first published in Mapping Dance Berlin 2018
Description of the setting and the idea of the format
The latest edition of Susi & Gabi’s Salon marks the beginning of the Tanzfabrik showcase series “Open Spaces” from November 1-6, 2017. Two of the performance groups invited to the showcase can already present their work here and put it up for discussion. The salon, as designed by Susanne Martin and Gabriele Reuter, is based on a long tradition and – in addition to its humorous and artistic dynamic and quality – is socio-politically, feministically and educationally motivated.
The format follows a clear and transparent process comprising ten stations:
1. Welcome; 2. Warm-Up; 3. Transition; 4. Performance; 5. Talk over drinks; 6. Body work of the day; 7. Performance; 8. Improvisation ‘positioning of my art’; 9. 100 questions and 3 answers; 10. Audience award.
(How) does the format work? The evening starts at 6 pm and ends at 8 pm in an informal conversation. Among the approximately 50 guests, there are five without a dance background and just as many who rarely or never dance. (This information resulted from questions that the audience was initially asked to provide and to write down on distributed sheets of paper. The audience immediately began a lively conversation and also asked each other questions, among other things about their individual backgrounds.)
Welcome: Directly at the entrance we soon see from the stage, costumes, lighting and music that we are in a salon: the warm light, the waltz music, the sequin jackets and the pleated skirts of the two salonnières as well as their distinctive pearl necklaces create an atmosphere in which the group will partake for the next two hours. By contrast, the bare feet of the hostesses contrast with the historicizing salon attributes and clearly distinguish our situation as being embedded in contemporary art and society. In the welcoming part, the language question is quickly clarified: the language of the evening will be English, due to the international guests that are present. Guests will be informed of the evening’s progress (a flipchart with the schedule will be visible throughout the evening) and given a task: to record questions during the evening that may arise from the presented verbal or choreographic content (between a clear distinction is made between “real” and “rhetorical” questions). These questions will be collected in Phase 9 of the evening, but only a few will actually be answered. Afterwards Reuter and Martin select a representative from the audience, who at the end of the evening may present the Audience Award (two lemons) for two particularly successful “aspects” of the evening.
Warm-Up: Reuter and Martin increasingly integrate language into their warm-up, which initially begins as a purely physical contact duo, until they each present a striking anecdote from their studies: Reuter recalls a lesson from her lecturer, who had explained the significance of the audience for the essence and effect of art: “The artwork becomes animated because you look at it.” Martin talks about the notion of the “aspect” in Wittgenstein: An “aspect” always occurs when there is a change in thinking or in perception – an “aha moment”. In this phase of the salon evening, therefore, a kin-aesthetic-intellectual warm-up occurs, which both conveys information and invites active thinking and participation.
Resonance: The following stations are dedicated to theworking methods of the two invited artist groups: MartinSonderkamp/Darko Dragičević and Shannon Cooney with her team. From this phase of the evening I would like to mention the idea of the “responses”: After both groups showed each other an excerpt from their current productions, Reuter and Martin spontaneously stepped onto the stage and performed a “resonance”, which they attribute to their subjective memory as a moment from the presented material. In so doing, they present what they have personally perceived and experienced for all of us, what they remember and what they can do with their bodies. The theoretical concepts introduced at the beginning of the co-creative power of the art-recipients as well as the aesthetic experience of an aspect can be practically experienced here. On the other hand, both artists’ groups present their works in a way that actively involves the audience directly: Martin Sonderkamp asks half of the audience to leave the studio for a while, so that he can provide the other half information about the production. In this way, he wants to discover how being informed can augment or affect the visual experience. After the performance, both audiences can exchange their own visual experiences with a glass of sparkling wine and pretzel sticks. A lively “working break” is the result. Shannon Cooney, on the other hand, asks all interested parties to take the stage and initiates a five-minute somatic session in which we practice three-dimensional vision with our eyes closed. This sensitization not only has a pleasant, personal effect, but also prepares you physically and atmospherically for the subsequent part of the performance.
Positioning: The subsequent eighth session of the evening invites all participating artists to reflect on themselves and their art through the terms “improvisation”, “material”, “movement”, “dance”, “choreography”, “vision”, “relation”, etc. The terms are written on cardboard boxes and quickly invite all to partake in a group improvisation, in which different meanings and definitions arise through different arrangements – and are dissolved again.
Is the format transferable? The person in the seat next to me says goodbye at the end of the salon with the words “Now everything’s even more complicated for me than before! But it was exciting!”. In this sense, I can fully recommend the format for other productions, especially as a prelude to smaller festivals.
Maren Witte, Dr. Phil, is professor for theatre theories, dance and movement research at Hochschule für Künste im Sozialen, Ottersberg, Germany.