PHOTO ESSAY: Berlin’s 33rd Tanz Im August Returns To Live Performances

 In Critical Drafts, Photo

After a digital presentation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the international festival Tanz im August is back with indoor and outdoor shows all over Berlin, plus an exhibition, artist talk-backs, and some virtual performances. 

“A new hybrid city festival has emerged with exciting new indoor and outdoor venues,” artistic director Virve Sutinen said in a news release about the festival’s 33rd edition. “This summer will be an adventure for all of us that will take us all over Berlin and deep into the worlds of the artists celebrated in this year’s edition.” 

Among the 70 live performances this year featuring choreographers from all over the globe, there are six world premieres and seven German premieres. One of those regional debuts was WEG, by Argentinian-born, Brussels-based choreographer Ayelen Parolin, which opened the festival Friday. It was originally slated for the 2020 festival, but canceled when organizers moved last year’s event online. 

Artists Baptiste Cazaux and Jeanne Colin perform a duet during the preview showing of "WEG" at HAU Hebbel am Ufer (HAU1) in Berlin.

On Thursday, members of the press were invited to preview the 60-minute work, described as a “kaleidoscopic landscape of shape-­shifting identities” in the program notes. WEG featured seven dancers, at times minimal and almost quiet or internal with their movements and other times frenetic and grand. They were accompanied by pianist Lea Petra, who used empty CD cases as one tool to create the live score — on occasion smashing them on the piano’s keys or letting stacks of them fly off the instrument and shatter on the floor.

Lea Petra lets stacks of CD cases fall from her piano, shattering on the floor for a dramatic and stunning aural and visual effort.

For WEG, Parolin was influenced by research from physicist Pierre C. Dauby

She told Tanz im August’s magazine that what she finds “beautiful and what attracts me to people are all their flaws, their imperfections, their illogicalities, their incongruities,” and that she is compelled to continue to create dance works by “empathy… for pleasure too.” 

“I think that over the years (with pieces such as ‘David’, ‘Heretics’ and ‘Autóctonos II’), the choreographer who has taken shape has become increasingly distant from the performer I have always been – ‘wild, animal, spontaneous,’ to use terms that have often been used to describe me… I demanded from the performers things that attracted me, but which I was incapable of doing myself: rigour, precision, following a thread, timing… With WEG, I consciously sought to (re)concile these two parts of myself: to create a piece that corresponds more to me and that I would enjoy performing in the here and now while respecting the requirements of the structure of writing, in space and in time.”

Choreographer Ayelen Parolin warms up with her dancers before a preview performance at HAU 1 in Berlin on Aug. 5, 2021. It was quite the privilege to witness the dancers warm up for their performance, moving their bodies to the likes of Beyonce and Prince, and to then observe what appeared to be a regular performance ritual; the dancers and choreographer circled up to sing an acapella version of Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

According to the Tanz im August website, artists are participating in “an extensive PCR testing regime” so that they can be onstage unmasked and in close proximity. To attend Thursday’s preview, festival organizers required press to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result, and remain masked while inside the indoor venue. 

The return to live performances and in-person audiences has been cause for celebration among many in the dance industry — though with waning optimism as artists and arts organizations continue to monitor the Delta variant in their respective regions

Tanz im August artistic director Virve Sutinen said the pandemic also gave those working in the dance sector time to consider “the future of the performing arts in the face of social and global challenges,” adding that the festival is trying to establish relationships with other festivals and dance networks to talk about how to build a more enduring and just industry.

“There are no quick solutions, only slow processes,” Sutinen said. “We are convinced that, in committing to the development and support of artists in the coming years, these efforts will bring new and diverse voices to the dance world.”

Artist Jeanne Colin and Piet Defrancq during a preview performance of "WEG" at HAU 1 in Berlin on Aug. 5, 2021.
Artist Jeanne Colin and Piet Defrancq during a preview performance of "WEG" at HAU 1 in Berlin on Aug. 5, 2021.
Daan Jaartsveld mid-air in Ayelen Parolin's "WEG" during a preview show on Aug. 5, 2021. Lea Petra, at the piano, accompanied the performance live.
Piet Defrancq in the foreground and Jeanne Colin in the background during a preview performance of "WEG."
Piet Defrancq in the foreground and Jeanne Colin in the background during a preview performance of "WEG."
Artist Piet Defrancq in the foreground and Julie Bougard in the background.
Artist Dan Mussett during a preview performance of "WEG."
A scene from "WEG," by Argentinian choreographer Ayelen Parolin, as part of the 2021 Tanz im August festival in Berlin.
Julie Bougard and Baptiste Cazaux in "WEG" as part of the Berlin international dance festival "Tanz im August."
Jeanne Colin in "WEG."
The full company in "WEG."
Artist Baptiste Cazaux in "WEG."
A onstage moment from "WEG."
Artist Daniel Barkan in "WEG."
Artist Daan Jaartsveld.
Artist Piet Defrancq.
Daan Jaartsveld flies high during a preview performance of "WEG," as part of the 2021 Tanz im August international dance festival.
Daan Jaartsveld and Daniel Barkan in a moment of stillness during "WEG."
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