Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Reading the small paragraph of English description, which fortunately can be found for each of the performances mentioned within our Biennale de la Danse program booklet, was enough alone to highly spike my level of on a piece that was being performed by choreographer and dancer Susanne Linke on Thursday, September 18. The text read:

At the Maison in 1985, Linke danced Schritte Verfolgen, an intensely introspective solo in which she returns to childhood: up to age six, illness had left her unable to hear or speak; she only have gesture and dance. This new version, in which she is accompanied by three female dancers, is lent an extra emotional charge by the maturity of age and by thejubilatory confirmation of “being” in each phase of life. A stunningly modern work.

Upon arrival at the theatre, I took my centered, third row seat and anxiously awaited the opening of the ruby red curtain. So far, whenever we seemed to have such amazing seats (such as at the Forsythe show), the dances had been undeniably thrilling and left me with a positively stunned impression. Therefore, I had no reason to think this performance to follow any different pattern.

The curtain opened slowly as a piece of operatic music crackled into the audience. The first item that was visible was a jet-black piano sitting centered upstage. From my standpoint in the audience, I could tell that a few of its keys were missing. This revealing alone was shocking for, due to a picture featured in the program, I had been expecting to see a “hospital bed” as the piece’s main prop. What did a piano have to do with having a horribly scarring illness as a child? It was only after the performance and during a group discussion that we concluded the piano was significant for it symbolizes another form of artistic communication that she could not participate in due to her form of autism (we learned that she was autistic after the piece from Wendy who could read the larger French description that was featured in the program). As the curtain continued to reveal more of the somewhat calming blue lit scenery, something downstage right caught my attention. It was a grim reaper, but this was not your ordinary reaper at all. She was dressed in an exquisitely crafted dark blue and purple frock that had a large, heavily folded hood covering her entire head. Her dress was very medieval and had a regal sense about it. As the gorgeous vision ever so slowly walked her way towards the left side of the stage, she balanced a large silver seethe in her hands. Her movements were in no way provoked by the music, and yet as the opera became louder and more frantic, I found myself reaching a state of panic. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I waited for her to whip her body around toward the audience or make some other sudden movement. I began doubting my original inclination that she would in fact make it far enough to exit on stage left. The music seemed to imply otherwise. The atmosphere seemed too intense, fast paced, and sudden to allow her to get to that “finalized” destination. Before she had a chance, but after she had successfully crossed the centerline, the curtain quickly closed. The music did not end, and it was confusing to not know what was happening to that beautiful reaper. Did she continue to balance that seethe? Was she there to imply a tragic ending for the child or the uncertainty of life length for the grown woman? Was she meant to be a recent phantom in Linke’s life or just the image of the one from her past?

When the curtain opened again, the entire stage had changed. The walls and floor were pure white along with the lighting and a smoke filled the space that not only made it hard to fully see, but also made the air smell somewhat of cleaning material and antiseptic. It was an intriguing scent. I’d never been to a dance performance where the sense of smell had been relied upon before. The scent alone conjured up images of hospital rooms, and I knew immediately where the dance was now taking place.

The dancer entered stage right by running right into the two long tables that had been set in a horizontal line parallel to the audience’s view along the right side of the stage. The tables were covered with a large white cloth, and reminded me of hospital tables or beds. Of course, they seemed rather large for this purpose, but I had to remember that the dancer was meant to be a child. Everything is always larger from the eyes of a child. Even the brown colored, hospital-like slipper socks that she wore beneath her hospital gown seemed to be slightly larger than necessary. As soon as the dancer hit the tables, she backed up off the stage and then ran at them again, striking them with full force. She continued this motion, continued hitting the roadblock in her until the tables were basically centered in the space. All of this was performed to the sound of heavy, whipping winds and drums.

