In Dialogue with Dramaturgs or a huge backpack of useful and non-useful bits of information about a conference

On my way to the Conference Day 1…the topic is present everywhere. How do you like this represenation of a body?

Who is that huge guy in the highly visible colorful jacket and what kind of group is the Secret Dramaturgs Society that I read about in the program? In retrospective I would like to share some impressions and thoughts about the conference „Body. Representation. Interaction. Difference.”, organized by the German Dramaturgs Society at the end of January in Hannover. This three day meeting once a year is always a highlight for me. You never know whom you will meet in the workshops and what will be the outcome of it all, but you know at least that all the people who show up (production dramaturges, directors, freelance actors, scientists, authors, publishers) love the performing arts and want to come up with new ideas for the future.

This year’s event dealt with questions like: What kind of bodies do we see on our stages? How come, that our ensembles get younger and younger (to pay them less and save money), while our society is getting older and older? Why are the minorities not represented? What about inclusion in the theater field? What structures and requirements are necessary backstage and on stage for a theater that hires disabled people and also produces performances for disabled people? Usually the conference produces a lot of questions and almost no answers, but the process is constructive. You start to think (about it) again.

Conference Poster and main entrance to the venue Ballhof Eins

The performance that impressed me most this time was “Wrong” by Helmut Oehring with El Perro Andaluz and Christiana Schoenfeld (a deaf solist opera singer). I never thought about a concert, where a deaf singer would sing using sign language and it was a curious experience. I was able to hear the experimental music, but not able to understand the lyrics of the libretto, because I never learned sign language. To make it a bit more complicated the music was influenced and electronically blurred by a ring that the opera singer had on her finger. So she is not able to hear the music, but she has an influence on what I hear in the audience, because she as a performer is moving her hands all the time. On a second level the singer also produced sounds with her voice that she can’t hear to add another layer to this form of art for the audience that can hear. In the discussion afterwards they explained that the lyrics are so poetic that the singer has to invent new signs and gestures to express the content in a certain frame of time, which is predetermined by the composition of the music. The creative process therefore is comparable to all the other rehearsal forms of performing arts. I wonder how it is to play this concert for a deaf audience only, because from my point of view the orchestra makes no sense then, through the singer needs the signs from the conductor to know when she has to “sing” the lines with her hands. And what a moment to give applause in sign language, where you shake your hands in the air instead of clapping them. It moved me deeply, because I realized how important it is for me to hear and how irritating it was not to hear the final applause for a performance that was excellent.

My second highlight was a three hour workshop called “Rewriting Distance: dramaturgy as a somatic and creative practice”, given by Guy Cools, who is a dance dramaturg by training and now an Associate Professor for Dance Studies. I’m very thankful that he shared so many insights about his background and working methods, because he focuses on questions and self-critical reflections of the work of a dance dramaturg that I often struggle with myself. You know like the necessary invisibility of the dramaturgs contribution to the final work of art or the uncertainty what a dramaturg is doing at all during the process. There is no constant definition of Dramaturgy and that is the strength of the field, but it also makes it difficult to explain others what you do or what you maybe hope to do as a dance dramaturg in the future. It all depends on a trusting relationship between dramaturg and director or choreograph that needs to be established in the first place. We started with a twenty minute movement workout, followed by three practical exercises with the aim to reintegrate our own (dramaturg) bodies and to talk about the movement/learning processes after each step. In doing so, he gave us a practical experience of what it means to shift the focus of the work from supporting the actual production to supporting the creative process itself, which is now his main motivation to work. I will write about his workshop and some of the reflections in more detail in an extra post for those of you who are interested in dance dramaturgy. I also strongly recommend Guy Cools practice-based PhD on the relationship between dance and writing.

What else. I have seen performances every evening (more or less interesting ones like “Nussknacker und Mausekoenig”, a ballet by Joerg Mannes, “Amerika” by Franz Kafka and “Lehmann Brothers” by Stefano Massini / the youtube videos give a good impression) and I really liked Hannover and strolled around in the sunshine, whenever I had enough of the talking inside the walls. On the one hand it was too much input for one conference and on the other hand I was so grateful for the excessive demands. I really miss that time for discourse and reflection on what is going on and occupies our attention at work. So thanks to the awesome team for organizing this 60ies anniversary conference and I wish the new elected board of management all the best for the next (sixty) years of the German Dramaturgs Society. I missed out my chance to ask the huge guy in that colorful jacket who he is (perhaps you – my dear reader – know him), but I met a member of the group of the Secret Dramaturgs Society and they want to talk with us (webside in German only unfortunately).

Strolling at the oldest traditional antique street market in Germany! I really like Hannover!