A look into the tanz.dance kitchen

Ein Blick in die Küche von tanz.dance
Dance and dining delights with the formation Showcase Beat Le Mot

Alexej Tschernyi

Excitingly researched reports and a sensual encounter with the art of dance in richly illustrated stories with depth: These are the ingredients for a culinary journey around the world to meet new people and cultures, their conflicts and their arts.

Once upon a time,

people started dancing differently, painting differently, composing differently, filming differently, writing differently. Whenever art did something different from what culture expected of it, criticism arose – criticism which was by no means always against dancing or painting or composing differently, but which took this disturbance emanating from the arts as an opportunity to publicly reflect on why art changes and why the same world of yesterday is seen, heard and described so differently today.

Such criticism has always been voiced in the media – traditionally in newspapers and then later on the radio and on the Internet.

1. course:

Perhaps it is the case today that the media need misfortune and scandal in the same way that other people need sugar. Perhaps it is a law of the media that accusations of sexual assault at a ballet school, allegations of racist remarks in a dance company or the blasphemy of challenging feminism are necessary for dance in order to generate any media attention at all. That is what happened to Florentina Holzinger.

“Ophelia’s Got Talent” by Florentina Holzinger

Nada Žgank

The report on the Viennese choreographer Florentina Holzinger is a bestseller at tanz.dance. It features a grotesque depiction of violence or the explicit penetration of the then almost 80-year-old naked ballerina Beatrice Cordua by a naked woman with a dildo strapped around her neck. “In diametrical contrast to the cuddly physical passivity that tends towards narcissism or the questions of origin, belonging and identity that have characterized contemporary dance for years, a great mental and physical power dominates here,” writes Helmut Ploebst. An annoyance for some who see Florentina Holzinger as an anti-feminist, while she herself keeps her distance from the “PC wave”. After all, she is primarily interested in challenging adventures and constantly crossing boundaries.

2. course:

Perhaps that is exactly what the world needs right now, as borders are being crossed everywhere, with war breaking out of peace in Ukraine, Israel and elsewhere. It is all too easy to get used to the fact that not a single cultural voice can be heard in Israel as long as the theaters are closed.

Ukraine is a completely different story. In her contribution to tanz.dance, author Polina Bulat gives a moving account of the role the body plays in the face of an existential threat such as the Russian attack. It becomes clear how important dance between the air raid sirens has become in Kyiv, how crucial the dance séances of choreographer Khrystyna Slobodyanyuk are after the terror of the bombing of the Academic Drama Theater in Mariupol, where 2,000 civilians sought refuge. More than 600 people died under the rubble of the theater, the story having since been carefully buried by Russia. Dancing not only helps people in Ukraine, but also the countless refugees in Poland, Germany, France and elsewhere.

3. course:

Perhaps it is because of the certainty that not only the world but also the climate is coming apart at the seams that we feel ourselves confronted with issues which the indignant helplessness of society does not really help to resolve. Even an admission of guilt on the part of industry or a vow to improve the situation through political moderation are as unlikely to help as rain dances during a prolonged drought. Of course, the main effect of this is to cause people to flee.

And yet it is also bringing countries like Greenland an unexpected boom. The Arctic Circle is home to a growing dance culture that does not look backwards to a long-gone Inuit culture, but has created an alliance that is leading to an increasingly lively exchange of Arctic stage arts and their own unique aesthetics in the Scandinavian dance landscape. It is now also revitalizing the small capital of Nuuk, a boomtown, because more and more international mining companies are using it as a hub to reach the north of Greenland to dig for new mineral resources thanks to melting ice sheets – all while the workers’ children learn to dance.

Roman amphitheater in Aspendos, Turkey and mining landscape on the Greek island of Milos

4. course:

Perhaps mining is not always bad – not in an archaeological sense, at least. Digging into history may seem to be a way of looking backward, but sometimes it also serves to recover long-buried techniques, or a really strong desire to dance.

Choreographer Gavhar Matyokubova works in Uzbekistan, in a tiny province called Khoresm. Here, people dance for every occasion: Lazgi is the art of setting the entire body in motion from a tremor. It looks as if 3,000-year-old spirits are being awakened. Gavhar Matyokubova has not only managed to get this ancient dance onto the UNESCO World Heritage List, but has also worked hard to ensure that Lazgi can be cleansed of the folklore kitsch that is still taught in the capital Tashkent, a relic from Soviet times – like a fake fairytale.

5. course:

Perhaps dance is actually an indicator of how free or unfree a society is. After all, what is true in Europe – the less dance is promoted, the more authoritarian the society – is even more true in Iran. Here, just a little south of Uzbekistan, public dancing is banned outright for women in the name of a very idiosyncratic interpretation of the Koran.

From the movie “1001 Nights Apart”

Sarvnaz Alambeigi

When the uprisings in Iran began with dances, the arduous but rewarding search began – the quest to find an author in Iran who would dare to tell the long history of the suppression of dance and look for the motives that led to this ban on dancing, the only one of its kind in the Muslim world. The author found the ban not in religion, but in the system itself, which has managed to censor public expression over generations through constant mistrust of the people. Dance is just one victim of this mistrust. The writer’s insights into brief moments of liberalization alternating with all the more fundamental censorship have resulted in a reportage that leaves us speechless.

