The Experiment

What happens when you take a group of dancers who have never worked together, provide a studio space, and ask them to assemble a dance piece? Since experiment seems to dominate the Berlin dance scene, I am in the optimal place to find out what happens when dancers are itching to move!

I entered Studio 3 at Tanzfabrik on a Sunday evening not knowing what to expect. I had never been to those huge and airy studios before, and immediately felt inspired by the wide open space. Invited guests sat on benches and cushions in the front of the studio. We were friends of the performers, and friends of friends.

I first met the American dancer Corina Kinnear in Lyon during an audition tour in 2011. We connected over career-path similarities, and spent a wonderful afternoon together high up on a hill overlooking the city. When I learned that Corina had moved to Berlin, I was excited for the chance to see what she was working on.

With a residency granted by Tanzfabrik, Corina gathered a very diverse group of freelance dancers who met for three hours every day over the span of 10 days. (Since I wasn’t a part of this creation process, I can only speculate how the group approached the project.) I can imagine the dancers first getting to know each other, maybe through a series of improvisation exercises or ice-breaker movement tasks. When I am in such a position, I usually begin with my “safe” way of moving – something that I know looks kind of interesting, that I know I can execute easily, and that gives me a sense of control over what my body is doing. I stick to what I know, because if I lose my train of thought or branch out from my comfort zone, I’ll feel insecure.

Each of the six dancers had an opportunity to show what I considered their “safe” movement within the boundaries of the piece. Interestingly, the safe zones were all different because the movement of each dancer was so different. One person’s safe zone could have been another person’s nightmare.

The piece was constructed within a frame of Corina’s light and relaxed choreography. And then, she pulled the rug out from under us; each dancer was challenged in some way to break from her “safe” movement. Yoko, a trained ballet dancer, sang a song while dancing a waltz (a phobia for most dancers). Corina performed a monologue about organizational outlining while moving her arms like a marionette. Tim repeated a gyrating breathing exercise that continued for so long, I thought his gasping might make me faint. Yuri danced until she dropped, dragging herself across the floor and breathing hard. Lea seemed to control dancers against the wall with her gaze. Iliana slowly approached us, the audience, holding uncomfortably long eye contact.

Sound nerve wracking? It was, sometimes, but also thrilling to be included in the game. We witnessed people taking risks and exposing themselves as artists. There was something for us to love, and something to make our skin crawl. Even the music, wide ranged offerings provided by the dancers, produced contrasting reactions. Each time a dancer was pushed to an emotional extreme, I asked myself, “do I like this? Am I comfortable? And why do I care?” For every strong reaction, positive or negative, I think that Corina succeeded in her task. Using “intuition and insisting,” a phrase used by one dancer, Corina created a space for dancers to learn something new about themselves. And the more they knew, the more we could find out.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only visitor who wasn’t sure what she had just witnessed. After the performance, one audience member hoped for an exact answer to what the “experiment” was that she had been promised. Her critical mind must have reeled when the answer came: a simple “we don’t know yet.”

I don’t know, either. But I’m delighted that we’re trying to find out. I think that dance becomes interesting when it successfully communicates emotion (of any kind) to an audience in a unique way. This particular experiment gave a wide range of dancers the chance to raise questions. Thanks to this type of work, we might just find our own answer.

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