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Dancing on their own

This month’s solo dance performances touch on ageing, transience and tradition.

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Jair Luna. Photo by Wagner Carvalho

This month’s solo dance performances touch on ageing, transience and tradition.

Dance companies can make names for themselves, but historically the draw has almost always been the solo stars – think Marie Taglioni and Marius Petipa from the 19th century, or, more recently, Baryshnikov and Sergei Polunin. Even more remarkable than seeing a soloist break out from an ensemble is the challenge presented by an entire work created for just one dancer. Yes, there’s an undeniable thrill at seeing groups of individuals working together like an organic machine – but the raw courage and skill required to go on stage and summon the attention of an entire audience on one, and only one, person for the duration of a piece can be astonishing.

Three solo works this month grapple with the transmission of choreography from one dancer to the next – and, by extension, with transmitting the history of the dance solo. Two are at HAU as part of the Out of Now/Dance On festival exploring the work of dancers over the age of 40: Jone San Martin’s Legítimo/Rezo as well as Katema 1978/2018 by Lucinda Childs and Ty Boomershine. In the former, San Martin works with dancer Josh Johnson and choreographer William Forsythe to “dance” a conference on choreographic notation, resulting in a work performed by San Martin alone. In the latter, Boomershine recreates a 1978 solo created by iconic postmodern choreographer Lucinda Childs, a 13-minute work focused on the division and development of movement. But the historical transmission of dance is perhaps most directly broached in Bruno Genty’s Wegehen over at Dock 11, which takes a 1990 solo created and danced by the late Franco-German choreographer Karin Waehner and examines its variations from one dancer to another. The questions these works raise go beyond form to mortality and rebirth: How do we hold on to Waehner’s work, or to that of Lucinda Childs as she approaches 80, preserving it while making it our own?

Two other performances promise to show that solo dance can be as much of a psychological exploration as text-driven theatre. At Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Colombian expat Jair Luna (photo) has choreographed an autobiographical work, Memory of Dislocation – Exactly the Same in the Opposite Direction, exploring the transformations of his body as it has moved from heteronormative and segregated Colombian communities to Berlin’s club scene. Back at Dock11, Israeli choreographer Nir de Volff, who has worked with Constanza Macras and She She Pop, has created his own solo work about a Berlin man in the midst of a midlife crisis: Love & Loneliness in the 21st Century. Both De Volff and Luna explore the marks that time and experience leave on the body, with Luna drawing on the music of his native Cartagena and De Volff using original music and songs by composer Claus Erbskorn.

What all of these dance soloists seem to be wrestling with, in one way or another, is the passage of time and the ephemerality of experience. If, as Merce Cunningham and Lincoln Kirstein have said, dance can be defined as a spiritual activity in physical form, the spiritual issue linking them is how we flounder in our attempts at retaining past experiences. So many different approaches to that one issue… ideally, one would see them all this month, but that, you could say, is another question of time.

Dance On/Out Of Now: Legitimo/Rezo Mar 1, 19:00 HAU2 | Katema, 1978/2018 Mar 1, 18:30 HAU3 | Wegehen Mar 14-17, 19:00 Dock11 | Memory of Dislocation: Exactly the Same in the Opposite Direction Mar 28-31, 20:00 Ballhaus Naunynstraße | Love & Loneliness in the 21st Century Mar 30, 31, 19:00 Dock11