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Tanztage: Kicking Off Another Year in Dance Heaven

It is fitting that the city’s first dance festival of the year gives young, spunky choreographers and performers from all over the world a chance to throw their experiments on stage in front of packed houses... because essentially, this is an artist’s most optimistic definition of Berlin distilled into ten days: A playground where your work can be taken seriously, but not so seriously that you’re unwilling to take risks.

Tanztage has been happening since the mid-nineties. This year it welcomed a new curator, Anna Mülter, who comes from a theatre background. It also featured a new segment called “Strip Down to Everything,” in which guests filter through Sophiensaele viewing various solo performances as the only audience member. That’s right... a performer-to-audience ratio of 1:1. I was sadly out of town for the first week of the festival and missed out on this intimate exploration, but I did manage to catch three pieces in the second week.

“The Golden Game” looks at the extremities of childhood through the eyes of a strong, highly theatrical duo: Claire Vivianne Sobottke and Tian Rotteveel. For 50 minutes they rip through the space armed with a barrage of childish costumes, wigs, toy animals, and impulses. They run, roll, writhe, play with their voices, battle as superheroes, transform into a multitude of animals, discover their sexuality, destroy a tree fort, and even have an earnest conversation with the audience (“Are you happy?” and “is sweating something bad?”). The space continually morphs almost as dramatically as the performers do; pink feathers, silver streamers, a gigantic fan and dramatic lighting choices pay homage to the fantastical worlds a young mind can conjure up. The music plays along too, ranging from a swelling orchestral score to minimal electronic sounds that build obsessively into a threatening drone. In her “dancier” moments, Sobottke shines. Exploring the limits of her joints, voice, facial muscles and emotional expressivity, she shifts gears with pragmatic elegance. Meanwhile a wide-eyed Rotteveel brims with energy searching for an outlet as yet undefined. It’s incredibly difficult to embody childhood with an adult body, but these two manage to be convincing in their explorations without making it look like acting. They cultivate genuine curiosity while performing, which is fun to watch for the most part. A couple of times I caught myself thinking that the piece could use some editing, or that the transitions could have been better-crafted... but I can’t deny that the rawness of the piece is true to its subject matter.

The following night I found myself back under the disco ball for a double bill in Sophiensaele’s gorgeous main hall. First up was Noha Ramadan’s solo work, “Los Angeles.” In a plain grey outfit, blocky running shoes, and with a tinge of science-fiction-blue on her nails and hair, Noha swerves through a nonsensical yet very specific narrative. In the program she explains: “I am interested in the collision between
here/now and elsewhere”... “My body is a living database of images which do not stop transforming and growing once they get inside of me.” Indeed, her movements and topography in space project a kind of random everywhere-ness, as if all the events in the world are happening in the same room - an argument, a war, a birth, a children’s game, a TV show. While the ending became a bit too existential and wordy for my taste, I left with the overall impression that Ramadan is fascinating to watch as she slices through the space, led by long arms, a fiercely articulate spine and utilitarian legs.

Vincent Riebeek closed the night with his bizarre work, “Flaming Lamborghini,” a personal exploration of sexuality and artistic values. There were several distinct sections including a half-forgotten bible recitation, a sexy hip-hop number, and a guest appearance by a makeshift shaman on crutches who removed Riebeek’s chastity belt.  Many people left the theatre when the work proved provocative, but ironically it only became more innocent after their departure. For instance, we were given pieces of paper on which to write down our activities over the previous 48 hours. Vincent then encouraged us to change any habits we thought of as unproductive... and reminded us to floss! Like I said... bizarre. I left Sophiensaele a bit speechless after this flaming hunk of mangled metal, but after giving it a bit of space I can say that I found Riebeek endearing. And although the work is rough around the edges, it’s a reminder not to take someone at face value... which is a great way to start the new year.

By Jenn Edwards
Jenn is a contemporary dance artist from Vancouver, Canada. She has lived in Berlin for two years, and will be sharing her perspectives on dance, music and anything else that catches her eye in the city. 
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