Feminism 2017

by Lily Kelting, 2 Sep 2017

Rocío Molina: Caída del Cielo | Credit: Pablo Guidali
This election season, campaign posters dot the city: about environmental protection, better pensions, the smiling faces of Bundestag hopefuls. Biking to the premiere of Sasha Waltz’ "Women" at St. Elizabeth-Kirche, I passed several posters with a familiar platform: gender equality. Equal wages for equal work has been the core of the feminist political program since the 1960s and still, sadly, on the ballot. Just look at the field of contemporary dance - women choreographers are routinely passed over in favor of their male counterparts for development opportunities. Take, for a sobering example, the U.K. Royal Ballet, which went without commissioning women from 1999 to 2016. When women in the cultural sector ask why, the response is usually that “there just aren’t enough women at that level.”

Let’s set aside the obvious problem that bridging the gap between emerging and established artists requires a great deal of institutional and financial support; an open letter on this topic reads, “we can’t just wait around for the next generation of dance ‘godmothers’ to come out of the woodwork.” It’s also just not the case. Counterpoint: 54 year old hometown hero Sasha Waltz.

The audience and the twenty female dancers share the floor during "Women", and so energy flows back and forth as the dancers stomp and clap and growl and the audience bends closer and closer. The movements are witchy and weird and occult and bestial and I really like it. Four dancers fly a fifth around the space; the twenty women reach their hands into the air and beat down softly on their chests like rain. This morning someone tweeted: “A female 'Lord of the Flies' where everything goes fine and they create a society on a secret island... wait this is the start of Wonder Woman.” So it’s a lot like that: essentialist, maybe (same as the source of inspiration, Judy Chicago’s landmark art installation, "The Dinner Party"), but definitely effective. It’s not just about parity on the program but about a more basic question: What does it mean to be a woman? What does feminism look like in 2017? 

Like Sasha Waltz over-selling out a run of "Kreatur" even after a recent premiere in May and with another run coming in December? Like Dorothée Munyaneza creating a transcendent artistic and polyphonic form for the painful stories of women raped during the Rwandan genocide and their “unwanted” children? Is it changeable and elastic as Alexandra Bachzetsis putting on a full face of makeup and wiping it off, changing from a latex dress to an oversized suit, dancing men’s choreographies from MJ’s Moonwalk to the Rebetiko? Is it making strong, square eye contact with the audience, not quite a challenge and not quite an invitation? Is Feminism 2017 always so critically informed and self-aware?

Can womanhood in performance just be about deep listening, like the quiet moments between Finnish performers Sanna Kekäläinen and her partner Maija Karhunen? Like similar long, quiet moments in which Stina Nyberg, Rosalind Goldberg and Sandra Lolax's puppet a plush sewn digestive tract, making something potentially disgusting gentle and captivating? It is certainly feminist to acknowledge that women have unruly, human bodies - bodies that blister and boils that pop (not only narrated but staged, with spectacular grossness, in "Immunsystemet").

Is it inherently feminist to take care of each other, washing each other’s feet? Is this what it is to be a woman, when Dorothee Munyaneza washes her collaborator Holland Andrews’ feet after they have rhythmically pounded large mortars into pestles, singing strong songs about unspeakable pain?
Does feminism look like twenty women running fast, their bare breasts bouncing, so fast in a circle that their movement creates a loud wind that cools the space? Is feminism in their heavy footfalls? 
Does it look like Karhunen running her hands over her face, hiding herself, grasping her features beneath her long blonde hair - and Kekäläinen putting it up into a ponytail as if to say - “I see you. I support you.”? 

My submission, of course, is all of the above. 

Which is to say, maybe it’s not about equal work at all. Can anyone do what Rocío Molina can? With the energy, drive, and grace? In one of the strongest images of the whole festival, Molina walks over to a white box on the corner of the stage. She steps in, and pulls a plastic skirt out of a box dripping with brown-purple water, and stains the floor with a giant X as she twists and sways and falls and glides her way across the space.

In the later section of the episodic "Caída del Cielo", the band members each eat a bag of chips, but Rocío’s bag is empty. Inside is a strap-on harness, which she fastens around her legs and neck. She attaches the bag - Chipfrisch - onto her crotch and adjusts her wide-brim hat to a jaunty angle and proceeds to dance “men’s” Flamenco with such fierceness that I fear for the floor. And then she grabs a handful of chips and crunches them in her mouth: Olé! Penises have Rocío Molina envy.

Producers, if you are reading this, hire women. Hire women to move the tables onstage when all the performers are women, it will be beautiful and people will notice. Hire women lighting designers, hire women choreographers. Not “for the sake of it.” But because a festival like Tanz im August shows that there are plenty of women choreographers making big work for big houses and ritual work for former churches and gentle work for small spaces and all of it is fresh and new. It will be a little feminist utopia inside a grey and raining city, better than the first twenty minutes of "Wonder Woman" even, and if you build it, they will come. 

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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.