As this particular dancer continued her solo, images of horror movies were conjured up in my mind. She wore her long hair over her face and made jerky movements that didn’t seem the least bit natural or human. Finally, when she lied down on the tables, the light placed over them turned on bright and white. A doctor’s light, I thought. She slid along the tables pulling at the cloth below her and feeling her way about them. Her frustration could be felt, and it ripped through me like a current as I witnessed her thrashing movements; her childlike tantrums. As a spectator, it felt as though I was being allowed into the child aged Linke’s mind. It sounded like it too. By this point in the piece, the noises sharing the same space as the dancer were those of metro stations: the screeching and screaming of subway trains as they pressed on their breaks. It was overwhelming in and of itself, and it was ridiculously loud. It was tormenting. I found myself feeling intensely sorry for Linke. It must have been so loud in her head all alone; unable to communicate verbally and unable to hear forms of communication. The dancer was the one who gave me the sensation that I was being allowed into Linke’s brain. Occasionally, she starred directly out into the audience with large, scared, creepy eyes and her mouth gaping open as though she was trying to scream in fear and frustration while her tongue flailed around. Each time, her eyes were like portals, and her silence was gut wrenching. It was a highly disturbing piece of the choreography.

The rest of her solo included her circling and re-circling the tables. She never seemed able to climb over them, just as she didn’t seem to be able to do anything but run directly into them at the beginning of her piece. She just couldn’t get around them successfully. Finally, she tied up her hair in a low ponytail at the nape of her neck, which symbolized an age change, and was able not only to climb over the tables, but also to separate them as well. When this occurred, the lighting became brighter and the operatic music began again giving the audience’s ears a slight break. I wondered if she could hear the music. Hear the voices. Hear the cowbell that seemed to sound off in the background.

The next portion of the piece most definitely featured an older Linke as the dancer was changed. The new soloist wore her hair in a low ponytail but a shorter white ribbed tank styled top as her clothing. It soon became apparent that something significantly better had occurred. Pure white feathers slowly dropped onto the stage. Even so, the present dancer still seemed to have a blank, rather innocent but fearful stare. Piano music crackled into the audience as she moved about the stage. Her breathing was clearly labored, but it was apparent that her movements weren’t causing that affect. They were purely gestures, and made me feel as though she was just now learning language. I can only describe her movement as unsure, repetitive, and stammering. It reminded me of how I stumble over words when attempting to speak French and become slightly overwhelmed as I rack my brain for substitute words that could relay similar messages to those around me.

Unfortunately, the piano music did not last her entire solo and the trains began rumbling and screeching back through. I found myself nervous that she was falling back into the autism, but then I realized that she was most likely just reliving the memory of it. The trauma of it.

When the third dancer appeared on the stage, costuming once again allowed me to grasp the concept that Linke had grown older. The woman was wearing pants and the low ponytail. Her movements were unlike the previous ones. She moved widely about the space and her motion was always fast. She was more technical and had plenty of leg lifts that had not been used yet. At one point, she brought out a beautiful chandelier into the space. It was sitting on wheels with a rope attached to it that she was pulling. Although she struggled with it at times, she was still able to control it and take it wherever she needed it to be. This action allowed me to view the chandelier as the memory of Linke’s past experience. As was clearly apparent, it was a burden to her that she had to drag around, but it was also a source of beauty. For example, at some points, the crystals of the chandelier would catch the surrounding light and brighten the current space she was walking in. It made her disease seem as though it could have been a blessing. It was giving her a different perspective by catching the light in different ways. Plus, if it did symbolize the memory of her traumatic experience, then it symbolized the experience that she was using as a great source of inspiration for this very piece of art. Not to mention, the disease may have even led her to becoming a dancer in the first place since she could only communicate through the use of gesture for such a long period of time in early life.

Finally, the dance ended with Linke taking the stage herself. Her movements were the largest and fullest of all the dancers by encompassing the most space, time, and energy. When she entered, she was wearing pants, a jacket, and her hair pulled back into a bun. The music sounded like that featured during the credits to a movie, but every now and then the sounds of whirling, screeching trains could be heard. In any case, Linke did not seem bound by the noise. She embraced it. She walked amongst the tables that were still present on the stage and did not avoid them. Not to mention, the lights finally faded as she walked through the center of the two tables with her arms extended upward as the sounds of the screeching played in the background. It seemed like a utter acceptance of what her fate had been.

Obviously, this piece of Dance Theater, which undeniably confronted such a difficult and tragic subject, left a lovely impression on me. I not only wanted to be a part of the piece at hand, but I wished I could construct something just as heart wrenching and true in order to inspire more audiences. It is a piece that I believe will vigorously live for a long time afterward in my memory, and a dance that I highly recommend anyone attend if given the opportunity.

Avec l'Amour,

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