Isabelle Schad: DER BAU - Gruppe 12x60

by Sasa Bozic

I have completed the construction of my burrow and it seems to be successful.

This is the first sentence and the beginning of probably the last work that Franz Kafka wrote: The Burrow/Der Bau, in which a mole-like creature is digging an elaborate system of tunnels that it has built over the course of its life. In her new creation, Isabelle Schad invites us to meet this captivating, though monstrous burrow. This underground labyrinth is "another world" which affords new powers to the one who descends into it from the world above; it is the imagined perfection of a new, artificial realm. Time and again, Kafka praises it as a sanctuary of tranquillity and peace, sometimes even evoking associations of voluntary death.

How does Kafka achieve the novels intensity?

How does he pervade his story with secrecy?

For Kafka, the action of every narrative is primarily a painstakingly described deed. Isabelle Schad takes this narrative approach and applies it to the very act of writing choreography. We are witnessing the actions of 12 dancers, using 60 black, soft objects, filled with styrofoam. During more than one hour, we follow them to exhaustion while they discover each and every possibility of dealing with those objects: from investigating their form, discovering the softness of their content, and listening to their sounding to more expansive attempts at animating them, thus creating and destroying imaginary landscapes with them.

The nocturnal silence of those objects reminds us, in fact, of other silences – those that characterize the landscapes of our contemporaneity: vast, empty zones of unrepresentable. The spectator is called to witness and experience this ever-changing landscape, appearing as the outer world, and at the same time creeping from the unconsciousness. In what kind of burrows are performers dwelling? Where are the borders where their bodies end and their dwellings begin? There is an old wisdom that tells us that the body itself is a dwelling.

A prison or a temple.

We could approach Kafka’s story as an anticipation of the modern state of the extended mind, devoid of static and forcefully gestural body and transferred to the virtual, cleared space.

And it is not only by external enemies that I am threatened. There are also enemies in the bowels of the earth. I have never seen them, but legend tells of them and I firmly believe in them. They are creatures of the inner earth; not even legend can describe them. Their very victims can scarcely have seen them; they come, you here the scratching of their claws just under in the ground, which is their element, and already you are lost. Here it is of no avail to console yourself with the thought that you are in your own house; far rather are you in theirs.

The performance affirms this fictionalised inner-outer world, it questions the unlimited character of the powers of representation. Kafka’s text is indeed a manifesto for a new kind of text, the one that no longer amuses itself with different ways of representing reality but translates ideas into symbols. But, in the end, these creatures in the performance are also men alone, men hunted and haunted, men confronted with powers that forever elude their control. Whoever the hero of Kafka’s story or heroes of this performance may be, we are faced with the question of who it is that they are actually telling the story to.

Building different corporeal possibilities
by Jospia Bubas

Every act is political as well as performative. There is no possibility of acting without implication, and there is no thought without consequence, without creating a new or repeating an already existing reality. According to M. Merleau-Ponty, “the body is our general medium for having a world.” It is the projection of mind and energy into reality. If there exists a possibility to change our corporeal placement in the world, it is enabled by changing the attention spots in physicality and, consequentially, this change influences the way we co-create and partake in reality. This is the basis of many somatic practices, such as The Body-Mind Centering, as well as of many Eastern somatic and meditative practices.

In this paper, I seek to convey the experience of work on the performance Der Bau created by Berlin-based choreographer Isabelle Schad, and hopefully show as to how the transformation of body principles during the work on the performance influenced the organisation structure of the piece and the communication among performers.

As opposed to the principles of somatic and meditative practices, there is still a dominant paradigm that sees the organism as a closed system, distanced from the environment and ruled by the rational mind. The western philosophical tradition is to a great extent marked by the imperative of cognitive control or high reason (Damasio 1994) in which, according to Edward Slingerland, the agent is consciously aware of all relevant factors during the decision-making process, while simultaneously suppressing emotional reactions and social biases in order to carry out an objective, dispassionately rational decision. According to this paradigm, the entire process of reasoning is "under our conscious control and has nothing to do with the details of our embodiment, or with emotions, implicit skills, or unconscious habits.”

