Tanz im August: new takes on flamenco and ballet, and a dash of hip hop

Various venues, Berlin
Week 3: August 22-27, 2022

Week 1; Week 2

Israel Galván (right) and Niño de Elche
in Mellizo Doble
Photo Kana Kondo

The final week of Tanz im August began at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele with Mellizo Doble (which translates as ‘Twin Double’) by Israel Galván and Niño de Elche. The work is a tête-a-tête conversation full of pathos and energy. Galván dances and de Elche sings, both mesmerising in their virtuosity, their percussive physical concert playing with a new identity for traditional flamenco, innovatively reinventing it with fascinating nuances.

As a non-Spanish speaker, I did not understand the sang texts that seem to play an important role in the performance. Being able to do so would surely have made my experience more engaged. Nevertheless, when felt and perceived as music, the words still had an impact, something between a lullaby and a serenade. Moments in silence are especially intense, although unfortunately interrupted by some clapping. The dragging and shuffling of Galván’s shoes on a patch of sand in the dark, but that is slowly revealed by the warm lights, is magical.

Galván’s passionate, masculine yet sensual and at times feminised upper body movement is always accompanied by impressively fast combinations by his feet. The few moments of stillness become part of the rhythm of the show; one where highs and lows balance with elegance and intensity.

Faye Driscoll begins Thank You For Coming: Space with a degree of shyness, casually introducing herself and indulging in some small talk. She tries to deal with the uncomfortableness that is perceivable in the room at Sophiensaele by speaking to us, the audience, informally as if expecting answers. Her voice is trembling, her body tense and slightly hesitant. She seems nervous although that fades away as she stops talking and begins moving props around, asking some people to help out.

Piece by piece, Driscoll emerges as a restless, struggling, wild, suffering, agitated being. She moves around the space hectically, yet it’s clear she has everything under control. Props fall from the scaffolds over our heads, sometimes it feels dangerously so. Driscoll looks desperate, lost, full of anger and emotional distress. She looks to the audience for solace melting over people despairingly. Her pain is explicit, her vulnerability too.

Faye Driscoll in Thank You For Coming
Photo Maria Baranova

The performance is not danced as such but performed making use of various sound and voice recording tools, all in real time. Driscoll also uses other props such as a clay brick, two concrete bricks, colourful plasticine and a bunch of green branches, at times treating them with care, at others smashing them destructively. Twice she bites into a lemon, letting the juice dripping from her mouth as if something simultaneously cheeky and a self-punishment.

All in all, Thank You For Coming: Space is a show of excesses where she seems to test how far can she go with herself and with the audience, but also how much she can rely on the audience and how much they can take from her. It touches personal and emotional boundaries, the dark side of things and people, the fake and the pathetic, the bitter and the irony found in every circumstance. Ultimately, Driscoll deals with death and loss in what is a peculiar and unsettling piece, but one where she pulls us in to participate emotionally in the enigmatic yet strong turbulence she goes through.

At HAU2, Adam Linder presented Loyalty with Douglas Letheren, Joshua Harriette, Louella May Hogan, Riley Watts and Vânia Doutel Vaz. A dive into and reworking of the ballet vocabulary to music by English experimental music group Coil, it’s divided in three acts: ‘The Remote Viewer’, a sort of introduction to the transformation of ballet; ‘Original Amber Rain, Here to Here, Original Catastrophy’, a reflection on the pre-ballet era; and ‘Time Machines, The Remote Viewer’, a balanced compositional work where the dancers interact as part of a functioning and highly synchronised mechanism.

Loyalty by Adam Linder
Photo Diana Pfammatter

At the back of the stage but quite central stands something that looks like a time machine. It’s a work by set and lighting designer Shahryar Nashat that dictates the light on stage, which goes from green to violet, from pink to white.

Many of the movements are taken from ballet and distorted to create a new body language that is mostly abstract yet strongly precise. Some Cunningham movements can also be detected, which are then twisted in mellow, juicy and fluid forms. In opposition to the idea of ballet which usually goes away from the floor in an attempt to break free from gravity and weight, there is some floor. Here the bodies are grounded and, apart from some small jumps, inhabit the space like earthy creatures finding a new terrestrial language. Throughout, the exquisite lines and technique of the dancers serve the choreographic intent, exploring how ballet can be shifted from its original form and made more contemporary, somehow more apt to the fluidity and diversity of the present time.

