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Maria Haupt

On the road at SPIELART

"D̶A̶R̶K̶MATTER - a performative dance experience" and "What wrestling, embroidery and finger painting have in common"

D̶A̶R̶K̶MATTER - a performative dance experience


We are standing in front of the still closed doors of the Muffathalle, all a little tired after almost two weeks of the SPIELART Festival. The performance KULTUUR, which we watched earlier, is the subject of lively discussion, and opinions are divided. We are interrupted because ear protection is distributed to all visitors with the warning that it could get loud. We enter the room a little unsettled. The first thing that catches the eye is the minimalist but impressive stage design. White strips of paper dipped in black paint form a large canvas together with the white floor, on which an impressive painting will later be impulsively created with black paint. High contrasts, a cool but very efficient lighting design - the D̶A̶R̶K̶MATTER team, led by Cherish Menzo, manages to create a magnificent stage design with just a few materials. The two performers, Camilo Majía Cortés and Menzo himself, dressed all in black with a shiny silver mask, are already on stage. When the show starts, it gets really loud: Equalised, slowed-down hip-hop rhythms define Menzo's almost hypnotic choreography, which is reminiscent of something otherworldly, in keeping with the name. D̶A̶R̶K̶MATTER's impressively futuristic choreography manages to question physicality and detach the body from its own reality. Towards the end, of course, nudity also plays a role here. Menzo and Cortés glide through the black paint as if on ice, creating an improvised painting that brings the performance to a conclusive conclusion. After everything that has already happened on stage, this comes as little surprise to me and makes perfect sense; the row behind me struggles more with this. Even after the performance, your only topic of the evening is why you are always forced to show yourself naked on stage these days. I have to smile at these statements. Maybe I'm just hardened, or maybe it's a view of the (naked) body that has changed. I no longer associate nudity on stage as something sexualised, but almost as something neutral that seems purely natural, especially in this performance. To put it mildly, I almost didn't notice it and I think in principle the audience behind me must have liked it too, if this was the only point they had to criticise, as you can tell from the prolonged applause. After the previous performance, I also went home reconciled with the performance art, thoughtful, but with a very positively surprised feeling about the stage design and the choreography, D̶A̶R̶K̶MATTER really stood out for me after the previous flood of different performances.



What wrestling, embroidery and finger painting have in common


What may initially sound like an entertaining children's birthday party is evidence of great art in this context. The SPIELART Festival moves playfully between entertainment, education and artistic events and thus shows a great variety of stories, actors, and venues; I was allowed to visit it with an excursion from university. The end is now in sight, and I look back on it with a smile and a tear in my eye. Laughing, because I learnt a lot of new things about different cultures, art forms and staging techniques during these two jam-packed weeks - and let's be honest, we're all looking forward to a bit freer time again - crying, well, because this very intensive time is coming to an end. I started these eventful weeks relatively expectation-free and almost skeptical, my only goal was to be able to get more involved in post-dramatic and performative theatre afterwards. I was particularly in awe of the performances and was therefore glad that we weren't thrown in at the deep end at the beginning and were first confronted with post-dramatic theatre. In the meantime, however, I have my first performances behind me, really textbook-like with interaction, dissolution of the fourth wall and fluid boundaries between performance and reality - Erika Fischer-Lichte would be proud of me. And even if I'm still not quite sure whether the concept of performance is really for me, I've learnt to appreciate it as an art form. Although it still stresses me out a little not knowing what will happen next, not knowing whether you might have to interact, be touched, I have great respect for the performers, who, at least it seems, put their whole soul and passion into this performance. Even if this perhaps means exposing themselves physically, but also psychologically, and allowing injuries in both senses. In "classical" theatre, such dedication is less common; actors have a certain distance to the role and are often not as emotionally involved, after all, the role and their own person are not one. It's easy to turn away from the character you're playing after the rehearsal. And although I still feel much more comfortable in a theatre environment that has a clear separation between reality and narrative, in other words a space where I can feel safe, where I don't have to interact or decide anything, it is perhaps precisely this emotional commitment, this complete immersion and uncompromising being that fascinates me so much about performances. In a conversation with one of the directors, we were asked what we love so much about theatre. And for me, I think it's precisely this duality, that you can use theatre to tell fictions that transport the audience into another world for a moment. You can create truths, give the audience a break from world events for a brief moment and create an escape from reality for a short time. But you can and should also do the opposite: address real, important problems and bring them to the stage - after all, theatre has an educational mission. The SPIELART Festival has managed to do this in a setting in which the moral cudgel was not swung, but quite simply through storytelling. Stories that were often true and therefore even more harrowing, that touched the audience in a quiet way and thus made them think. The stories challenged me, at least, to look beyond my own nose and realize that my own problems are perhaps not as relevant as what is going so wrong in other parts of the world. Of course, you might think that you sink more and more into pessimism after every performance, but that's not the case. You may have been shaken up a little, but especially after numerous conversations with people from all over the world, I realize that the spark of hope has not yet been extinguished. And it is precisely this feat of addressing a social problem and thereby appealing to hope for change without downplaying the drastic nature of the problems that is a challenge that the SPIELART Festival manages in a very subtle way.