Fresh from down under, via a detour through Portugal, Australian performer and choreographer Chris Scherer is premiering his new work, Virginised during the Tanztage – the Sophiensæle’s annual platform for dance development.
Scherer’s charming stage presence has secured him parts in shows from established performance groups like Nir de Volff ‘s Total Brutal, and carved him a unique place in Berlin’s new generation of dance theatre artists. This solo revives a character from Scherer’s past and investigates the impressions he left behind, with the help of texts (in English, with the exception of two German words) from Paulo Castro, costumes by Iva Wili and music from Portable.
EXBERLINER caught up with Scherer during Virginised‘s development to discuss performing characters, artist-friendly Berlin, and throwing your hair around.
Take us into the process behind Virginised.
The idea is the line between performer and character, and what comes up for the performer when they make these crazy characters. They don’t just appear. They have to come from us: they reveal and hide aspects of the performer.
This character, Brandon, is a character I performed for two and a half years at a nightclub in Australia as host of a 1980s night. So in bringing him back to life, it was interesting to see what this character stands for and what he reveals in me.
So tell us more about Brandon…
It’s titled Virginised because the group that I had as Brandon was called the Lycra Virgins. The narrative of the show is that I (as Brandon) leave Australia and my twin sister to come to Berlin. And we’re both total dance freaks but she stays behind with mum, who’s our dance teacher. So it starts with me coming to the show and my big break at the Sophiensæle.
And he comes to the arty paradise of Berlin. What’s your experience in Berlin been like as Chris? Any day job horror stories?
I’ve been very lucky to have a cheap apartment and a great boyfriend. And I think if you get enough work as a performer to sort of fill in the gaps, there’s lots of things you can do for free or very cheap. Six euros a day is all you need.
And there is at least some funding for the arts here.
It’s relative of course to the cost of living as well. I know a lot of artists that work well and don’t work in cafes or bars, I also know lots that do, but I know a lot that just survive somehow as artists, which is unlike anywhere I’ve ever lived before.
If you look at my building, for example: on the top floor there’s me and my partner, who’s a musician. Next door to us there’s an opera singer. The level before that there’s an actor and below that there’s a professional didgeridoo player.
What do you see as the place for performance within this already art and media saturated world?
When you see a performance that you get taken away with, it can work on you in so many different ways. You’re not reading something; you’re not just watching something: it’s a real experience. I think this is magic. When you see a beautiful performance, you think about it for years. You can still smell it, you remember the taste, you remember everything.
And I think it can be entertaining as well. I know some people see dance to think, if it’s in a more conceptual realm or intellectual realm. And it provokes. What I love watching is when I come out of the theatre and see people talking in the foyer. It brings people together talking about one idea.
How do you see this dynamic between entertainment and thought-provoking art?
I went to Friedrichstadt Palast to see Yma with friends and we had such a good time. Would I perform this in my own work? I’d love to have my leg around my ear with a hundred people with the exact same foot at the exact same height, it’s incredible.
Is it what I make? No, but I can still appreciate it for what it is. Or a conceptual work where someone doesn’t move and wears tracksuit pants and a blue t-shirt – where people stand around and make noise but otherwise don’t really do anything, this is also interesting because it’s something relatively new for me.
Much as the question feels cliché, has your sexuality influenced your experience in the arts community?
I was on the board of a queer arts festival in Australia, and received funding from the Australian government to build pathways between European queer art and Australia. We used to discuss this topic a lot on the board: is it a queer artist that makes work, does this make it queer art? Or is it art made in a queer context that is queer art? Or do you have to be homosexual to make queer art?
I was in this theatre piece in Ludwigsburg that had queer issues in it, it was a queer show in the sense that it was about identity but it wasn’t like gay, gay, gay, gay! It’s not a transgender identity show in a nightclub doing cabaret where you’re naked talking into a microphone about penises flying in the sky.
Do I make queer art? I don’t know. I’m gay. But the character’s not gay and the character’s connected to me.
What’s in your dream future as a performer, post-Brandon’s Virginised premiere?
I really like working and finding new ways and new styles. In Portugal I did more performance art installation. I’ve also worked in experimental one-on-one theatre. I like this diversity.
I got asked at a show once, “I like your long hair. Can you do jazz?” Yeah, Sure! [laughs] And it was three days of learning “Single Ladies” and throwing my hair around for Wella or L’Oreal or whoever it was. And the next week working as an actor in a film and the next week doing a dance and the next week doing high art in a gallery.
It’s great to be able to do just whatever, whenever. So I am excited to see what lays ahead post-Brandon in Berlin, I have some plans but I am sure there will be a lot of surprises.