Wupper-Topia: Students of the Kohlstrasse Vocational College and the Langerfeld Comprehensive School Develop a Utopia of Wuppertal with Artists.
Wuppertal. What will the city look like in 2030? How should the Pina Bausch Centre be designed? This and much more was answered by the young people of Wuppertal with Michael Carter and Gala Moody.
[translated from German]
The Pina Bausch Centre is to become a place that appeals to many people. “The content concept combines tradition and awakening, artistic excellence and democratic understanding of art, international charisma and involvement of the urban society,” it says on the homepage. To find out what young people want from this place, the dancers and project leaders Gala Moody and Michael Carter from Cie.Ofen came up with the symposium “Wupper-Topia”. Over a period of two weeks, as part of the “Under construction” festival, which took place from 21 to 29 November, they produced a film that summarises the ideas of pupils from the Berufskolleg Kohlstraße and the Gesamtschule Langerfeld.
What occupies young people in Wuppertal? What do they appreciate about the city? What do they need to realise their dreams? These were just some of the questions that Gala Moody and Michael Carter asked the students. The result is a 12.5 minute film collage that shows what needs young people aged 16 to 20 have. The project was mostly done digitally due to the Corona pandemic. “We worked 95 per cent online,” says Australian-born Michael Carter in a Skype interview. Questions and answers were exchanged via WhatsApp chat, in German and in English. This was a big challenge for the two because they did not know the students.
Cie.Ofen sees itself as a creative base for dancers and directors. Behind Cie.Ofen are Gala Moody and Michael Carter, who have over 15 years of experience in world-renowned companies such as Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and Ultima Vez / Wim Vandekeybus. Gala and Michael work across disciplines, drawing influence from literature, theatre, sculpture, poetry, audio-visual and performance art in their creations. The name Cie.Ofen is an anagram derived from the title of Cie.Ofen’s debut work One Final Evolutionary Note, which premiered at Spring Forward Festival (Umeå, Sweden) in 2014 and for which Cie.Ofen was selected as a priority by Aerowaves. The film Wupper-Topia had its streaming premiere during the festival week “Pina Bausch Zentrum under construction”. Like numerous other videos of the festival, it is available in the media library as well as at Cie.Ofen:
Between adaptation and the desire for change
“Two weeks is very short for a project like this, but we wanted to be able to talk to the young people about Utopia,” says Gala Moody. To have a basis, the two project leaders first ask questions about themselves and what they like about Wuppertal. “Then we slowly moved on to asking what they don’t like about Wuppertal and what they would like to change,” says Moody. These were very subjective approaches, he says, as the students had different socio-economic backgrounds. “It’s often more of a challenge for the young people to adapt than to change the environment to fit what they themselves would like to do in life,” says Carter. The artists wanted the young people to give the project the mandate, so to speak, to perhaps bring about change.
Racism is a huge issue
“We took part without knowing much,” says Christiane Schröder, teacher of the EF level music course at Langerfeld Comprehensive School. At the beginning, the students were overwhelmed with one task per day. But then they settled into a pace that suited them better. Using tasks such as “Imagine it’s 2030”, the students created a very personal utopia, which they sent to the two artists as audio or video. “In the films they told what they dreamed of,” says Schröder. The ideas ranged from personal wishes for a family of their own and a car to more cultural life in the city and world peace.
“Overall, it was very exciting, also for the students,” says Schröder. “It was not just academic learning that was required, but someone was also interested in their wishes and dreams.” To address their future goals and perspectives, he says, it is important to reflect on questions like “Where is my home?”, “Where do I position myself in the whole?”, “What are the perspectives and what is needed for that?”
Many students who participated in the project have a migration background. That’s why the topic of racism is a huge issue, says Schröder. Knowing that they are being listened to gives them courage. “One pupil said: ‘We say what we want. Those who hear us can also push it a bit’,” says Schröder. In small groups, the students worked out what the Pina Bausch Centre should look like. The students agreed: the centre should be a place for all cultures. One group even rolled out a red carpet for visitors of all ages.
It seethes behind the facade of the human being, it screams, rages, cries and laughs. It forces its way out, even though this is precisely what the directorial team is trying to prevent. By commanding the four figures (Bénédicte Billiet, Tsai-Wei Tien, Brenna O’Mara and Julie Shanahan) in their shapeless costumes. They chastise them and then ask if they are comfortable. Which is visibly not the case, oppressive and amusing at the same time. Cie.OFEN (Gala Moody and Michael Carter) see their choreographing as social practice. “New People 3.0” was born out of the utopian desire to work together in dance in a sustainable and holistic way; the experiment failed. The audience likes it.
They’ve built a golden tent. We can all meet there and have a common experience. It is a place that protects us from the world out there, it´s warm and cosy. It even gives you the illusion of being inside an ufo on another planet. Based on a fictional image of aliens looking for a better life, they created utopian visions of collaborating and working together.
Their work deals with social systems and seeing their choreographic practice as a social one. This is also reflected in their way of using the camera as they do it in a very respectful way, protecting the well being of the collaborators and showing an honest perspective on the topics in space: frustration, (dis)empowerment, disappointment – feelings and topics that all of them came across during their dance career. All of this was listened to and used as material for the creative process.
Moody’s and Carter’s work is all about the creative process itself, not so much about the product in the end. That is also how they understand their role as film makers and directors. I would even say that they are more observing, joining, accompanying than directing. Their interest is grounded in the transparency of an artistic process, having an honest gaze on the people who are part of it, with all their thoughts and struggles, wishes and ideas.
