Berlin’s not the first city that springs to mind in connection with dance: it lacks a “flagship” venue, its state ballet lives a nomadic existence between the city’s three opera houses, and the scene has complained of inadequate funding for years. Luckily, Berlin has a knack for creating cutting-edge art on shoestring budgets. Poor but sexy, the over-clichéd, done-to-death mantra of the metropolis goes. Berlin’s dance world may be decentralised – but it’s thriving. And that’s not just down to the yearly highlight of Tanz im August, a festival going from strength to strength. This month, performances by Constanza Macras and Frédéric Gies give a snapshot of where contemporary dance is at in the capital.
Constanza Macras has had an enormous impact on Berlin’s dance scene since she moved to the city in 1995, perhaps only topped by the queen of the scene, Sasha Waltz herself. Following Macras’ retro reality-show meets gentrification game The Palast last year, the Argentinian choreographer and her company DorkyPark return to the Volksbühne with The West – a satirical, postcolonial examination of Europe through the medium of dance. Taking the photography of Alfred Duggan-Cronal and Martin Parr as her cue, Macras questions the role visual art and imagery play in developing fictional constructs in our collective psyche, thus shaping our narrative of the “other”. In doing so, Macras promises to articulate an anthropological study of our Western society. Far from objective documentary pieces of evidence, photos can channel their own agenda. In our post-truth age, this feels like an astute point.
Macras’ performance is also exciting for another reason: after a turbulent few years for the Volksbühne following Castorf’s legendary 25-year tenure as intendant and Chris Dercon’s subsequent disastrous takeover, Macras is a familiar face at Rosa- Luxemburg-Platz, marking a certain continuity with the old Volksbühne the city holds so dear. After all the venue’s been through of late, there’s a certain nostalgic joy in relishing the “good old days” before René Pollesch – himself a member of the old guard – steps up as intendant next year.
While the Volksbühne finds its feet again, Berlin’s Staatsballett is striding forward with its departing directorship duo Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman. Under their leadership, some of the most exciting performances so far have been contemporary dances with forward-thinking scores. Under the banner Staatsballett kreativ, they have invited Stockholm’s Weld Company to perform for the first time in Berlin their 2018 piece Tribute, developed by the French-born, Stockholm-based dancer and choreographer Frédéric Gies.
Gies is no stranger to the city. Having previously called the capital home from 2004 to 2014, Gies was responsible for 2006’s acclaimed Dance (Practicable). They also became well-acquainted with the city’s club culture during that stay, meeting Berghain resident and Ostgut Ton mainstay Fiedel. This experience would have a lasting impact on Gies’ work back in Stockholm, while Fiedel has remained a close artistic collaborator. Last month, Gies brought their seven-hour-long performance Dance is Ancient, also soundtracked by Fiedel, to Berghain’s Säule as part of CTM festival. After a year in which the Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal and her techno-laced, electroacoustic pieces with producer Ori Lichtik have emerged as darlings of the city’s contemporary dance scene, Tribute truly feels like a piece at the right place and the right time.
The West | Volksbühne, Mitte. Feb 26, 29, 20:00.
Staatsballett kreativ | Tischlerei (Deutsche Oper), Charlottenburg. Feb 21-23, 20:00.