New Dog, Old Tricks

Photo: Markus Esser

“Don’t worry, I’m easy,” I lied. I was going through the tumult and joy of organizing some of the technical details of my performance in the coming days to be included in the Dreizig Festival at Agora Collective in Neukölln, to take place 24 November.

The festival was a one-night-only performance consisting of 15 artists of different genres who were invited to present work that represented bold statements about the artistic experience of our generation, hence the title “Dreizig…”. The event doubled as a birthday party for the organizer, performing artist Alex Carrillo.

I submitted my application for this piece fully knowing that I would be under the guise of myself, in a solo performance, completely putting my soul on stage, but then – my biggest fear showed itself: the absence of the stage itself. No stranger to Narcissism, I was compelled by this festival because of the intent of artist Alex Carrillo to have the participants explain “How life changing events commonly experienced in this decade are reflected in their work: having children, getting married, leaving academia, and immigrating…” – and so talking about myself (a common theme in my work) was an opportunity for me to relinquish my obsession with my “Self = Portraits” video work and move on to working with other dancers and artists that I have been collecting over the past year in Berlin.

Still, with a map (the traditional form of a GPS, again showing my age), I had a very difficult time finding this Agora Collective place, and when it arrived in eyeshot in full bloom, it looked a lot like Mecca, after driving my bike around aimlessly but with a purpose, and almost at the last moment wanting to give up. I was immediately fascinated with the outside space. Once I was in the courtyard that was full of benches and led to a housing complex behind it, I felt like I was silly to have missed it in the first place as the whole building had a strong presence.

I had most of my talk about technical details with Jessica, another host and organizer of the event who was probably the calmest and most sincere person I have ever met in my life. I loved the gallery space but was eager to see where the performances would take place, so she led me downstairs to another room that doubled as office space (Agora Collective is an artist collective space where workshops and showings happen with a café/restaurant on the entrance level).

The second room on the first floor had a much better vibe for me. Whenever you do a site visit as an artist, there is a certain feeling you get as to whether or not you feel as though you can accomplish the goals of your piece. I was immediately drawn to this small sitting room that housed a few pieces of furniture and had a voyeuristic/exhibitionistic feel to it. I WANTED my piece to go there.

Someone else already claimed it.

I let out a big sigh, but it was okay. The floor would work with dance shoes and/or bare feet. There was access to the window that led out the courtyard outside that piqued my initial interest. The space was intimate, and there wasn’t a distraction from the art on the walls. But I wanted that room. I held back the Diva some more, and my mild mannered Jessica led me back upstairs, those fucking stairs, and explained to me all the details of the rules and regulations regarding renting the space, and I kept my mouth shut as much as I could, like a good non-Diva artist should.

By the time I left the the site visit I was hellbent on using the downstairs space, as mentioned, I did not want my piece to compete with the art on the walls in the gallery space on the top floor, and when I was there, there was generally too much distraction and I actually ran into one of the structural beams in the room, so it was a no-go for me Though the organizers suggested that I do my piece in the gallery space, I humbly refused.

Ideas began to cascade into me and I was ready to piece together the components of this tanztheater work, mostly excited except the fact that once again I was presenting something in an unorthodox space for theater/dance, but at the same time the thrill of doing something site- specific was an absolute challenge for me. I’ve been given little to no notice of some of my performance venues, and I have worked from huge theaters to dirt floors to small smoky bar stages that were no bigger than a bread box – so I thought that whatever the night presented me with, I would deal with it, and it would become part of the piece itself.

After several emails, it became clear to me that the space I would be performing in would not be determined until about an hour before I went on to perform. This was not because this is what I was told, it was my instinct and experience that led me to this fact. During my visit to what should have been  a technical rehearsal for me turned out to be a virtual run-around with the space coordinator and the event manager and I stood back taking note of that precious relationship : the compromise, the standoff, the yes, the no.

I was envious in a way of Alex, missing the painful glory of getting exactly what I want, how I want it, and when I want it, but I knew for more reasons than one that because of the sheer magnitude of the amount of different people involved, everything would have to wait for the in-house trial and error, without any encompassing organization of the structure of the event itself.

The space itself was almost a nemesis to the event, and as the remarkably beautiful host of Agora smiled a pretty smiled while saying “no” to most of the requests but offering viable but lackluster options regarding beverage service, ticket sales, etcetera, I wondered why that space was chosen in the first place and why the organizers decided to pay so much money to rent the space and have so many problems with organizing times and getting clear answers about where and when they (we) could set up.

When I got the news that I could actually perform on the first floor with that special room that I couldn’t use, I was happy. I had already planned and almost finished my film component of the piece that I wanted to have displayed as a reflection off of the glass in the larger room where I “might” be performing. The event was scheduled for the uncanny time of 18h on a Saturday evening, and I requested that my friends show up at least an hour after that to ensure that they show up on time. Instinct.

I was told the space would be available at 12h, so I showed up at 1630h, also, because of instinct. Sure enough, when I arrived the space with the little special room that I loved was full of people, sitting at these big long tables (that we didn’t know if we could move out of the way or not) and engaging in a workshop, a workshop that the host of the space neglected to tell us about.

