Last summer, Tanz im August celebrated its 30th edition with a bang. But even without a birthday bonus budget from the city government, this year’s instalment is sure to energise Berlin’s otherwise sleepy summer stage circuit with 31 cutting-edge productions sprinkled across 11 venues. As tradition has it, Tanz im August focuses on a world-revered choreographer every other year, and this time Brooklyn-born Deborah Hay has the honour. As a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater and a dancer for Merce Cunningham in his heyday, she’s seen half the world’s stages as well as being a prolific and highly influential choreographer. Billed as a “RE-Perspective”, the festival will stage a handful of her pieces from 1968 to the present day. Exactly how this “reperspective” will be different from a retrospective is somewhat unclear, although it might have to do with the inclusion of Berlin choreographers such as Jeremy Wade and Peter Pleyer in ten at Radialsystem, or with the immersive installation at Akademie der Künste that showcases her 2010 solo No Time to Fly. Hay’s The Match from 2004 stands out as a must-see performance – a quartet she wrote for professional dancers in a break from her usual choreographies with untrained performers that won her the New York City Bessie Award.
But even a legend like Hay can’t steal the show this year and that’s testament to solid festival programming – a highlight of which is Australian performance artist Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster. The solo piece interweaves anecdotal text fragments, movement and humour to address the ethics of confrontation and intervention.
Meanwhile, Northern Irish sensation Oona Doherty, a young choreographer who made her name by being selected to join the prestigious European dance network Aerowaves, makes her Deutschland debut with Hard To Be Soft – A Belfast Prayer. Showing at HAU1, the performance addresses issues of religion and economic austerity in Belfast. Doherty’s piece isn’t just a gritty social commentary on the troubles of Northern Ireland though. It also offers a Butler-sized dose of gender trouble that’s sure to chime with Berlin audiences. Also at HAU1, Swedish choreographer Gunilla Heilborn examines the politics of remembering and forgetting in The Wonderful and the Ordinary (photo). Produced at the Theater im Bahnhof in Graz, it blends Nordic humour with laconic melancholia to unearth the seemingly trivial details of our lives. Over at Sophiensæle, Berlin collective deufert&plischke present their new work Liebestod, a reflection on love, loss and heartbreak. This homegrown project was developed through communal writing workshops that weaved Liebeskummer into the performance like a thread of romantic torment.
If sitting in an auditorium at the height of summer isn’t your cup of iced tea, check out the Bibliothek im August (library in August) on the top floor of HAU2. The library also hosts a splash of events, including sofa panel discussions where you can rub elbows with this year’s headliners. For more off-stage action, boogie down to WAU, where it’s party time every weekend during the festival, starting with the opening bash on August 9th!
ten Aug 23-24 Radialsystem, Friedrichshain | The Match Aug 23-24 Radialsystem, Friedrichshain | Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster Aug 9-11 HAU3, Kreuzberg | Hard To Be Soft – A Belfast Prayer Aug 17-18 HAU1, Kreuzberg | The Wonderful and the Ordinary Aug 14-15 HAU1, Kreuzberg | Liebestod Aug 28-30 Sophiensæle, Mitte