A breath of fresh air in “to a simple rock and roll . . . song.”

by Nina Branner, 18 Aug 2017

to a simple, rock 'n' roll . . . song. | Photocredit: German Palomeque
There is tension in the air as seven dancers stand stiffly on stage. At first, they tentatively move their arms, feet and necks in a mechanical, robot-like investigation of their limbs. The movements remain contained even as the dancers expand them to their hips, their legs, their shoulders – conquering the whole stage with a simultaneous litheness and stiffness, always in total control of their bodies.

Where is this stiffness centered? The torso? The chest? The solar plexus? For the duration of the evening's performance at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, I never figure it out. But in the end it doesn’t matter. Like little ballerinas who have come to life and jumped out of their musical boxes, the dancers swarm out on stage. “What can I do with this stiff, wooden body of mine?”, they seem to ask, engaging in a playful, curious investigation to the tunes of French classical composer Eric Satie. Of course, they turn out to be wunderkinds, possessing a natural grace that – combined with hours of disciplined training – allows them to interpret the musical heavyweight in a manner so sophisticated that one can do nothing but witness it in awe. Every little movement is strictly choreographed, refined, against the delicate yellow-orange digital backdrop.

In bodysuits so tight they seem painted onto their bodies, the dancers jump into the next act, which unfolds to three parts of Patti Smith's lengthy rock track “Land” from 1975. Now, it seems, the puppet ballerinas have become teenagers, dipping their perfectly pointed toes into the pool of erotic waters. Their bodies move wilder, quicker, but at no point do they break the stiffness that seems to be the compositional point of departure. Intense and short, this act provides a tension-building transition to the last and longest part of the performance – a homage to Michael Clark’s longtime source of inspiration, the late Mr. David Bowie.

The third act sees the dancers back in the controlled precision of the opening number. But a manic quality, which shows in the way they mince on and off stage in an ever-changing stream of compositions, has built up in them. I find myself wanting them to break loose, to let their joints soften and give in to their pent-up passions. But they don’t. Only once, a female dancer desperately bangs her clenched fists against the floor, as if she is trying to break out of her corporeal prison. Oh, but what a prison! When the curtain falls on the third act, I’m still hungry for more, still bewitched by the reckless beauty of the dancers.

For good reasons, the dance star Michael Clark doesn’t seem to feel the need to prove himself. In a city like Berlin, where artistic expression is everywhere and it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the polyphony of voices who all want to tell you something, it’s rewarding thing to be reminded of the power of a unique artistic voice. This is the absolute force of the performance: that it doesn’t try to fob any message, feeling or sensation off on the audience but instead simply focuses on the artistic wealth that is already present in the works of Satie, Smith and Bowie, humbly interpreting it in the medium of dance. Elegant, superior, and stylish.
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The Bloggers

Lily Kelting Born 1986, Stage editor, Exberliner magazine. Works internationally as a freelance dramaturg, writer, and editor. She holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of California, San Diego. Postdoc at the Freie Universität, Berlin. Originally from New York City, she lives in Berlin.

Nina Branner is a freelance cultural journalist from Denmark, based in Berlin. She has studied at the University of Copenhagen, Berlin University of the Arts and at Copenhagens Academy for Music, Dance and Performance with awarded choreographer Kasper Ravnhøj. She writes about theater, performance and music for publications like Weekendavisen and Gaffa. Writing for Exberliner since March 2016.