21 November 2010


16-19 novembre, Berlin

Catching up here after a whirlwind three days to Berlin… Hosted by Jacalyn Carley, former dancer and now novelist, dance writer and creative writing instructor for Lexia, a student exchange program in Berlin, John and I dropped our bags at Jacalyn's office/apartment, bought or 48-hour train pass, and proceeded to visit 7museums, see one of the best theater productions we've ever witnessed, and catch up on the work of a very successful, Berlin-based choreographer, Sasha Waltz.

Certain areas of Berlin immediately remind me of Detroit: its vast expanses of urban industrial architecture, brick warehouses, factory buildings, scruffy fields… but then it moves into block upon block of bustling neighborhoods, shopping districts, huge, corporate architecture, modernist fantasies rising from the ruins. The museums were often elegant reconstructions of their pre-war, pre-bombed out Classical selves. Interiors revealed the seams, facades and frescoes of former glories… all flawlessly integrated into new construction. Museum Island, Kultur-Forum, and Hamburger Bahnhof housed everything from ancient Egyptian and Greek statuary to Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Otto Dix, Bueys… The scale of reconstruction within a reconstruction: parts of ancient cities transplanted to Berlin from Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, all indoors and so far beyond Las Vegas in magnitude. Shards of authentic sites from past civilizations scattered everywhere, under glass, exquisitely displayed. I was particularly fascinated by the "false doors" of Egyptian and Greek temples, the Divine Shrines, the huge disembodied torsos, faces. And miles of art galleries in old train stations, exorbitant sums of money spent by the state to purchase art collections, sustain theater, music and dance companies. Staggering.

And the monuments! Walking from Potsdamer Platz north towards the Brandenburg Gate, we stopped to marvel at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: acres of coffin-like concrete boxes lifted up out of the concrete expanse, with narrow avenues like a city of the dead marking a grid for tourist groups of unruly high school kids to run through. John spotted a street sign pointing towards a Memorial for Homosexuals. We retraced our path to find a modernist concrete bunker with a small window looking into an empty room and a film projection of two men kissing. A plaque described the hunting and extermination of thousands of homosexuals in Germany during Hitler's regime… and the ambivalence of Germany to admit to it long after they had funded mass monuments for the Jews. Ah, bitter fruit.

The production of "Miss Julie" deserves a separate entry. It was the finest integration of live performance with video (live feed) I've ever seen. It restored my faith in the theater… and in the use of video technology and screen imagery on stage. So I will try to provide a review as soon as I can. It was so far beyond anything we get in Ann Arbor- except perhaps for the Theatre de Complicite/Simon McBurney.

Sasha Waltz's evening of chamber works to live contemporary music in her home theater was a huge disappointment: a series of largely unfinished duets and group works with dismal, rough-shod costuming and dangling composition that filled a choreographer's private sketchbook more than the performance stage itself. Although Waltz has an international reputation and does large-scale works at opera houses all over Europe, she really missed the mark on this show: seven works that occasionally displayed a scattershot skill for composition built upon Wigmanesque tableaux, post-modern transitional strands of weight-sharing, suggested linkages and clusters of activity that might fit together into a puzzle  if given time for development. There was some finely etched gestural movement and really terrific, riveting moments of duet encounters between extraordinary dancers, featuring n particular an Asian man who so far outshone anyone else on stage I wondered where she'd found him.

The space itself is every dancer's dream, secured for Waltz through her growing reputation as Berlin's favorite and also by the efforts of her impresario husband, who evidently has managed to raise large sums to purchase and renovate an old brick building on the river.
Everything, from at least a dozen live musicians to the aluminum sheathed marley/mylar backdrop and floor for the second part of the program, flaunted a funding support structure that was befuddling to we Americans. So let this choreographer fill her sketch book and share it with her adoring public, even if only "in progress".  Why not? I wished for much more.