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Bowie, butoh, blank placards: Tanz im August

Michael Clark, Trajal Harrell and La Ribot are just a few of the international guests at this year's body-moving festival

Harry Alexander and Jordan James Bridge in 'to a simple, rock 'n' roll … song' by the Michael Clark Company. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Aug 10, 2017 – While some bemoan this month as the Sommerloch, fans of contemporary dance and performance art can only complain about an overabundance of options. Every year, Hebbel am Ufer leads Tanz im August, a dance festival taking place at its three theaters and a handful of other Berlin locations (plus a couple happening outdoors), with nearly 30 pieces by international talent, from ballet to butoh, from intimate solo pieces to public interventions.

The 29th edition of Tanz im August, with the tagline Passion, Politics and Bold Moves, puts a special focus on the output of La Ribot. The Spanish performance artist and choreographer, known for her feminist leanings, gets a retrospective spanning 1993 through 2016 under the banner of Occuuppatiooon! Her video and installation work will be on exhibit throughout the duration of the festival (at HAU3 and Galerie Barbara Weiss), and the artist herself will present Panoramix (Aug. 17, 20, 23 at Sophiensæle), a collection of solo performances from her early career that belong to an ongoing series she calls Distinguished Pieces, as well as the German premiere of its most recent addendum, Another Distinguishée (Sep. 1-2 at HAU1). Elsewhere, her choreography Laughing Hole (Aug. 12 at Sophiensæle), created in response to the USA's illegal military prison at Guantánamo Bay, consists of three dancers giggling nonstop for six hours as they affix countless cardboard signs to the walls, each with a handwritten absurdist slogan such as “still dead”,  “Gaza party” or “immigrant on sale”.

But not all of the festival's political statements are made behind closed doors. Anna Halprin's intervention in response to the Vietnam War, originally performed in San Francisco in 1967 as a street demonstration, gets reenacted by French choreographer Anne Collod. Blank Placard Dance, Replay (Aug. 27, starting at Gendarmenmarkt) involves Berliners either as marching volunteers or unwitting spectators, as empty white canvases are held in up high in protest – of what?

Berlin is somewhat of a European hub for the Japanese art form of butoh, which gets represented in the festival as well. Performance artist Takao Kawaguchi brings his tribute to the co-creator of butoh to Germany for the first time: About Kazuo Ohno (Aug. 16-19 at HAU3) projects archival video of the Japanese dance guru while Kawaguchi responds in real-time. Meanwhile, New York’s Trajal Harrell, who gained fame by cross-pollinating voguing with early postmodern dance, offers Caen Amour (Aug. 17-19 at HAU2). His latest staging imagines Tatsumi Hijikata (the other creator of butoh), Art Nouveau icon Loïe Fuller and Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo getting together to do the hoochie coochie in a life-size dollhouse.

If that all sounds too complicated, then check out a simple, rock 'n' roll ... song (Aug. 17-19 at Haus der Berliner Festspiele) by Michael Clark. The Scottish dancer and choreographer gained notoriety in the 80s as a punk within the world of ballet, although this rebellious attitude is arguably what gave him a wider pop appeal. The dynamicism of his most recent work won acclaim last year at the Barbican and now gets its first staging in Germany. Its three acts are each set, respectively, to the music of Erik Satie, Patti Smith (whose lyrics provide the piece’s namesake) and David Bowie. Let’s dance!

Joey Hansom

Tanz im August
Aug. 11 – Sep. 2
various locations


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