The extent to which the disembodied, purely rational convictions could realistically be expected to guide behaviour has been questioned at least since the early Chinese philosophy, and much of Eastern practice has been based on integrative body-mind principles. Also, the cognitive sciences have begun to call into question the objectivist model of the Self – the self as a disembodied, unitary consciousness, housed within a body but distinct from it, and all phenomena – emotions, habits, somatic skills – that accompany the body. Recent works suggest that the pure, bloodless, fully conscious rationality plays a limited role in everyday decision making, We are rarely fully conscious or in control of what “we” are doing, and indeed the very idea of a unitary, conscious “I” in control of the dumb, animal-like non-self (the body, emotions) appears to be an illusion, and the concepts we acquire from interacting with the world seem to be based primarily upon imagery and sensorimotor schemas.

Even when dealing with “abstract” concepts or complicated, novel situations, somatic knowledge appears to play a fundamental role. By means of our bodies, we are placed in the world and unavoidably connected to it in the continual process of interaction and becoming.

Spinoza talks of the body in terms of its capacity for affecting or being affected, stating that these two capacities always go together. He claims that "when you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have been the moment before.” A body is, he says, “what it can do as it goes along. A body is defined by the capacities it carries from step to step. What these are exactly is changing constantly…"

Damasio claims that this capacity to be affected is the base of the development of consciousness. In his book The Feeling of What Happens, he writes that consciousness is born out of the (visceral, neural, homeostatic, emotional…) changes in the organism which take place under the influence of an inner or outer object.
Similarly, Kruger and Legrad in their work The Open Body use the term "structural coupling" that describes the openness of the living organism to its surrounding world. Since it involves the autopoietic perpetual renewal of the system/self’s constituting material, it explains that the process of autopoietic constitution relies on its openness to its surrounding world. At the organic level, the relation of the living organism to its world is not conceived as a mere ingestion of nutriments that are ready to be consumed. Rather, the "informational stimulus is not equivalent to the physical stimulus. The latter is definable independently of the organism; the former is not. The informational stimulus is the stimulus as informed by (the form or structure of) the organism." (Id. p. 69) Therefore, the relation with the outer realm should not be confused with a relation with an already constituted outside environment. The outer world is characterised by the organism processing it, according to the "vital significance" of the stimulus for the organism in question.
In other words, the otherness is correlative of selfhood. According to Jonas: "life is turned outward and toward the world in a peculiar relatedness of dependence and possibility… its self-concern… is essential openness for the encounter of outer being. Thus "world" is there from the earliest beginning…" (1966, p. 84)

The body is organically open and intersubjective. According to the very notion of structural coupling, any modification of the outer domain impacts the inner organisation of the system/self in ways that allow the latter to actually relate to this new environment (Jonas 1966, pp. 106-7). To quote Merleau-Ponty:

I experience my own body as the power of adopting certain forms of behaviour and a certain world, and I am given to myself merely as a certain hold upon the world; now, it is precisely my body which perceives the body of another, and discovers in that other body a miraculous prolongation of my own intentions, a familiar way of dealing with the world. Henceforth, as the parts of my body together comprise a system, so my body and the other’s are one whole, two sides of one and the same phenomenon…" (1962/2003, p. 412)

As psychologist Peter Hobson notes, it appears that, developmentally, we come into the world automatically recognising that "we have a basic response to expressions of feeling in others-a response that is more basic than thought." (Hobson 2002, p. 59-60) Before we acquire multiple concepts (Premack and Woodruff 1978), we are first coupled to other subjects by a more primitive relation of "interaffectivity." (Stern 1993, p. 210) This interaffectivity is rooted in our bodily relatedness to others. Intersubjectivity, the ability to understandingly relate to others, is first and foremost an embodied skill; it is not primarily detached mind-reading but interactive bodily practices (Gallagher 2001, 2008).