That every dancer has their own personality and specific talents was apparent; and, as Linder said after the show, it’s powerful and humbling to see their devotion to dance, both as individuals and as part of a team.

My highlight was a potent solo by Letheren that embodies the character of a primordial man who, from shovelling the ground with all his might to dig a place to rest, wakes up knowing how to write and starts conceptualising ballet. Despite that significant shift, it was superbly performed. It gave an extra dimension to the piece as it reflected humankind’s innate desire to explore new territories and conceptualise new ideas. That’s precisely what Linder seems to be doing with his eclectic choreographic practice, just like primordial man, growing and evolving through intuition, attempt and observation.

The Köln Concert
by Trajal Harrell and Schauspielhaus Zürich Dance Ensemble
Photo Reto Schmid

At HAU1, in The Köln Concert, Trajal Harrell and his company Schauspielhaus Zürich Dance Ensemble interpret Keith Jarrett’s famous 1975 piano solo of the same title. Jarrett’s composition is a masterpiece and Harrell is sensitive enough to respect and enter into a dialogue with its delicacy and elegance.

Before the recording of the titular music starts, we hear the beautiful voice of Joni Mitchell in four songs. Seated on a piano stool, Harrell’s arms undulate delicately as he lifts his feet one after the other. His movement is loaded with pathos and merges incredibly well with Mitchell’s mellifluous singing. The other dancers follow one by one, also each sitting on piano stools.

In a post-show talk, Harrell said that, as choreographer, he wants the audience’s undivided attention. In The Köln Concert he gets it. The dancers’ personalities shine in catwalks inspired by voguing and ballroom. Their costumes make them glamorous and gorgeous. Some nuances of Ancient Greek tragedies, and butoh can be seen in movement which has its roots in Trajal’s interest in merging languages and styles. The result is magnetising.

Although the dancers initially brim with self-confidence, looking like celebrities in their full splendour, some sadness and struggle can also be perceived in their facial expressions and bodies. Their confidence and sensuality are counterbalanced by fragility and unstableness that gives the work soul, making it relatable to each and every single one of us.

New Creation by Bruno Beltrão
Photo Jose Caldeira

The final show of this year’s Tanz im August was New Creation by Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrão and Grupo de Rua at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele. It’s a dance of sketches, each divided by the stage going dark, like moments in a story narrated in small chapters. The choreography itself if full of high jumps, somersaults, fast kicks, head-spins and body to body crashes; an acrobatic fusion of breakin’, hip hop and contemporary dance. The ten dancers of Grupo de Rua are remarkable, many of them strongly acrobatic.

Within the work, Beltrão is not afraid to tackle the turbulent political situation in Brazil, referencing its urgent conflict and violent social contradictions. His choreographic choices are drawn by abstraction, explosiveness and virtuosity. Simultaneously, he questions and twists the established, masculine movement structures and stereotypes of hip hop. The ensemble engages in a fiery and highly energetic flow of situations that are engaging and intriguing. They are remarkably alert and show massive control as they propel themselves across the stage as if it were a city landscape charged with violence and danger.

All in all, the festival was a great opportunity to see performers and styles normally not shown in Berlin. Sometimes more performance-oriented than fully dance-driven, the festival demonstrated how the various arts languages are increasingly combining and merging in ever-changing ways as ideas of contemporary performance evolve.

Sometimes very political, the programme also allowed exchanges between artists and audience, fostering discussion and new understandings. Contemporary dance and its works are generally intrinsically imbued with social, cultural and political realities. This is what makes them so relevant to today’s social fabric and vast cultural landscape, something festival artistic director Virve Sutinen proved herself to be fully aware of that and keen to pursue.

Once again, the festival proved to be a much-appreciated window on the outside world as it presented performances from across the international spectrum. Contemporary means something happening right now and this is exactly what the festival was able to portray: a fusion, colour, political matters and eclecticism in a vast range of hybrid forms of performances that opened up the imagination and the world at large.

Check out Veronica Posth’s reports on Tanz im August Week 1 and Week 2.