>ALLEE DER KOSMONAUTEN by Berlin Schaubühne

>reviewed by malcolm tay

>date: 16 nov 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Everyone who is anyone in the local arts scene was on hand to catch this production by Sasha Waltz, one of the artistic directors of the renowned Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz in Berlin, heralded as the "shooting star of the European dance scene". Audience members included TNS's Haresh Sharma and Alvin Tan, SDT's artistic director Goh Soo Khim, Tammy L. Wong, Caren Carino, and Cultural Medallion winner Lim Fei Shen. Such was the attraction of Karlsruhe-born Waltz, who may be considered to be Berlin's equivalent of the Wuppertal-based Pina Bausch, perhaps the most famous exponent of German contemporary dance.

Built in the early 80's, the apartments in the Marzahn district of East Berlin are said to be identical to each other, the sofa being the central fixture of every living room. But the tedium and monotony of such homogeneity ends on the outside, for a single family may lead a life that runs the whole scale of emotions, known only to those behind closed doors. If Waltz's ALLEE DER KOSMONAUTEN, named after a street in this East Berlin neighbourhood, was anything to go by then life on this very street must be very interesting. Played by a cosmopolitan cast of dancers, all three generations of this dysfunctional household dwell under one roof. There is the stern, yet kooky patriarch (Juan Kruz Diaz de Garcio Esnaola) with his precious accordion, who walks like Mr Bean with something lodged in his bottom; his pudgy and worn-out wife (Takako Suzuki), who keeps clean with her trusty vacuum cleaner; the self-absorbed couple, as danced by Luc Dunberry and Nadia Cusimano, who enjoy a turbulent marriage punctuated with moments of heated passion; and the couple's neglected little girl and boy (Laurie Young and Nicola Mascia).

>>'The group of accomplished dancers managed to maintain the intense energy level required throughout the hour-long production'

Everything happens in Elliot Caplan's "virtual stage interior with video installation", a living room comprising only of a sofa against a white wall, with monitors positioned around the stage. The video images on these monitors, from the staid interior of a house to the shimmering lanes of a swimming pool, changed as the performance progressed. It is in this setting that these six characters presented "the story of a sort of universal family", through the physicality of their interaction with each other, the richness of their peculiar body language and their use of space in relation to one another. The generation gap that separates parents and children was represented by the spatial and physical distance between father and son (or was it son-in-law?), as de Garcio Esnaola bounced and rolled himself on the sofa that faced the wall, while Dunberry's character jerked and twitched his body far away from the father figure. The image of the same father figure, desperate for the attention of his wife (who appeared to be asleep on the sofa like the proverbial pig) as he rolled and pivoted himself beside her, also symbolised the dire lack of communication between married couples.

The group of accomplished dancers managed to maintain the intense energy level required throughout the hour-long production which was at times weirdly humorous, while at other times painfully aggressive and violent. However, as endearing as the familiar stereotypes were, one felt as though the dance ran out of steam at the halfway mark. The variety of quirky moves that utilised the entire body and repeated with hypnotic effect, seemed to do little to connect the dancers with their characters and the narrative at work. Neither did the image of the lone figure wandering around the stage with a black box on his head, nor the collective butt-scratching by the female characters, appear to have any consequence. Did any of this have anything to do with domestic life in public housing in East Berlin?

As a result, one might have been lost in the sheer mass of this piece, in addition to the constant shifting of video images that went on insidiously. Nevertheless, it is high-quality productions like ALLEE DER KOSMONAUTEN, on top of an earlier showcase by Tanzcompagnie Rubato, which serve as a good reminder to local audiences that the lush and vibrant contemporary dance scene in Germany extends well beyond the fame of Pina Bausch.