Film as a medium can be very intimate and is used as a tool to dive into moments and worlds you wouldn’t be able to enter otherwise. In a sensitive way they are following movement and atmospheres in space, having a rather intuitive approach on filming than a technically professional one. The focus should be on their work and not so much on a high quality video.
What I find special in their video installation is, that often the dancers work under the choreographer, finding themselves in a position of fitting in frames and supporting the choreographers idea. But in this work the dancers, the humans and their processes are elevated and given space to choose where to go and what to initiate. Both the good and the bad experiences, the highlights and difficulties are seen as relevant. At the same time it is not about reproducing their archives, reliving the experiences they made. It is about being aware of them and then daring to alienate from them, finding new ways of reacting to impulses, following new paths while encountering the unknown.
It is brave, I feel. One of my personal highlights of the festival and so important to be shown. The dance is not visible but the taste of it is all around. Free and true, a multi-layered expression, heavy and light. It’s a poetic and political statement that provides an insight into a creative process based on respect and non-hierarchical collaboration.
It rushes. I’m sitting on the train back to Berlin and it’s still rushing.
It rushes. I’m on the train back to Berlin and it’s still roaring. The abundance of films I have seen in the last four days has made me tired. And yet here I sit, with a head full of thoughts, questions, opinions and trying to put them into words. I have an urge to move.
“There’s no fire,” says Klaus Dilger, and I can feel what he means. The opening as well as the award ceremony resemble a soap bubble, colourful on the outside and hollow on the inside. What happens on the screen during the festival often remains distant and unapproachable, the formats impersonal and on the surface. Take, for example, the panels that were tailored to the IMZ, ARTE or other larger or smaller institutions, but only in very few cases initiated a fruitful discussion of artistic questions and positions.
Who are the people behind the perfectly made films? Where are the ideas and concepts, the passion, the drive for expression?
A presentation of the films, an introduction of the artists and specific audience formats such as talks, feedback rounds or more open exchange opportunities would have helped to understand and perceive differently. I would have liked more accompaniment in the dance noise labyrinth.
What is a good dance film? A question that has remained open until now. Are there general criteria that create a broader level of discourse than the purely subjective feeling of whether something carries me away, moves me, touches me? Who chooses jury members, which jury chooses which films and why? A network of those who want, those who have, those who decide. Promoters, sponsors, producers, producers, promoters, sponsors, institutions, producers. I don’t know what’s going on, and that doesn’t bother anyone.
In retrospect, the festival motto “WE LIVE FUTURE NOW” leaves a pale aftertaste.
Art in which the polished appearance is more important than the content, a predominantly white, European society sitting passively in cinema seats and staring side by side in a given direction? A festival director who opens with his own film, digging into the past and dragging memories through forests in plastic bags? Is this what awaits us in the future? I’m not looking forward to it. And anyway – who is this WE?
What I am looking forward to, however, is the golden tent of Gala Moody & Michael Carter at the Schauspielhaus. A place to retreat to for a moment. Immerse yourself in a world where cooperation works differently. Non-hierarchical, respectful, close. Perhaps illusory, one might think – but it is better to develop utopian visions than to deprive dreams of the air they need to breathe.
This has shown me how important the space, the place is where we experience dance film. A cinema brings with it certain conventions and expectations. Being entertained on a Friday night, maybe the second date. Cinema is a service. I don’t have to do anything for it. Just watch. In the end I can stick my thumb in one direction or the other and afterwards we go to Burger King and talk about cars.
It works differently at the Schauspielhaus. There I can look, move at my own pace through the unfamiliar landscape of screens, sounds and visitors, embedded in an architecturally fascinating space that smells like art. And outside, the trees dance when I lend them my gaze.
Isn’t it wonderful to land in unfamiliar places after the thick fog has lifted, after being TRANSLATED from familiar to unfamiliar terrain? Dance film can do that.
I want to be challenged when I look at art. I want to be stimulated and navigate through new worlds, to be enchanted. And yes, also to be disappointed, bored, confronted with my limits and systems. We have forgotten how to endure. To expose ourselves, to surrender to friction. We have forgotten to surrender to places that hold up a mirror to us, that shake our foundations and yet are the ones that make us grow. I want to be allowed to think, to feel my body and to feel like I am someone else when the film is over. I want to feel that I can now feel more, understand more, see differently – people, spaces, things. Maybe I’m asking too much. But if art can’t take it, who can?
Dancescreen2019 + TANZRAUSCHEN Wuppertal, a festival that means well, smacks of mainstream. Does it want to? Or was the setting of the feast just not the right one?
Perhaps a campfire around which we all gather and share lightly charred stick bread would be sexier than the expensive high-tech kitchen where we sit motionless at a long table and are served overly pretty morsels that don’t fill us up.
I wonder where the festival is going. What impulses it gives the city of Wuppertal and what the vision for it is. To establish it as a fixed component of Wuppertal’s cultural landscape? To build it out of the ground as a castle of sand and then tear it down again when all the guests have left?
Will the IMZ help clean up or is there not enough money in the budget? Come on, let’s make a social project out of it, I’m sure it’ll work. But no popcorn this time.
Visit on 22 October 2017 (One-time guest performance)
THE VASE (Gala Moody, Michael Carter) at Move!, Krefeld, Fabrik Heeder
[translated from German]
In principle, a great story, these Krefeld Days for Modern Dance, which have very originally given themselves the title MOVE! If we assume that more than half of Krefeld’s population uses English as their mother tongue, of course everyone immediately knows what it’s all about. The municipal theatre in Krefeld is supplemented in a meaningful way with its exclusive ballet offer and, in addition, funding can be raised for the Heeder factory. This is already working for the 16th time. More or less.