The expressive body of the other is thus implicitly recognised as "a miraculous prolongation of my own intentions." Relation to another is robustly bodily in that it involves a kind of "bodily resonance." The experience of others occurs by interacting with their body as well as by experiencing my own bodily reaction to others’ presence/behaviour. The expressive presence of another person is not only perceived as conveying intersubjective information, such as that person’s mood or particular emotional states at that moment. Beyond this, these gestures elicit bodily (affective) reactions and are experienced as marking motor possibilities for my own action. In this sense, the other’s body resonates with my own and conversely: my and others’ body are coupled at the levels of behaviour and experience. When we understandingly engage with another person, perception and affect are both co-present as two intermingled aspects of a single coherent process. At the organic level, at which the organism does not pick up information that is already pre-determined, we do not first perceive the movements, actions, intentions, and utterances of another person as neutrally given information only to later develop affective/emotional interpretations and felt responses to them. Rather, our intersubjective engagements are always given with a certain affective colouring, however subtle it may be. In other terms, intersubjectivity is enacted in resonance with bodily subjectivity: according to the affective relevance of others’ state for the bodily state of the subject himself. This affective saturation allows us to intuitively and meaningfully engage with other subjects as embodied and intersubjectively embedded subjects with minds, experiences, and emotions similar to our own. Jointly to the encounter with others based on the experience of both their body and one’s own, it is crucial to underline that, reciprocally, one’s experience of one’s own body is itself mediated by others.

Nevertheless, this interconnectedness of bodies as well as its potentials and implications mostly goes unnoticed and happens under the threshold of our awareness. Somatic practices, however, can open the subject toward such awareness and increase the level of awareness of others. During the process of work on the performance The Build, Berlin-based choreographer Isabelle Schad used different bodily practices she has been engaged with during her dancing and choreographing career. She started as a ballerina, then worked as a performer with companies such as Ultima Vez. Later she developed interest in the Body-Mind Centering and with this technique she developed several pieces, such as the group performance Experience1. During the work on The Build, performed at the Dance Week Festival in the summer of 2014, she used methods of Qigong and Shiatsu to help the performers develop a different kind of sensitivity towards their own body, the bodies of others and the materials used in the piece. Each rehearsal began with a 1.5-2 hour warm-up structured around Qigong practice and partly on the principles of Body-Mind Centering. We did the warm-up exercises and scanned the energetic level of both our own and other bodies. During the three-week rehearsal period, sensitivity and openness towards each other, but also towards the object we used – black sacks – developed. During the warm-up, the stress lay on central body areas, i.e. the hara, the abdominal part of the body in Eastern medicine. This, however, is not associated with the organs but rather with energy concentrated in this part of the body. Each movement was based in the centre, developing sensitivity to both the ground and other people. This kind of body work also developed a special kind of concentration and perception. The integral part of the practice was the work with the ground fluid, the bodily fluid that connects all cells in the body and is by itself undifferentiated and has the potential of chemical exchange with other tissue. During the practice, it was stressed that, by working with ground fluid, one should develop sensitivity towards the point of existence at which the organism had not been differentiated into organs and hierarchical body systems, as in the Deleuze and Guattari, or the Artaud concept of body without organs. Ground fluid work was marked with an attempt to enter below the structure of organs and into a flowing, fluid state of primordiality. By entering deeply into one’s own body, sensitivity and stronger interaffectivity were automatically developed. The sense of the group was even more increased by Shiatsu practice (also based in the centre of the body), as well as the quatre pattes: walking on four legs from the centre and then leaning over each other, shifting the weight from the centre of the body over each other. The work with the material (black sacks) was based on similar sensitivity, as Schad stressed – on the cellular-molecular relation, the relation between bodily cells and molecules from the outer world. What developed from this kind of work is an increased sensitivity to vibrational and energy levels of both self and other performers. The score of the performance was developed in a similar way. There were no strict queues for changes, each change naturally happened when the certain process reached its processual end. The piece is partly based on Kafka´s short story The Burrow in which the main protagonist builds and rebuilds his shelter in the ground. The Build has taken over the notion of continual building and destroying, as well as a notion of continual labour and change. Nevertheless, body practice was not based on voluntary labour, but rather on the state of involuntary action, action not based on a rational decision, but rather on a special kind of bodily flow that changes from one point of the performance to the other. Involuntary action was maybe the most difficult instance to reach, since it presumed giving up the rational, controlled state and trusting the process. This was done by stressing the connection with the hara, the ground, and by listening to partners. The letting-go of the voluntary control of the body, while the body remained conscious and fully present in the movement, influenced the development of a special kind of energy of togetherness, the communitas in the Victor Turner sense of the word. The work with the body scanning at the energetic level and the development of bodily sensitivity was aimed at opening another level of vibrational awareness on which the performance was based. Building and deconstructing, then going into another level of building was based on organic and vibrational transformations and recognition of the energy flow made possible by the sensitivity developed through special corporeal practice.

