Eyes on Tanz im August 2023

Emily May and Evgeny Borisenko

Two Springback writers took pot-luck at the big Berlin dance festival

Tanz im August (TiA) – a stalwart festival in the German contemporary dance scene that was founded in 1988 in former West Berlin – seemed to take an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to its 2023 edition. The first year under new artistic director Ricardo Carmona, audiences may have expected a breath of fresh air following Virve Sutinen’s eight-year tenure in the role. However, Carmona’s ten years as a curator at Hebbel Am Ufer (HAU) – the dance house that presents TiA – seem to have acclimatised him to the festival’s pre-existing structures and approaches.

As a result, this year Carmona maintained TiA’s steady ration of local and international choreographers, bringing back several familiar faces to present work: while the likes of Kat Válastur and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker regularly show in Berlin’s theatres, Chiara Bersani and Trajal Harrell have both performed at TiA before, the latter for two years in a row. Carmona also maintained TiA’s socio-political preoccupations: while last year’s edition saw the conclusion of the festival’s three-year-long URBAN FEMINISM project that brought together female choreographers from the city’s hip-hop scene, this August saw the initiation of Dance & Ecology, a project inviting local choreographers to create works in Berlin’s parks based on exploring themes of nature and sustainability.

Considering the controversy some of the recent developments in Berlin’s visual art scene have provoked – an increase in DJ sets at gallery openings and the launch of new for-profit museum Fotografiska Berlin has ignited conversations about gentrification and the influx of private money and populism into the characteristically left-wing city – perhaps there’s a method in Carmona’s adherence to the status quo. That said, if he sticks around as long as his predecessor, I’m interested to see how, over time, he’ll make the festival his own… – EM

Yasmeen Godder Company Practicing Empathy #3, HAU1

While Practicing Empathy #3 is the first solo Yasmeen Godder has created for herself in her 25-year career, it’s the third and final instalment of her project exploring the act of empathy in a performative context. As a result, there’s a lot of contextual information for the Israeli choreographer to impart before she even starts to move. Stood at the centre of an in-the-round stage wearing jazzy leggings and heeled boots, she addresses her audience, explaining the roots of her project and how covid forced her to work on her own body for this concluding chapter, while also philosophising about the nature of performances as meeting places between strangers.

This opening, as well as other spoken-word sections in which Godder describes the twists and turns of her creation process – at one point she even leads a guided meditation, asking the audience to notice our physical sensations and the images that emerge in our heads after having watched her perform for 45 minutes – could feel didactic if executed differently. Yet, Godder’s naturalistic, fourth-wall breaking delivery fittingly invites viewers to empathise with her as a human rather than ‘just’ a dancer.

In between these monologues, Godder performs choreographic studies based on different starting points. While the first is inspired by how she took up jogging during the pandemic as a way to connect to her emotions – there’s a mixture of circular runs, body slaps, heavy-footed stamps, fingers pulling at her jaw, and intense eye contact – it’s the scenes in which she manipulates a series of fabric sculptures by artist Gilli Avissar that really bring Practicing Empathy #3 to life. Covering her joints with colourful cones and tangling her limbs up in crochet-like webs, Godder appears to be creating a protective layer for herself that fluctuates between being comforting and restrictive. ‘During the pandemic, we all had to create our own personal cocoons,’ she says later.

Godder’s corona ‘cocoon’ consisted of her partner and daughter, who she evokes on stage using life-sized puppets, also created by Avissar. She activates her fabric family – attached to her body via a contraption of metal poles – in a joyous conclusive dance to Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round. As she skips playfully around the stage, the figures to her front and back cleverly come to life, bouncing in response to her movements with their own unique personalities. It feels like the ultimate symbol of empathy: even though technically alone on stage, Godder carries her nearest and dearest around with her wherever she goes. They are literal and metaphorical extensions of herself. – EM