I’ve always been fascinated with the act of dancing, not just to perform it myself, but also to watch others do it. Something about the movement of the body in sync with the music resonates with my perception of my own physicality and corporeality. But even beyond this, dancing is a means to disconnect, a meditative practice.
Contrary to what it could appear as an individualistic practice where one is focused on oneself, the movement of the body sets in motion something that goes beyond the physical, a connection which can create a sense of community or an invisible connection, an unspoken dialogue with those around you.
And it’s not just me praising dancing as a way of consoling myself because dancing is the only physical activity I actively do. A recent study says that dancing is proven to be slowing down the aging process, which seems to be more effective than endurance training due to the noticeable improvements in balance. While my penchant for dancing has always been linked to my intuition, it is always comforting to have some scientific backup.
I’ve only recently learned about Sasha Waltz, a dancer and choreographer from Karlsruhe, Germany, but even the briefest description of what her work encompasses was enough to catch my attention and to want to know more. She studied in Amsterdam and New York and then went on to co-found her company Sasha Waltz & Guests, together with Jochen Sandig in Berlin.
Her work is like a visual ecstasy, a true feast for the eyes and and I was lucky enough to attend last December Kreatur, one of her latest pieces which was premiered last summer at Radialsystem V. Some might compare her to Pina Baush, but I find Sasha Waltz’s work more intense and, especially in Kreatur, the world she recreates lacks that feeling of hope and redemption, which is replaced by pain and desolation.
Kreatur starts as a dreamy vision where bodies blur into diaphanous, slightly perceivable shapes and as one of the dancer emerges from the cocoon-like costume like a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, we are thrown into a one and a half hour dance performed by nocturnal creatures.
Every element of the performance, the costumes (designed by Dutch fashion designer Iris Van Herpen, known for using 3D printing as one of her techniques), the lights, the props, the music (by Soundwalk Collective, featuring field recordings from Berghain and the former Stasi prison among others), all contribute to the overall atmosphere. Nothing is superfluous. Every now and then I was expecting an imminent accident to happen on stage, yet the dancers were more in sync with each other than some people are in their daily lives. With the performance split into several smaller acts, almost like to give the audience quick breaks to catch their breath, our attention was being shifted from one part of the stage to another, from one group of dancers to another, giving the impression of creating disparate stories, all having one common converging feature: the unbearably painful touch, slap or kiss.
The spasmodic moves were not a sign of suffering, but of a struggle to deal with one’s inner demons. The dancers were exploring the limits of their bodies and of their connection with the other, where the other stops being a man or a women, and instead just a body. The whole concept of gender is deconstructed, and violence becomes a form of language.
The screaming, the growling, the slap of the hand against the chest were so loud and physical that, at times, I was wondering if they weren’t actually hurting each other. Maybe they were, in an attempt to test our limits and to make us question the very act of touching the other.
Attending Kreatur was an exhausting, soul-draining experience, but definitely not without a reward. While I might have left that room feeling rather hopeless and slightly angsty, I was also overwhelmed with fascination and admiration for the performers and for Sasha Waltz, who unveiled a whole new world for me and who put together what was probably the best art performance I have seen in a long time.
For more about Sasha Waltz and her upcoming shows, check her website.