In the chapter On Refrain, Deleuze and Guattari write about the three stages of creation process which, they stress, are not successive but can interact or even happen simultaneously. The first is the vibrational establishing of the space. The authors take singing as a major means of creating a domestic space at the "heart of chaos" because of the primary and strong vibrational potential of the sound. Vibration thus creates a space, a shelter, a place protected from the outer chaos by marking the territory, creating a protected vibrational domain. The second stage is creating a home, or organising forces of interior chaos by selecting and eliminating. Finally, at the third stage, the space opens to reveal a crack, chaos, as the result of its own action, "in order to join the forces of future, of the cosmos, to interact with or become another milieu. Through these three stages we can follow the establishment of the code, its repetition as well as the organically developed process of transcoding that happens when the code is transformed by the interaction with another milieu. It is important to stress that Deleuze and Guattari do not think about the rhythm of the code repetition in terms of meter, they clearly distinguish between "productive repetition" that has nothing to do with "reproductive meter." Rhythm is "never at the same plane as that which has rhythm” or, to quote Bachelard, "the link between the truly active moments (Rhythm) is always affected on a different plane from the one upon which the action is carried out." In the piece by Schad, following of the rhythm or vibrational level of a group led to a transformation of one code into another, of one way of movement into another, and the rhythm of the group was constantly perceived as something created in the interaction and open to the environment.

Through the development of the body’s interaffective sensitivity, the performance was built as a dynamic, organic whole in which individual performers function within a group dynamic while never losing the feeling of self-presence. On the contrary, by giving up voluntary control, a kind of energetic wave or flow occurs, in which each performer is engaged in a continual transformation of energy and increased sensitivity.
During the rehearsal process, the introduction of the special body and meditative practiced opened body sensitivity and perception and, by doing so, also opened a possibility of transformation of the understanding and experience of self and others based on the notion of group flow and vibrational transformations. According to the research in rhythm, the base for developing communication is not only rational contact and semantic communication, but the establishing of a common body rhythm. The entering of deep personal rhythms and flows enable a different sense for the other, and in that way, a more profound understanding of the other becomes possible.

DER BAU-GRUPPE12x60 von Christina Amrhein

Eine Masse schwarzer Säcke auf schwarzem Bühnenboden eröffnet die Aufführung, begrenzt von einem rechteckigen, weißen Paravent, das die rechte Seite der Bühne fast vollständig auskleidet und dessen dämmriges Licht sich zu Beginn über die Szenerie streut. Während der Blick über die Tanzfläche gleitet, hält man im Halbdunkel zunächst vergeblich Ausschau nach Tanzenden, bis sich ein Amalgam aus Kissen und Körpern unmerklich in Bewegung setzt.

Kleine, schwarze Bollwerke, Sitzsäcken ähnelnd, sind es, die, in ihrer geschmeidigen, leicht schwerfälligen Qualität, zu den Protagonisten der Aufführung werden. 12x60 zeigt dabei im Titel des Stückes eine Relation an: eine Menge an Körpern im Verhältnis zur Masse der dunklen Objekte, die im Verlauf der Aufführung eine symbioseartige Verbindung eingehen werden.

