Berlin dance fest tears down boundaries 

The 17 days of this year’s 23rd International Dance Festival in Berlin will be remembered as a convergence of traditions, refocusing on the glorious traditions of classical dance as transformed and integrated into contemporary forms, including break dance and African tribal expressions. Crossing borders and tearing down boundaries between these so extremely different techniques and conventions made for a most interesting festival, especially since the majority of the presentations were of exemplary artistic quality. Though this mix-and-match approach, was perhaps a bit disconcerting to Germans, it created its own continuity.

The highlight of the opening day was Lucinda Child’s seminal work “Dance,” performed by her new company. The minimalism of the physical performance was maximized in double vision as the dancers interacted to Sol LeWitt’s film of the 1979 Brooklyn Academy of Music performance of the same work. This performance set the mode for the entire festival — where productions with fascinating repetitions of seemingly simple slow or fast moves created high drama.

Artistry was in, mission was out, although not completely. In his solo “Beautiful Me,” Gregory Vuyani Maqoma of Johannesburg, South Africa, combined stunningly strong, almost mystic dancing with statements about the variety and strength of diverse African states. At the other end of the spectrum, there was Édouard Lock’s “LaLaLa Human Steps,” from Montreal. Famous for his close associations to classical dancing, Lock’s new work dazzled again, although the endless repetitions turned tiresome toward the end.

Minimal ranges in moves and grand stage presence were the attributes maximizing the works by São Paulo-born Guilherme Botelho. He had his 16 dancers in “Sideways Rain,” naked in the final scene, walk, run, and purposefully fall in an endless parade across the stage. Similarly astounding and alluding to primeval beginnings, was the Portuguese choreographer Tânia Carvalho’s work “Icosahedron.” Her 20 dancers in beige bodysuits worked in groups of five at intricate mathematical constellations, succeeding in creating two sensuous segments, in an art-for-art’s-sake mannerism.

“Tanz im August 2011” represented a turning point for the maturing festival. Storytelling was replaced in all but one instance (Compagnie N’Soleh’s “La Rue Princesse,” about the most infamous street on the Ivory Coast in Africa) by a return to pure dancing. To include hip-hop as a new aspect to established contemporary dance techniques came as a surprise, but it worked. The Japanese Choreographer Hiroaki Umeda included hip-hop moves in his double bill, as did the French companies of Anne Nguyen in “Yonder Women,” and Mickaël Le Mer in “In Vivo.”

Minimalism in choreography was maximized in this year’s offerings by Hebbel am Ufer and TanzWerkstatt Berlin, the umbrella organizations of “Tanz im August.” This year they presented 23 productions from 13 countries. The overall reception among audience and critics was mixed, prompting one to question whether next year’s festival will continue this year’s trends, or will focus on exceeding yet other boundaries.

Angelika Jansen is a representative to the San Antonio-Dresden Alliance and a member of American Theatre Critics and the International Association of Theatre Critics. She is one of San Antonio's prominent philanthropists and patrons of art. She can be contacted at angelikajansen@yahoo.com.

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