What a great night. There are events that reaffirm my love for Berlin, and the joy I feel living here again.
Sasha Waltz has built up one of the world’s leading modern dance troupes. The movements live from contact between the dancers, and the way the bodies move into one another and then break apart again. It is hard to tell how much of the work is choreographed, or whether it is improvised from of a certain physical language. Over the last 15 years she has had the opportunity to fill new spaces with original dance work, such as the opening of the Liebeskind structure for the Jüdische Museum in Berlin (in 1999) or the opening of her husband’s Radialsystem V (in 2006).
Last week was the opening of Berlin’s most impressive museum building yet. David Chipperfield has restored the Neue Museum, and it is a masterpiece. His resurrection of a 150 year old ruin into a modern building is perfect, and clearly visible in every room, on every surface. It is a flawless combination of Stüler’s original intent, evidence of room-by-room combat in the final days of World War II, and a flawless modern gallery space.
Tonight I got see Sasha Waltz and her dancers fill this awesome space with movement and music!
The picture of the staircase is not the best example of Chipperfield’s “complementary restoration“, but imagine modern expressive dance in such a space. Sasha Waltz’s dancers performed different repeating pieces in every room, accompanied by odd sirens, glass-bottle percussionists, thick tribal drumming, or string quartets performing music by a dozen different contemporary composers.
The dance was heavy and physical, and being amongst the dancers meant hearing their grunts, sensing their heat, and getting jostled occasionally. There were choirs reciting vocal cantatas that sounded like Gregorian monk chants, but rhythmic and modern, filling a space acoustically while dancers climbed up walled enclaves or hung from door frames.
Sometimes the dancers would come together in the larger rooms, the central atria, or the big staircase, and perform dances as a large group of 30 or 40 dancers, and then spread across the building again in smaller ensembles or as individuals.
This kind of evening – a new museum, cutting-edge dance, contemporary music – would not have the same quality in any other city. It felt natural and un-self-conscious. There were no VIP sections or sponsored bars, no roped-off areas, but also no artsy aloofness or pretense.
It’s going to be a good Spring in Berlin! And tonight was a great start into the season.