For all the joy of cultural diversity, it has to be said that most of the names on the programme of the festival, which runs from 14 October to 25 November, are already familiar from the Tanzhaus NRW in Düsseldorf. Whether someone from Krefeld travels to Fabrik Heeder or Tanzhaus NRW should make little difference in terms of time. Quite different synergy models would be conceivable here.
Instead, there is a conceivably uncharitable design, for example, an evening slip for which a back-office manager is presumably responsible, who is not able to translate an English text into German, but instead inserts it into a German template. And more information is then not provided. Audience interest is accordingly modest. But who cares about the audience when the funding is secured? Yet the programme is certainly top-class. Like, for example, on a Sunday evening when the Compagnie Ofen performs its current piece The Vase. In German, it is quite profanely called Die Vase, a title that is completely misleading. It is based on an artistic event from 2005, when Kris Martin destroyed a blue and white Chinese porcelain vase over two metres high, reconstructed it and then exhibited it. He repeated the process over and over again. This inspired Gala Moody and Michael Carter not only to deal with the metaphor of the object, but also to apply it to a completely different situation. They drew on the play Purgatorio by Ariel Dorfman, which in turn deals with the story of Medea by Euripides.
The atmosphere on the studio stage in the Heeder factory is as cool as can be. A clay-smeared black sheet on the floor, a few chairs, a table with technology, that’s all that’s needed on stage to portray the worst imaginable situation of all. Jason has deeply hurt Medea by trampling her love into the dirt, Medea has taken revenge by killing his beloved. So far, so bad. You part, hate each other, maybe one will still kill the other at some point and life goes on. But what if there is now a renewed rapprochement, so the vase has to be putty again? It is almost unthinkable what the Compagnie Ofen wants to dance there. It can hardly be done with theatrical illusion, says Carter, who is a member of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. In order not to get completely lost in emotionality, there have to be anchor points. So the two operate the stage equipment from the stage. This creates distance and breaks, also lengths.
At the beginning there is an incomprehensible spoken text by Moody that ends with the words “Have you said any words of love today? There are no words of love today”. It is not about the meaning of the text, but about its effect. The coldness enters the action. In the following hour, the man and the woman, as they are called in Dorfman, will fight for their salvation. Constant attempts at rapprochement fail again and again, the horror of what has happened is too great. The mental exposure is expressed in the undressing, which then does not reach the final consequence. Subtle movement language that seems to avoid dance, only to break out again. Pounding beats, created by Sascha Budimski, underpin the insoluble conflict. Even hysterical laughter, which is discharged every now and then in between, does not provide relaxation.
There is no redemption through forgiveness. But there is no other solution either. The conflict remains when Medea or she disappears. In the end, no sympathy remains for the dancers. They have conveyed all too impressively what their concern was. Many audience members leave the performance frustrated after having applauded in a friendly manner. It is a pity, because they have just experienced a very strong piece of dance without being able to recognise it.
The cultural office of the city of Krefeld really doesn’t cover itself with glory as organiser. Of all the festivals visited this year, MOVE! is the most uninspired and loveless. And no English name and no exclamation mark will help.
Cie.OFEN shows “The Vase”, a challenging piece about love – somewhere between performance, dance and theatre.
Two people who love each other. She (Gala Moody) is a striking woman. Her blonde hair worn down, her linen dresses wrapped around her trained body, she is barefoot. He (Michael Carter) is tall, dark-haired, his facial features are fine. Bearded, his linen shirt is unbuttoned, his upper body free, the trousers are a loose cut, he is also barefoot. An attractive couple. But first they do not compete together in the dance performance “The Vase” at the festival “Move” at the factory Heeder but separate.
Gala Moody enters the stage and sits down at the table situated at the edge of the stage. From here, a part of the lighting design is controlled and the music, partly played by the computer, partly live in the loop. After a change of costume, Moody takes a chair in the middle of the stage, she begins to speak with a clear voice. The English-language sentences are unfortunately quite difficult to understand. Face to the audience, she asks, “Have you said any words of love today?” And at once the answer is: “There are no words of love today.
“The music becomes louder, her voice also, until she finally shouts out the sentences. Moody dances to it in fast, powerful movements – from the opening sound in the repeating loop their always equal sentences. Carter enters. Their looks meet, but their bodies seem to repel each other. The next scene portrays the cheerful moments of a love affair, light and lively.
The mood is darkening again soon. Speech fragments in the loop become malicious. Carter hurls Moody through the room in dizzying speed. She frees herself and stands by him, so he shifts his gaze to her and her sensuous and glacial movement language. They dance separately and yet together. A constant struggle for closeness and distance, affection and disgust follows. Cie.Ofen dances with “The Vase” a dancer interpretation of Ariel Dorfman’s play “Purgatorio”, which in turn is an adaptation of Euripides’ “Medea”.
Sometimes the viewer sees the dancers as Medea and Jason and sometimes as themselves, busy with the complex technique of light and sound. It has not only used the material of Greek mythology as a reference; the complex narrative of “The Vase” also consists of the biographical history that connects the dancers and their lives, from the great personalities of two artists who have been dancing together for over twelve years.
Not to be stopped, not to be saved
– “The Vase” by Cie.OFEN at Festival Move! in Krefeld
By Nicole Strecker, Tanzweb.org (translated by Veronica Posth)
Gala Moody and Michael Carter succeed with “THE VASE” in Krefeld
A woman who is not to be stopped, not to be saved. Medea, the most brutal, most uncontainable hero of all the Greek myths, mother and monster, lamentable victim and incomprehensibly vindictive perpetrator. In 2014, dancer Gala Moody played Medea in Wim Vandekeybus‘ production “Booty Looting“, and it is understandable why this character who is a primitive force of nature even in the present-day, who radically destructed the concept of the love story, doesn’t let go.