Interessant wird dabei, wie im Laufe der Verhandlung mit dem Material die Bühne verwandelt wird in einen Bau, von dem die gleichnamige Kurzgeschichte Kafkas erzählt. Auch in Kafkas Geschichte vollzieht sich der Vorgang im Dunkeln, ereignet sich doch alles in diesem Versteck, in dem ein Tier seine Behausung einrichtet, einem undurchsichtigen Plan folgend. So ist man in dieser choreographischen Arbeit damit befasst, dem unermüdlichen Gewoge der Abläufe zu folgen, ist damit beschäftigt, zu schauen, wie die Tänzerinnen in Kontakt mit den Materialmassen und der Schwerkraft stehen und diese im Griff haben, sich dazu in Beziehung setzen, sie animieren, greifen, spürend umschließen und dabei einen Tanz zum Vorschein bringen. Gute 60 Minuten ist man dabei, zu beobachten, wie sich die Bewegungen fassen und formen, wenn die Körper, vermittels der Säcke, zunehmend Raum einnehmen.
Das Stück arbeitet dabei mit einer Bühnenmagie, die nur der Ort der Bühne in seiner absoluten Verlassenheit und Leere hervorzubringen vermag.

Eine dichte Dunkelheit, die in ihrer räumlichen Dimension an einen Ort versetzt, der einer Höhle gleicht, dem blinden Theaterraum verwandt. Ein Bau im Sinne Kafkas wird dieser Ort jedoch erst durch seine Nutzung. In und durch die Bewegung der Körper wird durch die wiederholte Begehung der Raum zu ihrer Behausung. Die Dunkelheit des Ortes schluckt, und es ist eine dunkle, jedoch nicht düstere Stimmung, die uns über die Dauer der Aufführung begleitet und eine magische Wirkung auf den Betrachtenden ausübt, wie der Sog, den die gleichförmigen, auf Wiederholung basierenden Bewegungen der Körper auslösen.

Nicht umsonst ist als weiteres Element des Bühnenbildes die rückseitige Wand der Bühne mit einem Prospekt ausgekleidet, der das Format des seitlichen Paravents aufgreift und als weiße Fläche dient, vor der sich die Objekte und menschlichen Körper abzeichnen. Der Arbeit wird dadurch eine starke graphische Qualität verliehen, die den Sog der Bewegungen nach hinten begrenzt und sich im Bild abschließt. Die vor dem Grund dieser Fläche immer wieder anders auf- und abtauchenden Bilder sind begleitet von einem Humor, der getragen wird von dem leisen Kampf, der sich an manchen Stellen zwischen Körpern und Objekten einstellt. Wenn sich beispielsweise aus dem emsig aufgetürmten Wall aus Säcken allmählich ganz mechanisch, wie in einem Pop-up-Bild, zwölf Köpfe zum Vorschein bringen, sind Assoziationen zu animierten Graphiken und Comics nicht weit.

Alles richtet sich wie bei Kafkas Tier nach einem absichtsvollen Plan, jedoch bleibt die Art und Weise wie sich Bewegung über die Objekte in der Choreographie vermittelt und zusammensetzt rätselhaft. Es gibt da einen Ausschnitt, der die „Sinnlosigkeit“ und gleichsam zwingende Notwendigkeit dessen, was sich auf der Bühne zwischen Objekten und Körpern sowie zwischen Blick und Raum abspielt, deutlich macht:
Es ist erstaunlich, wie sich über die Bewegung der 12 Tanzenden die Stoffsäcke in der Bühnenmitte auftürmen, dabei keines der 60 Teilchen außer Acht bleibt, sondern alles sich im Prozess einer permanenten Umformung zusammenfügt, und die Tänzer sich dabei unmerklich in diese Form integrieren.
Am Ende dieser Sequenz finden sich die Körper am Fuße des Turmes ein, tauchen mit Händen, Köpfen und Rumpf in den Berg ein um ihn, einem unbekannten Reigen folgend, in Drehung zu versetzen. Während das sanfte Rascheln, Schleifen oder Fallen der Säcke in der Bewegung einen eigenen spröden Sound erzeugt, versuchen Einzelne, das Material zu erklimmen, an den obersten Punkt der Anhäufung zu gelangen. Dabei zeigt die lockere Viskosität des aufgetürmten Materials seine Eigenschaften: Die Bewegung durchdringt das Material und umgekehrt. Die Skulptur gibt halt und bleibt gleichzeitig fragil, in Auflösung befindlich, und gibt diese Impulse an den Körper weiter. Wenn sich der Körperreigen vom Turm löst und die Säcke sich voneinander abperlend wieder auf dem Boden verteilen wird spürbar, welchen speziellen Zugang der Umgang mit dem Material erfordert.

