How to sum up my experience with Tanz Im August? I think seeing it 2 years ago for the first time, I was so delighted by the atmosphere- wine drinking, animated people actually having heated debates over the merits/non-merits of the art on display. People clamoring for tickets- every showing in every venue beyond sold out! And all for contemporary dance/theater! Even more bizarre, a genre of dance/theater that was cerebral, even opaque at times, certainly not the easily accessible variety. This time around, because I was not so busy being stunned by the heady atmosphere of the festival, I was able to settle into the work and, sadly, the experience was not as thrilling. I was bothered by the opacity of the work- glad, of course, that there is a place where this kind of experimentation can happen (goddess knows it’s nigh onto impossible to do it in the US and have any kind of career or visibility). But still, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the work was arcane in a way that suggested it was not interested in the experience of the viewer. It teetered on the edge of being smug and even elitist, like there was some private joke to be gotten and if you didn’t get it then you needn’t be there.
There were entries like “And Then” which was a work by an artist named Ezster Salomon. She, Ezster Salomon, apparently interviewed over 200 women with the same name (yes, her name, Ezter Salomon) from all around the world and the presentation consisted of snippets of narrative about their various lives- this Ezster getting married, another Ezster studying music, yet another one having children. I guess the point was the banality of it all and the myth of individuality but it was painfully dull to sit through. This is the art that Google built. All I can say is- if this is an indication of the possibilities that the internet age has brought us then “let’s go back, let’s go back!”
I think many of the works were aiming to challenge our assumptions about what theater “does” or what dancing “is”. I appreciated the intent but most of these works weren’t abrasive enough or intellectually rigorous enough to accomplish the task. There was one good thing that I saw, a group called “Matanicola”. Imagine Goth meets Las Vegas showgirls meets homo leather dungeon meets Heironymous Bosch. Yes, and all infused with a kind of naughty boy delight! None of the individual elements were completely original but the way it all came together was absolutely its own little universe. This was a performance that was living in its own skin. Even while it was deliberately referencing many other genres and even eras, in the end, it was uniquely within itself. And if you want to see grown men dance (and, I mean, dance) in six inch heels- this is the show to see.
So, after spending time at at a “Tanz” festival, some thoughts:
I am reminded that the “act” of dancing is, in itself, an act of rebellion- against the inevitable demise of this temporary body, against thrift, against the inert asexual texture of daily life. But with that comes a responsibility. How do we keep the dancing sincere? How do we avoid merely celebrating our own skill? It is an art form very susceptible to the pitfalls of vanity. After all, doesn’t every dance career start with showing off for grandma? Unfortunately, much of the subsequent dance education that we receive scarcely elevates beyond this. We imitate, we strive to look like the teacher. We spend unbelievable amounts of time scrutinizing ourselves in the mirror. Rarely are we asked the question- what is all this dancing about? Who is it for? Aside from its autoerotic benefits, what place does it have in the world as a mature art form?
My German experience has served its purpose, I guess. I will approach my own work with a renewed vigor. There will be new energy and necessity behind the old questions:
How do I make something honest?
How do I insist on “feeling” without succumbing to easy sentiment?
How do I avoid the trap of monumentality? (You know, when you resort to making something so unassailably skillful and difficult that your own artistic prowess takes center stage and the material , the subject matter gets lost. I know you know, people, we’ve all done it)
And finally, what am I dancing about? What is essential here? Is there something in this material, in this process I have initiated that helps me survive this chaotic, bizarre life? Do I need this? Does anybody need this?
So , having written this, I am realizing that I came away with quite a bit. I have refreshed my own idea of what an artistic experience should be. I want it to be the result of some discomfort, some real testing of the boundaries. Smarty pants isn’t good enough and something that is merely professional in execution? well, that’s downright depressing.
What I have read so far:
Thirteen Moons- Charles Frazier (white orphan boy is raised by Indians)
The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini (beautifully felt, but a little too tidy in its plot devices)
The Road- Cormac McCarthy ( I cried on the plane, I cried on the train)
Travels in the Scriptorium- Paul Auster (existential sci-fi)
Dance,Dance,Dance- Haruki Murakami ( this author is becoming a bit of a guilty pleasure for me- sexy pseudo mystical yummy stuff- thanks Marit!)
Falling Man- Dom Delillo (really gorgeous writing about alienated people, does this topic ever get old? Here we have a post 9/11 spin)
Bauhaus Archive Berlin-(this is the book they produce about their archive and collection- if you haven’t been to this place in Berlin you simply must go, it will renew your budding art student enthusiasm for the Bauhaus phenom!)