“Lemniskata” by Lukas Avendaño

Jaime Martin

6. course:

The murder of innocents, the murder of members of the opposition. Perhaps this peace-loving dance is confronted with murder much more often than one would like it to be. What witness can remain still when they want to set heaven and earth in motion because the rage is driving into their very body?

This is the case in Mexico, for example, where murder seems to be a social normality. Lukas Avendaño, an indigenous artist from his country, free enough to think and act differently than the norms dictate, is taking a stand against it. He offers resistance through dance and his naked male body, which he likes to wrap in a skirt offstage. Journalist Juan Levid Lázaro Nava accompanied him for weeks, not only out of admiration for his open queerness, but also for the courage that overcame Avendaño when his brother, like so many others, “disappeared” without a trace as a murder victim in 2018. Courage is an attitude that goes beyond all choreographic finesse: an upright walk in a giant state where, as Làzaro Nava writes: “the mute are overlooked, the overlooked remain mute.”

7. course:

Perhaps it is not always just injustice and oppression that lead people to take a political stance as they dance. Often it is simply the deeply human longing for community that levels out differences for a moment in a choreography of equals.

Peter von Heesen

One such community has formed on the German Baltic coast along the border with Poland, in a rather sparsely populated landscape called Western Pomerania. Many people are familiar with this stretch of coast as a summer resort. But when the vacationers leave, an initiative called Perform[d]ance has been ensuring for twenty years that choreographers from all over the world meet dance enthusiasts who are highly motivated and devoted to each other. Even if dance were not responsible for children learning more effectively and old people doing more than just spouting old slogans, this powerful photo series by Peter von Heesen and the accompanying reportage by Elisabeth Nehring prove how bright the mood can become when you get involved with the political animal that is physically inside you.

8. course:

Perhaps it is also a question of looking into what prejudices against dance really mean. The allegation that country folk have no cultural horizon, is just as common a misunderstanding as the concept of old people supposedly not dancing because they lack Eros.

Inoue Yashiko III

Inoue Yachiyo IV

Inoue Yashiyo V

Inoue Yasuko (on the right)

This is completely wrong, writes John Barrett, an acknowledged expert on Japanese culture and language. In Kyoto, he had the opportunity to visit Inoue Yachiyo V – the grand master of a classical dance style called Kyomai. It is the dance of the geisha, which requires an extremely high level of artistic skill that becomes more and more firmly linked with the character of mastery as the years go by. It only reaches its full bloom towards the end of a life – and Barrett was able to experience it at the National Theater in Tokyo. He felt very fortunate to be able to have an in-depth conversation with Inoue Yachiyo V, the fifth successor in a long line of traditional Kyomai masters, about this ancient dance style. For us, it was previously unheard of to get such a deep, authentic insight into the classical Japanese art of dance.

9. course:

Perhaps age is also overrated because it tends to senselessly gloss over the past and cast it in the mild light of transfiguration. Was everything better in the past? Certainly not. And it is for this reason alone that you won’t find historical essays in tanz.dance.

“Kontakthof” by Pina Bausch

Ursula Kaufmann

But when it comes to the world-famous Tanztheater Wuppertal, there is nothing to glorify. Not with Jo Ann Endicott, the dancer who dared to publish her latest book on the events following the death of Pina Bausch in tanz.dance. Her memoirs are not truly memoirs at all, but describe a long struggle from within the bowels of the dance theater. The result is a reportage that does not attack anyone personally, but is all the more unsparing and humorous in its portrayal of the complicated relationship left behind by a dance legacy, including various desires and vanities, for those who live on. She describes this in a wonderfully enjoyable way.

10. course:

And perhaps enjoyment is the word that best applies to the desire to look beneath the blanket of the citizenry, which often has a much more decisive influence on contemporary dance than it would like.

The most recent victim of the citizenry is Trajal Harrell, whose immense productivity he owes most recently to his collaboration with the Schauspielhaus Zürich Dance Ensemble. Journalist Lilo Weber has followed his era in Switzerland very closely, including the disruption with the citizenry, which, along with the departing artistic directors Nicolas Stemann and Benjamin von Blomberg, will also be putting an end to the tenure of this great, stubborn dance artist from New York in 2025. His ensemble in Zurich now faces the same fate as choreographer Richard Siegal’s Ballet of Difference in Cologne. In view of the political decision, Weber looks closely at the question of what has made this highly talented artist so famous – given that Trajal Harrell is currently bringing the people of Paris to the theater in droves.

Ein Blick in die Küche von tanz.dance
Alexej Tschernyi

And what’s next on the menu? Cheung Fai from Shanghai will soon be reporting on the dance scene in China and its exploratory approach to virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Torben Ibs is currently putting a roast from South Korea in the oven, in which an entire dancer’s life between East and West is cooking up nicely. And at the weekly market in Iceland, Paula Diogo is looking around for the very freshest stories.

Temporarily supported by

Bureau Ritter