Der durch das Material vorgegebene Spielraum für die Körper der Tanzenden setzt sich über die Bewegung in den Umraum fort. Dabei stellt sich eine spezifische Logik der Bühnendarstellung her und eröffnet eine choreographische Schreibweise, die einen haptischen Erfahrungsraum generiert. Grundlage der Erforschung stellt die erfahrbare Anatomie des Körpers dar, die spürende und gespürte Materie. Das visuelle Element tritt dabei für die Betrachtenden immer wieder lustvoll in den Vordergrund, indem der Blick dazu eingeladen ist, den wechselnden Begegnungen zwischen weißem Hintergrund der Bühne und schwarzen Formationen zu folgen.

Eindrücke von Juli Reinartz

“This piece was really strong for me but I have to admit that I have a problem”, sagt Shula, die Mutter meines Freundes, nach dem Besuch von ’Der Bau’, “I think the dancers are really poorly represented, you don’t see the human movement at all.” Ich spüre, wie die Komplexität einer Antwort sich in meinem Kopf zusammenbraut, und kann zuerst nur eines antworten: “Yes, I really hope so.” Ich hoffe es, weil ich vielleicht zum ersten Mal in einem Stück, das sich mit Objekten und der Beziehung zu ihnen auseinandersetzt, tatsächlich sehe, wie die Objekte animieren und die Menschen zu Bewegungsmaterial machen. Und zwar scheint es mir, dass es nicht ausschließlich um diese Illusion in meiner Wahrnehmung, nicht ausschließlich um die erzeugten Bilder, sondern auch um das Erleben der Performerinnen, um die Objekte als Praxis geht, darum in ihnen verloren zu gehen. Das ist es, was Shula beunruhigt und was mir erlaubt meinen Halluzinationen nachzuhängen. Und sie gehen ziemlich überzeugend in den Objekten verloren, die Performerinnen, sexy motherfuckers.

Natürlich weiß ich nichts über künstlerische Intentionen, über den Umgang mit Begriffen wie Form, Objekt, Illusion oder Praxis in diesem Stück, ich denke nur: die Masse macht’s. Allein durch die Anzahl von Sitzsäcken und Performerinnen, ihrer Omnipräsenz, werden sie zu einer Welt, einer Form der Logik eher als einer Form des Bildes. In dem Moment, wo die Sitzsäcke hinten zu einer Wand getürmt werden und die PerformerInnen darin oder dahinter abtauchen, ist es um mich geschehen, ich fühle mich wie ein Stein in der Mauer, leicht klaustrophobisch und neugierig zugleich. Ich will mitmachen und ein Sitzsack werden. Ich spüre wie ich in mich zusammensacke und nach meinen Lieblingswerferinnen Ausschau halte. Ich denke über affektive Orientierung nach, weil mich mal der eine und mal der andere Wurf beeindruckt und suche nach den treffendsten Worten für ihre unterschiedlichen Qualitäten. Nur die Erdmännchenszene bringt mich heraus, die Tatsache, dass mich alle Performerinnen anzuschauen scheinen, bringt mich aus dem Konzept. Wollen sie mir sagen, dass sie wissen, dass ich sie anschaue? Ich weiß das auch, ich bin in keiner Phantasie, keiner Metapher, ich bin in den Uferstudios und sehe dabei zu, wie sich etwas aus Fleisch, Polyethylen, Blut, Schaumstoff, Knochen, Nähten und Häuten vor mir bewegt, schaukelt, türmt, windet, zusammensackt und widerstrebt. Möglicherweise ist meine Müdigkeit Komplizin meiner Halluzinationen, möglicherweise ist es aber auch die Tatsache, dass das Stück scheinbar einfach die Kollaboration zwischen Objekten und Performerinnen voraussetzt, statt sie erst hervorbringen zu wollen. „Es ist immer gut über seine Verhältnisse zu leben“ denke ich, als ich mit Shula nach Hause gehe.

Published 22 March 2014