SODA Works (Uferstudios, Dec. 4 – 18, 2014)
Part 1: The Inward Spiral… Dance in Academia and Vice Versa
Over two weeks in December, just before Berlin emptied out for the holidays, graduates of the Master’s program “Solo/Dance/Authorship” presented their final projects to curious Wedding-bound audiences. Uferstudios is a major intersection for a myriad of classes, rehearsals, performances and artistic experiments, making it an ideal setting for the cleverly dubbed “SODA,” a subset of the Hochschulübergreifende Zentrum Tanz Berlin. The festival was a holistic experience beginning with the program: a gigantic, interactive fold-out map of the works being presented, along with stickers meant to complete the text for each section (see photo). Alongside the performances, audiences were also invited to view an exhibition of the students’ writings, source images and other research material from the whole two-year journey. I only collected three stickers, but spent a long while perusing the exhibition in an attempt to crawl into the minds of all seven scholarly performers. As is typical of educational practices in the contemporary arts, there was a pervading sense of embracing the unfinished, of relishing the process over the end-product. While it can be frustrating for spectators (who sometimes struggle to trace the spiraling trajectories of academic artists), it strikes me that the sheer existence of this approach is necessary to push the art form forward, regardless of the results under stage lights. In other words, most art-makers need not think this hard about their practice; but I think it’s important that some do.
My first evening at SODA Works begins with André Uerba’s Terrarium. As the audience enters, you can feel the hours of preparation that have just taken place; the space is paced out with colorful party hat cones pointing straight up. One particularly tall tower of hats stands out, as well as one of those coin-operated rides for kids that you see in supermarkets and shopping malls. Uerba begins to manipulate a range of light sources, providing new perspectives on the environment he has meticulously created. Depending on the size and strength of each light, it’s not often clear what you are seeing, which is exactly what draws you into this odd synthetic world. He moves in silence, like a phantom through the space. The energy created is so delicate that rare instances of sound – a leaf-blower, the flapping of party hats and the whirring of the coin-operated ride – are almost automatically met with muffled laughter. As the program states, “The images portrayed are a suggestion of a terrarium in a constant state of transformation, where traces are left and layered as if someone had passed in between—between fragility, light and darkness.” Uerba effectively becomes that unnamed “someone,” an ephemeral presence effecting the space but evading the spotlight.
Next on the bill for that evening was Re-Entering: Visual Ghost by Ixchel Mendoza Hernandez, a piece determined to make the audience see things that aren’t there. A small room-within-a-room is featured on stage, complete with a table and chair, potted plants and a few other decorative touches. Eerily, every item in the room is numbered. From a downstage corner, Hernandez slowly makes her way toward the room in a stop-motion rhythm that stays in her body for almost the entire work. Then a voice begins to narrate simple movements as they are executed (pick up the pen, put your hand on your hip, sit down). Everything is so tightly controlled that when Hernandez begins to rebel against the voice, refraining from doing what is dictated, my brain fills in the gap and I see the movement anyway. This, I gather, is what Mendoza means by “visual ghost”… the cerebral gaps we fill between scattered memories, and between expectation and reality. Between the eventual deconstruction of the creepy little room, Ixchel’s ethereal yet fragmented movements, and dissonant musical accompaniment by Inon Peres, the entire piece reads as a very human attempt to piece something together that has been blown apart.
Stay tuned for a review of my favourite “SODA work” in Part 2!