A year later, Moody and Michael Carter started development on “The Vase“ which is a piece about a couple in the mode of eternal power-struggle, like at one time Medea and her husband Jason. But who manipulates whom? Moody and Carter succeed magnificently in making the emotional power struggle between man and woman cliche free, with steep calculated changes, to stage. It remains a game – and yet it is painful harassment.
The performer Gala Moody – already the name is a promise! – appears in a long beige dress as a pale hero. Her fair hair uncombed and her arms, legs, also fingers, feet, all fairylike, long and thin. She seems to come from another era, but then she mundanely goes to a mixing console, which stands in the middle of the stage; she dims the lights and tips a sound file on the computer. Preparations for her scene, a self-made setting and a statement: – what is happening here is just a theatrical illusion, an experimental arrangement to understand the nightmare “love“ – Here, Euripides’ tragedy Medea is quoted and its adaptation by an unknown Chilean author, Ariel Dorfman who, in his biography written in Chile during the the dictatorship by Augusto Pinochets, was clearly possessed and obsessed by the themes of revenge and forgiveness. In The Vase we find ourselves in Sartre’s hell, which is what others are for us. We are in Heiner Müller’s famous piece about a lovers quarrel „Die Quartet“, in which man and woman are playfully destructing themselves, in the process changing the gender roles. Thats what occurs with Gala Moody and Michael Carter.
After Moody, alone, continuously recites the first words of the Euripides drama, Carter appears. They measure each other up. Their bodies are tense as if the bare look of each other provokes a painful spasm, as if Jason has already betrayed Medea with another, or as if she had already murdered their children. Then Moody suddenly jumps back with a laugh to a much earlier point in their relationship.
Carter then claims “I am her”. He is Medea; the immigrant, the powerful. And while he babbles to his beloved one, she jumps around and grabs him, keeps his mouth closed, jostles him, bounces on one leg as he accidentally steps on her foot. The rough tenderness of two bodies without suspicion nor shame. But are not the shoves now a bit crude and the arms around the neck a bit too tight? These are kisses that become Penthesilea-like deadly bites, the interaction between Moody and Carter becomes imperceptibly harder, from stroking to clawing, from gentle tangle of the hands into forceful constraining.
This evening the two have worked sensationally on the ambivalence of each gesture. Two star dancers. She worked with the wild fellows of the dance scene: Romeo Castellucci, Ivo Dimchev and Wim Vandekeybus. He has been with the Tanztheater Wuppertal since 2014. Having the charisma of a sensitive melancholic, he us intrinsically a wonderful counterpart to the rigorous action women Moody, this makes their still young company “Cie. OFEN“ absolutely attractive.
This time, however, Medea-Moody removes her gentle Jason to the corner, as if his sarcastic, cruel attacks are more like cautious attempts to subdue, the ’suspension of hostility‘ in the erotic power play is somewhat unbelievable.
Nevertheless, it is captivating how the two have so enchantingly and intensively rummaged into the physical sensibilities of their characters and how cleverly they reflected on the stereotypes of the subjects doing it without any chintzy effect, it wins you over. Love as a war in which there can be no winner. Gala Moody and Michael Carter tell of this age-old disillusionment of all romantics with the passionate resignation of two psychologists, even with the most shrewd analysis, one will not be exempt from the pull of emotions. – By Nicole Strecker
Cie.OFEN Has Been In Residency At Ekeby International Research Center For Contemporary Arts In The Netherlands Where They Plotted Out Their New Creation For 2017/18. Tentatively Titled “New People” Will Be A Cross-Disciplinary Low-Fi Sci-Fi Piece Featuring Homeless Aliens Who Come To Earth Hoping For A Better Life. “New People“ Will Venture Into New Territory Of Theatrical Intervention Planning A Broad Curation Of Digital, Spectacle And Sculptural Components.
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTISTIC DIRECTORS OF CIE.OFEN GALA MOODY (AUS/BE) AND MICHAEL CARTER(AUS/DE) BY MARC WAGENBACH -28 July 2017
M: Welcome both of you at Ekeby. Maybe you can introduce yourself by telling us a bit about your work.
Mi: I am Michael Carter and a dancer from Sydney. I am co-director of Cie.OFEN and dancer of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.
G: And I am Gala Moody also dancer and co-director of Cie.OFEN, which we’ve had for five years now.
M: And you know each other from Australia?
Mi: Yes, we know each other from 2005. We worked at a company together called Leigh Warren & Dancers in Adelaide. Since then, we both created different works for stage or film and we were both in each others creative lives. We did two and a half pieces together: One Final Evolutionary Note and Evolution/Repetition, and The Vase.
G: So, two full works really.
M: And this is basically the beginning of the research for the third one.
REBELLING FROM COMFORTS
M: How would you describe your artistic process?
G: We are very much rebelling from our own comforts. We don’t believe in having a set vocabulary in our work, that doesn’t sit well with us at all. So in that way we are mainly a research company and we create movement purely from an idea and a conceptual stand point rather then fitting the movement into a concept that is new. For example for: “One Final Evolutionary Note“, we worked with the idea of evolution from Charles Darwin. We researched movement over 4 months: from the positioning in space to the movement decision itself and the timing. It was all directly influenced from the research material.
M: Which kind of research material was it?
