Biennale Opening / Februar 17, 2020
Vision may be a good sense, if you like to get an overview. Vision orients us spatially. It helps us find our way, if we are not visually impaired. It provides for schemes and outlines, abstracted forms. If you get lost in visual meditation, it provides for fluid detail. But sometimes vision is all overwhelmed by what is happening. Your eyes disturbed by too much to take in. Too much, and not just visually.
We need to look at dance, we cannot speak about it, says John Neumeier, director of Hamburg Ballet and its ballet school, at the opening ceremony. Carsten Brosda, the cultural minister of Hamburg, on the other hand, is fascinated by dance notation. If we contemplated the abstract symbols, the indexes that signified what will be expressed, just like we looked at the writing of a foreign language, what would we understand?
The opening ceremony of the 7th Biennale Tanzausbildung, resounds with glorious claims and projections that dance is often charged with. A universal language, a place in which difference is experienced and valued, a practice ground for widening perspectives, an arena in which to unfold the politicality of the body. Nine national schools, nine international schools – more than 150 dancers from all over the world, plus dance educators, educational institutions, and further artists and dancers. The Biennale is meant to be a place for exchange. A place for negotiation beyond technique, styles, beyond national borders. Dance is international, it has always been.
In many ways, I think, it is good that the abstract claims about what a festival like this can do, what dance can do – in terms of creating conditions for relating to otherness, to things and people and styles and political contexts that we don’t know – are put into question immediately:
The festival starts with a first presentation of students work from different schools. After the presentation of students from HZT Berlin, a performance of students from Abidjan, Ivory Coast is supposed to happen. But it cannot. Four out of five students from ‘GLS – La Fabrique Culturelle’ from Abidjan, that were supposed to participate in the Biennale, had their visa application declined. They cannot, therefore, take part in this gathering, they cannot perform at Kampnagel.
As they are excluded from the event, the director of their school, Frank Edmond Yao, and one of his students, Djédjé Éric Gbadie (who was allowed to enter the EU because of a previous professional engagement in Germany), after performing a short dance, read a letter from the students. In the letter, the students express their anger about the rejection of their visas, their unfulfilled hopes for exchange and commonality, and their sadness about not being able to learn from their fellow dance students. We are forced to admit: The internationality that the Biennale celebrates, it does not include – as the students themselves precisely analyze in their letter – these students form Abidjan, neither their friends, their families, their neighbors.
The moment on stage, the fact that the voice of the director and his student crumble, that they are impersonating an absence, one that is not really visible, it leaves our eyes empty. Rather, it leaves us with a set of questions that will not be answered here and now. There is no beyond the bubble. Inside/out. If there was a we that functioned as a host, that performed the fragile act of hospitality, to dancers from other places, how was that we challenged by its own powerlessness to welcome them?
After the reading of the letter, the floor could not be more slippery. The fragility of involuntarily having to answer to this letter turns Beethoven Dances, the performance of the Ballet School of Hamburg Ballet John Neumeier, into some kind of requiem. The politics of sorting bodies, along the lines of how they look, and, concurrently, along the lines of how and where they are allowed to move, weighs heavily – so heavily that it seems as if the floor itself was but a friendly companion, providing too little resistance for ballet slippers, making us stumble, much as the students from Berlin stumbled when receiving their applause.
Dance is not a universal language. You need to learn how to read and how to speak it. It’s full of complex cultural and historical codes. Furthermore, who is allowed to speak, here and now, is never without violence. In the end, I stay with Kerstin Evert, director of K3, and her statement: Nothing is comparable to anything else, in this context – the Biennale. Let things be next to one another, may they infect each-other. That would be enough. What we’d see and feel and were able to say about being alongside one another – we will need to find out. We can’t foresee that.
(18 Feb 2020, 11:24)