“We are approaching an oscillation between organism, apparatus, sensuality and hybrid matter.” from the invitation card for the dance piece Pieces and Elements by Isabelle Schad at the HAU Berlin, 28.11.2016
On entering the HAU 2, a medium sized black box theater with about 15 rows of cascading seating, an slightly elevated area covering most of the stage that is surrounded on both lateral sides by shadowy body schemes catches ones attention and points at the to be expected. Especially on the day I visited the performance it took quite a long time until the doors closed and the light is swayed from the audience area onto the stage. For a short moment a rectangular background screen was lit up, enough though to point at the ‘cubistically’ designed setting of the stage. It seemed also to be the sign for the 12 dancers to enter the low plateau and start their first movement sequence.
All turning their backs towards the audience each participant of the irregularly spread group lifted their arms above the head, grabbing for the other hand’s fingers or forearm and started to rhythmically rotate their upper body around their own axis. Due to their lifted arms their dark colored T-shirts and short-sleeved sweaters were elevated and mostly loosely dancing around their torsi. A big fold between the sholder blades equally emerging from this unusual arm position further defamiliarized the expected proportions of a human back. For those who have seen Schad’s most recent ‘Solo for Lea’ this action immediately incited the memory of that piece, calling it up as a sketch for that what might come further on. Though there was a stunning difference in the appeal and sensation of this sequence which rather than emerging from the repetitious actions of the members, but their slight asynchronous movement, and different versions of holding the arms up, as well as their various heights, body shapes and movement characteristics.
While Lea Moro in her solo version seemed to do everything right and perfectly I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed by the subtle nuances, which were allowed to appear now. Though moving as a collective field the group apparently was consistently marked by individualistic characteristics. Certainly purposefully, as the crowd also cautiously moved on their plateau back and forth, and changed the rhythm. This became even more obvious when they started to add new movements, especially when switching to circling their arms in different speeds and rhythms.
The dancers had now turned 90 degrees and split into two groups that faced each other from the opposite sides of the stage, now in profile for the audience the gestures unfolded a different potential. Becoming almost abstract, losing their meaning as gesture and giving space to thought as: ‘Could that be raw motion?’ But would that be a correct definition? These movements are still initiated and controlled by the dancers’ bodies, somewhat ‘guided moves’. A.Noe, who recently wrote on the notion of mere action as the moment when movement directs itself as activities that happen to us and eventually organize us. Eventually these tiny moments of not thinking about, of being initiated in affect, certainly occur for these dancers in the flow of action. Was it these rather imperceptible blinks that made especially the first third of these ‘pieces and elements’ so worthwhile, so diverse for the eye despite its repetitious structure?
Dissolving towards the side edges of the platform the center stage becomes quiet while the performers sit and roll their dark pants up above the knee. Memory arises reminding Schad’s strict aesthetics in the 2015 piece “collective jumps”, which accented bright skin against dark clothes and background. This indicator of emphasizing control again over a wider diversity seems to mark the second part that could be entitled organic machinery. The dancers now roll, hover, or stutter mostly in couples, with interlaced arms or legs– e.g. one performer activates the legs of her laying partner – or in an entangled upper/lower body crisscross across the stage. Naked arms and legs, or sometimes bare torsi accentuate the dark on dark setting. As fragmented body parts, their bony shapes form complex conjunctions. Coalescing organisms, which move or are moved in indistinguishable and seemingly reversible actions. Mutual influence that rather than being an impulse to incite another’s motion appears shifted into a flux of constant resonance.
Another piece: now they are all naked. Some curled up, some stretched out like bionic versions that are better off with just one arm and one leg. Again, their backs are turned towards the audience, their shoulder blades and back muscles vibrantly mimicking articulations we cannot decipher. A body talk ambiguous, foreign, alienating and fascinating at the same time. An experience of an unknown language that yet is not translatable, except in its different forms of angularity and shades of skin tones. Yes, they are there, despite the singularity of bright tones and they enrich the scenario, rather than disturbing the aestheticism. A more courageous approach here might help to decolonize our view of the body as being white by definition and remind mankind’s heritage.
In Schad’s recent work the body seems to be approached from its smallest possible particle that of cellular perspective for which she finds exciting and disturbing images. In its stronger parts even the music/sound by Damir Simunovic reminded a cellular osmosis (see example for the noise of cells), while it turned to dripping water in the later part. Though asking what a body is, can never be answered just by looking at microscopic results. It is always interwoven in a history of becoming preceding and extending the ones visible at that moment.
Isabelle Schad‘s work reorganizes the human body as a movement apparatus by fragmenting specific parts which have often been overlooked as adjunct or turned away, as there are the arms, legs and the dorsal. Bringing these parts into focus and animating them in unusual ways she creates a stunning work hinting through these parts at inherent possibilities of the entire organism. Though addressed in this is always both: the amazing ability as well as the abject form. It is the open field progress and foresight might hint to, that than might become controlled by certain interests undermining the ethics of resonance, which would be mutual respect.
There is a lot of often neglected points that Schad’s work touches upon that may make you leave the performance full of unformulated questions incited by bodily formations one has not thought about before. Already for this pieces and elements is any case worth to be seen.