G: We had the book: “On the Origin of Species“ by Charles Darwin and…
Mi: … we watched lots of videos on how animals and organisms interact, fight and survive.
G: What are symbiotic relationship with animals?
Mi: ….and how planets move, and evolution in thought “I think therefor I am’.
G: In our second piece, I was going though a very hard break-up, when we started; and I was also studying Medea for a theater play. We were looking for a text to start with and we found a modern version of Medea which we both found interesting. We wanted to work more theatrically with body language. We used a lot of text in the piece also.
Mi: .. and we wrote a lot of stuff and quoted from emails.
M: So text was a very strong reference in this process?
G: Yes. We were very curious about text and the voice, and very scared also. In the piece we quote the theater play that we were looking at; “Purgatorio” by Ariel Dorfman, and Euripides “Medea”, and our own biographical texts. It had these three layers of the narrative which had all the same themes but different time periods.
Mi: We wanted the movement to be true to the idea that “Everything is valid“. We were interested in the randomness of life and we wanted to make movement that was true to that, also feeling it would work well for these volatile characters of Jason and Medea.
G: We also liked the idea that we could play with theatricality. So one minute we were Michael and Gala on stage and then next we were Medea and Jason. Therefore, we could leave the characters and retake them again throughout the piece.
Mi: Physically we had to learn how we were as well. Because as a performer you usually go into performance mode and your body changes for the role, but we had to be ourselves.
G: We found when it came to performing the clue was in each other. As long as we keyed into each other.
Mi: In that moment. In that day. How were we reacting to that movement and the text. Otherwise, it became something that was learnt and rehearsed and distant somehow and actually we weren’t in the moment.
G: It had very much the feeling for us of Performance Art. You are there and paying attention.
NEW PEOPLE. A CROSS-DISCIPLINARY LOW-FI SCI-FI
M: Now to your new production: “New People“. Could you tell us something about the idea?
G: After re-premiering The Vase last month, we had a really great response, and we weren’t expecting that. Somehow it gave us a whole new lease of life for the company..
Mi: …to trust in the work.
G: What we were trying to say got across and that was huge for us.
Mi: That was especially great because we didn’t make it easy for an audience. We wanted to challenge the audience also. For example we wanted to see how long we can wait before we did an action.
G: There was no music hardly. We weren’t following anything we have seen on stage before. It was really a conglomerate of randomness. It was clear that we had to make another piece!
Mi: Somebody said on the last piece that they felt they were seeing something they haven’t seen, that was something, we worked hard to get that. We are not on the worst track we could be. So let’s make a new piece.
M: And why aliens?
Mi: When we are on stage, we are often seen as a man and a woman, people project ideas like lovers, married..
G: Married lovers. Lovers married.
Mi: We also talked a lot about gender: How people perceive you in public if you are dressed more feminine more masculine. It is a kind of a common topic what we like to talk about. So, we thought, we take all this away.
G: Those things don’t aline with our own ideas of gender. In life we are much more gender fluid.
Mi: And so we just thought, we take gender away from the audience straight away and make these two characters aliens that do not have race or gender or skin color. Actually, we will have a skin color but we not quite sure what color. So, the conversation is not about that. To have a look at the “real thing“ we are doing: not a man or a woman.
M: And what is the real thing?
Mi: Identity. Integration. Power-play. Power struggles. Finding your place in life and then learning to adapt.
G: Having a voice.
Mi: Yes, having a voice. Existing. Having some control over your life in terms of your surroundings and the people around you.
G: And therefore, what is it to be human? Can an alien try to be human?
M: Is there also a wish to fit in?
Mi: Anyone that comes from a foreign place to a new place find that the people around them want them to fit in. Everyone loves the “happy foreigner“ who makes an effort and not the angry foreigner who doesn’t want tochange and adapt. We thought, these aliens would be happy and would really make an effort, who really want to be part of this society. But I think in terms of us: do we want to fit in?
G: Well, I think it is quite prominent in our lives, fitting in, putting down roots.
Mi: To be part of a group. To move to a new place. To able to fit in. To get a house. Or to learn a language. The bureaucratic side of it. It is always so complicated. You can do it with humour, or you can do it with bitterness. We would like to see if you could make a funny piece.
G: I think in life there is a need to touch subjects that are difficult with lightness, in our friendship we like to joke and in our work we use humour to get through things that are hard.
Mi: I think, Australian humour is quite sarcastic, it had a dark side.
G: It is also a new medium for us. You don’t get to explore this too much in dance.
Six hours on the Autobahn and straight into the theatre to find Gala and Michael hard at it. I reckon they must be near the end, arriving so late as I did, but they keep going, like they were waiting as long as possible for me to get there before they started. In the end I missed maybe 20 minutes of their pre-general on Thursday evening and had the delight of their sweaty hot bodies jumping on me the instant they realised who the tardy arrival was.
Turns out missing the beginning is crucial to understanding what’s going on. Without Gala’s first monologue the piece only has the meaning I put on it; it’s a strong argument for context and against interpretation. So I’ll start with interpretation. A woman in a long, pale-lemon dress, cut just below the half-way line of her calves. Sleeveless, but over a dirty white short-sleeved shirt. A man in Oxford Blue corduroy trousers and a blue-grey unbuttoned shirt over a dirty white singlet. Both bare foot. A stage coated with ash, four wooden chairs, and downstage where the stage manager’s box would be if it were on-stage instead of off, a table, chair, computer, sound and light desks, spaghetti-ing cables onto the floor into a red effects box, and a single microphone on a long cable.
