Sasha Waltz: Allee der Kosmonauten

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Near the conclusion of Sasha Waltz's 1996 comically ill-fitting family, Allee der Kosmonauten

In addition to new performances, the prominent, Berlin-based choreographer Sasha Waltz has been showing her earliest works from 1993 forward.    This model, which allows companies to consistently show more work than a choreographer’s most recent production, may be a growing trend among independent groups– at the very least, The Forsythe Company has adopted a similar strategy, keeping all of Forsythe’s creations since 2002 in repertoire.  Being able to see such a broad span of work has been indispensable in my own reception of Forsythe; likewise, it has completely changed my opinion and understanding of Waltz, whose idiom has surprisingly transformed over this period of time, so it’s extremely informative to see her rehearsed re-stagings of her own oeuvre.

Allee der Kosmonauten– simply AdK in the mouth of the people, (or so says Wikipedia.de)– is a street in Marzahn, well into former East Berlin.  Accordingly, AdK by Sasha Waltz broadly thematizes communal living among six performers who share the same building, or perhaps, even living space.  The piece was Waltz’s breakout piece in 1996, and it appeared in the same space where I saw it last night (January 20, 2009), the Sophiensaele, one of the most prominent and successfully spaces enduring amid increasing closures of alternative theatres and art spaces in the Eastern part of the city.  AdK was invited to the prestigious Berlin Theatertreffen that year, and well, the rest is history… that is, Waltz goes on to be Berlin’s most prominent choreographer and international export.

AdK is an imperfect piece.  It hardly strikes me as a classic of second generation Tanztheater in the vein of say, Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s “Achterland,” or Wim Vandekeybus’ “Roseland.”  However, what it does have, and which distinguishes itself from the clinical pathos of the aforementioned “Belgian boom,” is humor, humanity, and tenderness.  Waltz’s early idiom is one of comic clockwork and expresses the ceaseless failure of everyday communication to form coherent communities.  The failure of this community’s constitutive choreography becomes an eminently forgivable, “human” element, and the ensuing dramatic plethora of failures, mishaps, and cumulative imperfections is her sentimental ersatz.

But rather than addressing the possibilities of this comic choreographic timing– which she had, by the way, developed into a decidedly original dance vocabulary– AdK already seems underway to abandoning her early stylistic discoveries.  She incorporates a motley mix of influences, especially at times using a brand of physically daring magic realism resembling the British dance company DV8, including an unfortunate scene of domestic violence and codependent sexuality between a “punk” and his girl– DV8 par excellence, rather naturalistic, and quite at odds with the silly tenderness and movement precision of the piece’s dominant idiom.  Accordingly, the movement language introduced by this scene is itself distinctly different, resembling a dramatized, pathos-filled version of contact improv, one which draws upon the physical conventions of that form to stage battles of will, especially between genders.

Another trite trope of ’90s theatrical experiments consisted in its superfluous use of video, which flanked the stage on three sides, endlessly streaming oneiric, faraway images of ordinary apartments and lives, perhaps those actually lived on the Allee der Kosmonauten in 1996.  Video here is mere wallpaper, and moreover, it stands in direct contradiction with Waltz’s aesthetics of communal poverty and the delicately coordinated economy that constitute the fleeting, fairy-tale present time of the work.

Afternote on research:

There are two reviews of AdK in English, (which is somewhat rare), one of which is written both Loren Kruger.  Both are in the review section of Theatre Journal, review a variety of pieces at once, and so are by no means comprehensive, so I cannot recommend them as such.  Interested, but forewarned parties can find them in issues 50:2 and 53:3.

A glimpse at German language critical reception is forthcoming here.

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