrungu with Ngan-ga/Straight Talk by Australian company Marrugeku is a dance, theatre and sound and installation emotionally charged with sadness, anger, rage, resilience and resistance. A straightforward piece, it makes all too visible the shame that Australia carries with regard to its own people and others in need.

The work unfolds what Australia for so long wished to lock away: human rights violations in their prisons, and the mistreatment and unjustified violence towards moved on indigenous and asylum seekers. The result is brutalised and angry bodies and minds that seek only revenge. Pain inflicted cannot be removed.

The intercultural performers respond to violated bodies and minds taking as reference points the narratives of detainment and fear shared by Yawuru leader Patrick Dodson and former prisoner Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani. The aggressiveness of the perpetuators towards their victims transforms the latter into raw, angry beings, their movement and text saying explicitly, “We’ve had enough.” Names of victims, many of them very young, are shouted loud, filling up the Haus der Berliner Festspiele.

Frédrérick Gravel in Fear and Greed
Photo David Wong

Next day at Sophiensæle, Frédrérick Gravel brought a change of mood, the choreographer, dancer, musician, singer and lighting designer delivering a delightful, fresh, multi-media performance that amused and enlivened the audience with his intriguing personality and a good dose of humour.

In Fear and Greed, Gravel shows himself to be a multi-skilled performer well capable of holding the space. The work unfolds as a personal yet shared intimate conversation in which he unveils some of his concerns, pathological behaviours and fears, using soft irony to counterbalance the psychological, intimate, vulnerable and mental load unravelled on stage.

Gravel’s main concerns are capitalism, the patriarchy and why art can’t manage to save us. Explosiveness contrasts with melancholia in ways that make you feel empathetic and engaged. Wittiness and lightness embrace us as we are called to go out in the world, share half of our anxieties and take half of those of others, making society a better place, and the individual less lost and lonely in the process.

Siguifin by Amala Dianor
Photo Laurent Philippe

French-Senegalese choreographer Amala Dianor, together with Alioune Diagne (Senegal), Ladji Koné (Burkina Faso) and Naomi Fall (Mali) and nine dancers presented Siguifin, ‘magic monster’ in Bambara language. It is an impressively energetic show that addresses notions of individuality, social cohesion and cultural differences.

Elements of traditional African dances from Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali, fuse with breakdance and hip hop in a vortex of strength and vitality, hints of humour giving an extra, special touch to the blazing performance. The volume and range of movement does sometimes feel somewhat excessive and chaotic but that’s simply the result of many languages put together and asked to dialogue with one another. The wonderful dancers, along with the potent singing of one of their female number, infused HAU1 with wonder, vivacious energy and delight.

J’ai pleuré avec les chiens – TIME, CREATION, DESTRUCTION by Daina Ashbee
Photo Nicholas Van Achter

Seen at St. Elisabeth-Kirche, the gnawing creation J’ai pleuré aves les chiefs – TIME, CREATION, DESTRUCTION by Montreal-based choreographer Daina Ashbee is not so much dance as pure physical theatre made real through a visceral and disquieting embodiment of a ritual; and, perhaps also, a healing practice, as a therapist’s recorded voice for self-empowerment recites at the beginning of the performance.

Six naked performers crawl across the stage. They howl, scream, bark and woof. They engage in soft acrobatic balances, stare at the public, shake and sweat. They roll over each casually. Trance-like states merge with submission, improvised and limp balances, and emotional anguish. Is it meant to be a cleansing/healing practice?

A programme note tells us that Ashbee’s intention is to condemn and reject colonialist and capitalist models of classification. In theory, it’s an excellent idea, but the outcome doesn’t appear that convincing. The execution was definitely felt and embodied by the performers but the piece lacks clear structure, solid composition and focused intention, and could probably do with good dramaturgical advice if it is to reach its intentional goal and potential.

Urban Creatures by Sebastian Matthias
Photo Agnes Leclaire

Back at Sophiensæle, Urban Creatures by German choreographer Sebastian Matthias is a music-theatre and dance performance dealing with the power and threat of technology. It’s an immersive and odd experience for the audience, who are asked to download an app pre-show and to use it throughout the whole performance to ‘create’ the sound and experience the work.

Bizarre creatures inhabit the space and move around the spectators dancing and reciting convincing yet sinister texts that introduce hi-technology as a vital, trustful and necessary reality. Everyone seemed somewhat put out and confused by the oddity and the amount of information being received. Nevertheless, it works despite some unclarity on how to use the app.

In the revealing after-show talk with the artist, it was interesting to hear how Matthias thoroughly thought through and created every aspect of the performance: music, costumes, texts and, of course, the concept, which touches an issue we all are strongly affected by. Last but not least, the ‘interactive’ dance every performer had with the audience in a one to one ‘movement conversation’ was well-done.

La Veronal in Sonoma by Marcos Morau
Photo Alfred Mauve

The pearl of the week was undoubtedly Sonoma by La Veronal and Marcos Morau, and his outstanding dancers led by Lorena Nogal, presented at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. Morau is a choreographer whose ability and courage to explore new territories and to present works that are loaded with meaning yet superbly balanced with content, virtuosity and beauty shines through again and again. Sonoma, inspired by the avant-garde and surrealist 20th-century filmmaker Luis Buñuel and performed by nine women, is an homage to female revolt, emancipation and revolution as they reclaim their being and power. Without any doubt, it is a complete work that deserves the title of ‘dance-art’.

From rebel-witches, to cheeky infants, enchanting dreamers to grown-ups, the self-assertive performers emit beauty and strength. The work is full of captivating images, complex compositions and surreal movements based on Kova, La Veronal’s dance language. The piece is layered with references to history and art history yet finds its own specific identity and character.

Morau’s skilled and articulate artistry show in the impressive movement, gorgeous traditional costumes, superb set and atmospheric lighting. The incredibly elaborate and stratified music is marvellous too. Particularly captivating is the way it is sometimes mixed with sighs of the performers.

Vástádus eana – The answer is land by Elle Sofe Sara
Photo Antero Hein

Returning to HAU1, very performative, more sang than danced, is Vástádus Lana – The answer is land by Sámi choreographer Elle Sofe Sara. Using a combination of yoik (a traditional form of Sámi singing) and physical-theatre, the work builds on the importance of community and our belonging to nature.

The most moving images come with conflicting emotions and responses between generations. Laments and helplessness of the older rub up against the rage and agitation of the younger, although both are aroused and connected to the destruction of our ecosystem.

The cast of seven tenacious and determined women embody the polyphonic songs written by composer and professor of yoik, Frode Fjellheim, with a powerful sensitivity and a deep yearning for kinship. Despite not understanding their meaning, feelings came through loud and clear. Their execution was an acute and quite moving experience.

Check out Veronica Posth’s reports on Tanz im August Week 2 and Week 3