It’s one of the enduring clichés of dance theatre, ballet, contemporary dance and all, the single man and woman on stage, dressed so, performing the clichés of heteronormativity. It would be a comedy, except it’s not. It’s a cliché also of gay male choreographers making such work, almost a compulsion, like having to ‘reinterpret’ Giselle or Swan Lake. I’m watching these two dancers, tall, lithe, strong, who I’ve known for well over a decade in various cities and countries, who have danced together for thirteen years now, who I adore— so let’s not pretend I have any interest in lip service to ‘objectivity’ here — who I love watching dance, especially when it’s their own dancing, especially together. I’m watching them, and without the benefit of that first monologue, wonder how awkward it’s going to be if they fall over into that cliché. And giving them credit here, I know them for mercilessly mocking all the tropes and stereotypes of dance, both with their words and with their bodies. Yet sometimes the piece makes itself, and sometimes even the most caustic find themselves wanting to say something on those roles and identities and selfhood which are real and lived, which we have to negotiate even if we ourselves are not fully part of, even while they are so often used to fill the void of ideas.
The next day I see the whole work. I pay attention. I listen to Gala say, “Have you said any words of love today? There are no words of love today.” Say, whisper, bellow. Her voice is a typhoon blasting the stage, pushing the air before it. Rage, hate, anguish. This is the story ofMedea, who kills her children after her husband’s betrayal. This is the story of Gala. InGenesis, Michel Serres says,
The more I think, the less I am me. If I think something, I am that something. If I simply think, I am no longer anyone. In any case, me thinking am nothing.
[…] Dance is to the body proper what exercise of thought is the subject known as I. The moreI dance, the less I am me. If I dance something, I am that something, or I signify it. When I dance, I am only the blank body of the sign.
When Gala and Michael reference the story of Medea and Jason, the Gods take an interest.Not to say it’s an invocation, but rather to recite the lines from Euripides’ Medea, and to find or thread together multiple variations, be it Euripides, Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio, or their own private lives deferred through these variations is enough to reverse the relationship. It isMedea who dances her life through Gala as much as it is Gala who draws on Medea to tell her own. It is a repetition across time, through each work referencing a predecessor, tracing branchings and bifurcations back to Medea. It is a repetition also in their bodies, dancing themselves, dancing each other.
I want to diverge from philosophy here and write of the awe I feel seeing these two together.Because this is becoming something of a review and not just photography and a travel document, Gala and Michael first danced together in Leigh Warren & Dancers, coming from Oz Ballet; Gala from WAAPA (by way of me and a couple of pieces back when I actually made dance). Michael went on to Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid, whileGala went to Charleroi Danses then Ultima Vez in Brussels. As for why I was seeing them in Wuppertal, Michael joined Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch a while ago. So we’re talking about two highly capable dancer-performers, who have worked across dance, theatre, opera in Europe and Australia while making their own work together for much of that time, and ‘officially’ since 2012 under the name Cie.OFEN. They move, alone and together, with brutal clarity. This isn’t the kind of work you can make in six weeks by throwing together some steps and ideas; it’s a knowing of self and each other down to their bones, worked into their bones. Even if they had gone fully into the cliché, I’d be destroyed by the beauty of them together.
The inevitability in their dancing. They compound that with dialogue, or with just the mundane acts of technical concerns, changing the lights, sound. There’s a moment whereGala is on all fours, around the centre of the work, the light and the energy has gone into a dark place, like blood is going to be spilt — or already has and you don’t even feel it yet —and Michael, barely above a whisper, spits, “Get. Up.” Savage. A slap to the face. Hatred where there was supposed to be love; betrayal and resentment and spite. You want to see work like this. You want the shit mediocrity of the cliché exposed for what it is: violence and abuse. Those saccharine dramatic conceits of the love story rest on the unmentionable bodies of murdered women, and while Medea might have murdered her children, this is projection: it is not women who are the murderers, not terrorists who women must fear, but the men in our midst, the men closest.
It’s a fucking hard, brave work.
It’s a beautiful work. I’ve said that already. Here is the violence of abuse, and here also is something to aspire to, here is a way out. Michael and Gala, Gala and Michael. Maybe a decade and some years is what’s needed for such a work. The care they take with each other, the familiarity, even or especially when they get rough, when it needs to be endured.The matter of fact getting on with it, like digging in the garden, there’s a complete absence of pretence that also doesn’t try and be some shite authenticity, like here’s the genuine, essential, real Gala and Michael for your entertainment. I want to say more, but then it becomes personal, and the point of a performance is to defer biography. So I will end with the end. Michael is back at the table. He and Gala have danced together, separate but together, increasingly apart, the light has increased for this last somewhat third or act, he sits and watches her as she comes from upstage in front of the chairs, dancing, dancing, and fades the lights, she’s smiling. Alone, survived, no longer Medea, Gala dancing, smiling.
CIE. OFEN with „THE VASE“ in der Wuppertaler “BÖRSE”
Von Klaus Dilger, TanzWeb Wuppertal
[translated from German]
Ariel Dorfman’s “Purgatorio” served as the model and inspiration for this dance piece “The Vase”, of “Cie. OFEN” by Pina Bausch dancer Michael Carter and former Michelle Anne de Mey and Wim Vandekeybus/ Ultima Vez dancer Gala Moody. This performance was presented this June to die börse in Wuppertal.
Four chairs, a table, the floor, covered by a dried-out thin layer of ash, in front of a (director) table, on which a laptop, light control, microphone and sound system are packed, along with sampler pedal on the floor, with the help of endless sound loops produced live and let play.
