The Tanz im August will return to its old form this summer and once again present choreographers from all over the world. At the opening in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, there was an excited mood. The global dance scene will meet in Berlin for the next three weeks – and everyone is happy to be able to get together again.
Applause erupted when artistic director Virve Sutinen entered the stage. She has officiated with commitment and enthusiasm for nine years – this is her last edition. Her goal was to show a wide range of aesthetics and to reach different audiences, she says and promises self-deprecatingly: “We have three weeks to say goodbye, after that you’ll be glad you’re rid of me.”
to build bridges
One focus of the festival is on artists with an indigenous background. At the start, the Australian dance company Marrugeku presented a highly political and emotionally charged production with “Jurrungu Ngan-ga / Straight Talk”. The group, which is directed by Indigenous choreographer Dalisa Pigram and dramaturge Rachael Swain, is based in Broome, Western Australia, and Sydney. The two have been working together for 27 years, trying to build bridges between indigenous and non-indigenous artists.
“Jurrungu Ngan-ga” is Yawuru and means something like “Clear announcement”. The play deals with the Australian justice system, draws a connection between the scandalously high number of indigenous prisoners and the indefinite detention of asylum seekers. Pigram became aware of the issue through conversations with her grandfather, Patrick Dodsen, one of the most influential Aboriginal leaders. The justice system, he says, “sucks us in like a vacuum cleaner and dumps us like trash in the prisons.”
The piece begins with a solo by Indigenous dancer Emmanuel James Brown. A man with a powerful body who moves with incredible agility. With far-reaching movements he traverses the stage space. At first it looks like he’s drawing a bow. But when he dances, it seems that he communicates with nature.
Panic attack in the cell
The second scene shows an inmate looking at the surveillance camera. He can only take a few steps in his cell, he paces back and forth and grows more and more angry. The voices of the prison guards who insult him and threaten to immobilize him can be heard off screen. The man panics. “I can’t breathe anymore,” he yells.
The sound evokes the oppressive atmosphere of the prison. When all nine performers appear, they initially seem locked in their bodies. Bhenji Ra, who as a trans woman is a walking provocation, has a furious performance. “You’re obsessed with my body,” she calls out to the invisible guards while moving in a deliberately provocative manner. “What are you afraid of?”
The piece is about this deep-seated fear of the other. It is also Bhenji Ra who calls on her fellow inmates to commemorate the people who died in police custody. Plain language is spoken here, the names of indigenous youths who were imprisoned because of a trifle or who killed themselves are mentioned. And of refugees who perished in the detention center on Manus Island.
The collective dance scenes are raw in energy. Krump and breakdance meet voguing, the circle dance Dabke from the Middle East is quoted, and indigenous influences can also be seen. Dance as self-assertion and celebration of diversity. Such a diverse ensemble is rarely seen on Berlin stages. They dance with a hot heart and have an urgent matter. “Jurrungu Ngan-ga” is a tour de force, an uprising of bodies.