Sweet, calm Jessica apologized to me over and over again, and I told her everything was fine, and to myself I mumbled “I knew this was going to happen,” which set off the beginning of my personal disaster in preparing to present my work, my debut tanztheater piece, my dream come true.

All technical issues aside, everyone was very helpful. I am plagued with this ghetto laptop that I love more than life. It is an old (original?) MacBook Pro whose battery exploded because it is my husband and I make love to it all day long, because it is the only thing that is always there for me. It is big, beautiful, powerful – but one day, the battery exploded and fell out of it and I can no longer use it without keeping it plugged in.

Naturally, I explained this to everyone (one of my first Diva moments) and holding back the rage, I went out for a cigarette and came back to the little special room (where I was storing my belongings) to notice that my beautiful silver boy with the apple light face had been unplugged.

I needed two questions answered in order to relieve my stress:

1) Where am I performing?
2) What kind of file do I need for the projection?

Both of these questions were never answered, thus I had to answer them myself.

The workshop ended around 18h and fortunately, most of the participants were aware of the fact that they needed to vacate the premises immediately and many of them were extremely respectful in this regard. All but one.

The inspiration for what was to become my mostly improvisational contemporary dance piece, was this man. This blond man with shoulder length hair who became the bane of my happiness for the evening.

I knew better than to say something to That Man, as hard as it was not to. The night before I witnessed Alex (the event organizer) telling one of the participating artists not to confront the space host in any regards regarding all the mishaps and miscommunications they afforded everyone involved, which to me was performance event 101 – but at that moment, as I was outside, smoking furiously and bitching to my good friend and assistant producer Lindsay, it was getting harder and harder to keep my mouth shut. I was glad she came as I specifically requested her presence to tame the beast that is my innate desire to control and to be in charge, and after I gave her the technical details of the piece, I knew it would be thrown right out of the window because of That Man.

I went back upstairs, all of those stairs, and That Man was still sitting there. At this point in time, his silent arsenal of attacking my nerves (what was left of them) was met with vehement eye rolling and little hints of things that were smart remarks said just loud enough so he could hear them, but he was quite the match for my bitchiness and gave me dirty looks in return as he clicked at and squinted at his empty calendar. That Man.

So my other friend Tristan and I were ripping up porno magazines that were not part of the initial idea of the piece but I asked him before the show to bring them along because the whole mood of the piece was changing in my mind. I struggle with OCD, especially when it comes to my art, so when there is less and less of a plan, the more crazy and neurotic I get. I was still having technical issues, trying to re-format the file of my film, organizing my props, figuring out how to play the music on the speakers – all done in English, Broken Spanish, Sporadic German and some Denglish. I was over it.

The scene of the crime where That Man resided for much longer than was necessary. Photo : DeVo Nelson.

Finally when That Man left, The Diva entered and I was in full-tilt Diana Ross mode and no one or nothing could get in my way and when I was finally defeated, technically, I let my artistic instinct let go of all of the issues with the space, the projector, the people – and my horrible stage fright took over. I was shaking and hyperventilating, and the piece was affected yet again. It would be darker than I wanted it to be.

One thing I have tried to avoid is performing in gallery spaces. I have done this before, with chairs and the audience being very close to me, but this time, I actually had about 3 square meters of space to perform in and I had to move people out of the way (who were not happy about it). I was just glad that That Man was gone and the whole experience was almost over.

I ended up displaying my film on my broken, old, but faithful laptop and it became a prop in the performance. This is nothing new, and it worked well, as I have many times included technological devices in my work as a statement about communication, technology and social media as it pertains to our daily culture.

“Start the music when I turn off the alarm clock…”, was my final plea, and my final hope that something might have actually gone right that night. I noticed that my request to have “as much light as possible” was ignored, knowing from instinct that any attempt to have photos to document the event (another relevant and important part of my work) should not be completely disregarded, but I went on with the show, as it must always go on.

My very best Contemporary Dance face. Photo : Lindsay Pond.

The space was so small and confined, and my irrevocable obsession with the rudeness of That Man came through in my work. It started and ended with me in an exhausted state laying on a makeshift bed whose duvet cover I danced in and out of and I walked around blindfolded, painted my face in black face, simulated erotic stimulation, did some of my movement isolations, attacked the laptop computer, and threw porno magazines out the window; it was typical DeVo motif.

The best seat in the house, under a table. Photo : Tristan Rehbold.

After the performance I vowed to myself, “Never Again.” I hate contemporary dance and I long for some place in this dance world where the audience is seperate from the performance, but I must keep challenging myself with the plight of these innovative techniques. I feel so old, and so old-fashioned, wanting to go back to the training of so many other ways of experiencing dance that actually has dance in it.

While I am confident that what I did was memorable, intense albeit completely obnoxious, the entire experience for me was a true test of my tolerance for contemporary dance. It is a constant war between my love of organization and the power of the organic. Guess who’s winning?

Another perspective of the performance as seen from the outside window. Photo : Tristan Rehbold.

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