The barren experimental landscape signals something historic, long-ago and yet incomplete that has already been deprived of any water and lost its life-giving activities that must have belonged to the characters, presented in a room whose condition offers little hope for “the woman” and “the man”, as Dorfman calls his protagonists in “Purgatorio”.
The Chilean author, who gained worldwide acclaim for his drama “Death and the Maiden”, which Polanski filmed with Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley in 1994, uses his play “Purgatorio” to refer to Euripides’ myth “Medea” , who killed both sons after Jason left them. She revenged with the worst of what the lover could do to her with the worst she could do to him.
Dorfman asks, with reference to Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”, as well as Carter and Moody in “The Vase”, whether and how there can ever be a release from forgiveness.
Dorfman is a master of dialogue, of observation, of surprising twists and turns, of tension, of the smallest details and of their own sensibilities. His speech must still be wonderful even in the most shocking and terrible moments and their contents.
This also applies to Gala Moody and Michael Carter in their dance piece, especially when they rely purely on the language of the body and dance. With the finest nuances, they succeed time and again in nurturing hope, where familiar and trusting gestures, movements, touches may lend life to memory. But always this hope turns out to be a renewed, wanted tormenting of the other. It is a seemingly endless infernal play about longing and love, guilt and refusal of forgiveness, which Moody (“the woman”) always succeeds a little more masterfully than Carter (“the man”). After just over an hour, this hell slowly disappears and leaves them standing in the light. At the end of the day, we can guess the enigmatic smile of the woman ….
Much applause for the magnificent performance of two wonderful dancers, who were certainly aided by the under-the-skin composition of Sascha Budimski’s score.
24 November 2015
From dancer to artist
by Luke Aaron Forbes, Dance Australia Magazine
Michael Carter is an Australian dancer based in Europe who began his dance career at theAustralian Ballet after graduating from the Australian Ballet School. Following stints withLeigh Warren & Dancers and the Sue Healey Company, Carter left Australia to join the BalletVictor Ullate in Madrid, Spain, and in 2007, the Compañía Nacional de Danza under the direction of Nacho Duato. For the lucky few who experience such success both at home and abroad, this would typically mark the final stop of a laudable and diverse career. However,Carter found himself disillusioned with being “just a dancer, and not an artist”: a term he associates with having the scope for interpretation and independent decision-making in the creative process, elements more familiar to choreographers and contemporary dancers than dancers in classical and neoclassical companies. His search for fulfilment has now taken him from the relatively warm climate and rich cultural life of Madrid to the Tanztheater WuppertalPina Bausch in German, a company still regrouping following Pina Bausch’s passing in 2009.
When Carter auditioned for the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch he was turned away. On his way home he received a phone call from the confused audition panel wondering why he had left so quickly. Although he did not suit the role they sought to cast on that particular day, they stayed in touch and approximately two years later offered him a contract for the production Masurca Fogo. “It’s a privilege to be there,” he says, not only because he’s benefitting from the extensive stage experience of his more mature colleagues, but also because of the relatively uncomplicated and well-paid working conditions afforded “guest dancers” and freelancers in Germany in comparison to Spain. Although he still calls Madrid home, the bureaucratic minefield associated with freelance work in that country makes him increasingly drawn toward northern Europe.
His career is now at a crossroads. He is faced with the difficult decision of either opting for the financial security and routine of a company, or pursuing his own creative vision as a freelance dancer and choreographer. He “has always been happiest freelancing”, and has tried to keep up that aspect of his career in his spare time. His side projects have now culminated in the founding of Cie.OFEN (www.cieofen.com), a company co-directed with fellow Australian dancer, Gala Moody. The pair have worked together before on Australian soil in productions such as Leigh Warren’s and the State Opera of South Australia’s Phillip Glass Trilogy collaboration. Moody is currently working in Brussels in Wim Vandekeybus’s company, Ultima Vez.
Michael and Gala’s first work as Cie.OFEN, titled One Final Evolutionary Note, premiered in Umeå, Sweden, in 2014, with the support of Aerowaves’s Spring Forward Festival. Aerowaves is a “cross-border dance performance network” and its annual festival provides performance opportunities for young “priority companies”. The experience proved to be a “real learning process”, Carter says. Firstly, “Aerowaves rarely presents premieres, rather tried and tested works”. This meant that despite never having performed their work in a theatre, Moody andCarter only had “a one hour technical rehearsal and at that moment the technicians had their lunch break!” Their lighting designer “did it live, which he had never tried before”.
Secondly, the business aspect of showing at a festival came as a surprise. “One English dance critic was chatting with me after our show and asked, ‘How much does it cost?’ I didn’t understand the question at first, but when I realised he was asking how much it would cost to buy our work. I had to admit I didn’t really know!” After some stern words from the critic Carter was sent off to mingle with dance curators and distributors, which is “what you’re actually there for,” he adds. He and Moody learnt that art works “don’t speak for themselves”,and since then have been trying to “make more noise”. A festival director Carter has contacted confided that she sifts through “hundreds of emails from choreographers every Monday”.Because of the sheer number, “she only replies to those who are persistent”.
With regard to Cie.OFEN’s dance aesthetic, Carter apologises for being “terrible” at talking about his own creations. To get the ball rolling he refers to a “Spanish critic who was surprised our work didn’t look like something by Nacho Duato”. Rather than generating material in a conventional way, as in agreeing upon a fixed sequence of steps, he and Moody try to avoid“just filling space and time”. Instead they work with an eclectic range of tools and techniques borrowed from other disciplines, such as acting.
Unfortunately, in spite of Carter’s desire to show Cie.OFEN’s creations in Australia, until now the performers have received “zero fanfare” back home and funding bodies have advised them, he says, “not to waste their time. We just don’t tick the right boxes”. This lack of interest back home is a reality many overseas Australian artists have to confront when they wish to return. That is a pity, because Australian artists would surely reap the benefits of a creative dialogue between artists on the local scene and abroad – as would Australian audiences.
– This article was first published in the 2015 June/July issue of ‘Dance Australia’.
6 October 2015
Opening Ulti’mates festival
by Ingaline Geldhof, CK Danst Blog
[translated from Flemish]
“I always try to put myself on the same level of my dancers.” Wim Vandekeybus brings in the interview his secrets for a successful performance. Wim said in itself a good intuition to estimate people. He treats everyone differently and feels intuitively what they need to get the best out of themselves. He also demands input from the dancers themselves. One of his ways to do that is to let them make a personal drawing of their dream for a performance without text. With his years of experience, Wim is also hard for people. Many young people love anecdotes, sometimes give childish or just wrong suggestions, but then he still tries to get the best out. He compares a show with a garden planting your crops. Plants grow, but nothing is done right away. Within the first five years he has plans to direct opera. Something innovating attracts him, because he does not just want to do what he is good at. Just four months he needs to prepare a performance.
At quarter past eight we are waiting for the dance show to start the vase. Never before have I seen such a live show. Even though I have watched pieces with dazzling dancers. My expectations are therefore not low.
On the stage there is only a simple table and two chairs. Gala Moody, who is fragile and on the ground, keeps my attention from the first minute. The male dancer in the story, Michael Carter, seems at first sight the violent husband who suppresses the woman. Very long, nothing is said at the beginning, which gives me a somewhat awkward feeling. It is impressive to see how much can be said without talking.
In the way they dance, it is clear how the couple attracts and repels each other. They feel each other and are perfectly matched. Although the woman seemed thin and fragile, she now knows how to defend herself. A reconciliation comes earlier from the man’s side. The woman does not seem to want to give her relationship anymore time. The upheaval in the show I find very impressive. It’s done so that it seems easy, but of course I could not achieve it.
Throughout the performance, little text is used, but long conversations are totally unnecessary. The first thing the man says is ‘There were two chairs’, which I think refers to the happy times of the past when they were still sitting at the table without problems. Also the sentence ‘Are you stuck?’ Often comes back. This makes it clear that the couple is suffering and that they do not offer any help. At one point the man is looking for flowers, which reminds me of the romanticism that is no longer available. The metaphors were definitely an added value to the performance.
The music in the piece consisted of sound. Gala Moody and Michael Carter were in charge of the operation of the sound. At one point, I was dragged into the show that I became almost crazy about a certain tune because I was associating with the violence that came with it.
The vase convinced me to expand my experience with dance shows after the Ulti’mates festival. I was hugely impressed with the expressive dance and movements of Gala Moody and Michael Carter. Everyone must have experienced such an impressive dance show at least once in his life. The vase is highly recommended!
Always exciting when you walk in the theater and see the stage. In the middle a table and 2 chairs. Will they dance around the table then? What would these chairs mean in the performance? On the ground is a woman and in the background is a man.
The decor does not seem to be a dance show. The light in the hall disappears and there is movement … They start quietly next to each other, but after the first lift you feel that these dancers are very well-matched. There is a dark atmosphere. Dust on the ground and the dancers reinforces this effect – making them growl. Beautiful duo work takes place on stage in which the woman and man alternately take the lead. This show shows two people trying to figure out why their relationship went wrong, I read this beforehand. The dance is indeed the subject of discussion. The dancers dance fantastically together but not always as lovingly. Sometimes it is almost fought on stage with the question “Are you stuck?” Falls. There is a constant change between hate and love. Frequently, movements are repeated. When it fell silent, the choreographer took off with a lift or a creepy trap, which recalls the performance just the moment you tend to doubt it. The dark atmosphere with the simple sounds does not hold the whole show. In a tilting moment to the end, suddenly dancing in full light and abstract music. Just what I hoped for, a last boost. Without this end I would have found this show a lot less well. The last phrase takes care of the total picture. What makes this performance even more special is that the dancers themselves introduced light and sound. I enjoyed this premiere of The Vase.
Festival WhyNot shows performances at special venues in the city of Amsterdam. The third edition is a dialogue with nature and takes place in the garden of the Tolhuistuin in Amsterdam-Noord. The atmosphere is retro hippie, guidance in programming is the fusion of disciplines.
On the improvised stage between two old trees in the garden, on the second evening of the modest festival, you will see the duet One final evolutionary note of Cie. OFEN. Two dancers, Michael Carter and Gala Moody, take the time and start stepfoot, each on one side of the stage. Then they rotate circles around each other and slowly create physical contact between the two. The duet is inspired by Darwin’s theory and is danced with great seriousness. It is especially the beautiful beam of light that shines through the leaves of the trees at the beginning of the duet and gives the performance something magical.
Whiteish costumes, whiteish floor, whiteish lights, whiteish noise. You could call the choreography white-on-white too: there’s no colour contrast in Gala Moody and Michael Carter’s duet, only the inexorable blending of monochromes. A slow circling of the stage perimeter shades into inward spirals, which morph into cyclical shifts of place and plane. It’s like watching the orbits of planets, or particles moving in some magnetic forcefield. Eventually, the dancers seem to become sentient, though only distantly conscious of each other. Moody seems to struggle and expire; Carter carries her dead weight. They cross paths but don’t connect; they chase each other, but to no end. If the duet as a whole is rather overextended, its individual sections nevertheless show both compositional rigour and a stark, sometimes haunting beauty.