Theater, like any other artistic medium, makes an argument about representation. On this side of the Atlantic, a naturalistic function in drama – the idea that theater reproduces the real world by virtue of an illusion of stage design, acting methods and other factors – is very often assumed. Even the device of “breaking the fourth wall” takes for granted any “walls” at all. Certain radical traditions in theater have attempted to reinvent theatrical practice by challenging these fundamental assumptions.

RC Deutches Theater and Tanz Tangente Open Workshop

Friday September 19, 8:00 p.m.
Keene Theater, East Quad

Janet Hegman Shier, the founder and director of the Residential College’s German Theater (Deutsches Theater), counts the company as an inheritor of these rebellious traditions. The Deutsches Theater, which is entering its 30th year this season, began as a classroom experience when Shier’s students asked to perform a more “typical” play, and has since grown into an institution known for pushing the envelope in aesthetic terms, within the University and beyond.

“In this country there is a tendency, at least in theater, to do very representational — for me, very boring — theater, and it’s very different in Germany,” Shier said. “When you go to see a performance in Germany, it’s good if you don’t understand everything that’s going on, and I tell my students that it doesn’t matter what language it’s in. You’re going to get so much out of seeing it since it’s not so literal.”

The Deutsches Theater champions the experimentation of the dramatic arts so well known to German audiences and so obscure to most American audiences. Thus, this Friday the doors to the Keene Theater of the Residential College will welcome German-speaking and non-German-speaking guests alike for an open workshop with Tanz Tangente, a Berlin-based dance company, that specializes in community engagement and working with amateur dance students.

This event concludes the triad of events put on the past couple of weeks by the RC called “Remember Me,” which also included a concert by Professor Michael Gould, and a multimedia exhibit by Gould, featuring the poetry of RC poetry professor Ken Mikolowski.

Four dancers from the company and its choreographer, Nadja Raszewski, have been working with the RC’s intensive German students in a two-week residency, which culminates on Sept. 19 with the open workshop. There, students will be working with and “translating” into dance and movement a pair of texts by Ulrike Meinhof, German militant and journalist, and Elias Canetti, Bulgarian-born German-language writer.

“What we try to do is not to bring out the text in a kind of pantomime, not describe what we just read, but to associate by movement,” Raszewski said. “It means that what you can see as a public, what you can feel, what you can experience while you see the composition – you can make up your own world. So it’s not, ‘This is what you should see.’ ”

The notion that dance or theater trades in “ideas and associations,” according to Raszewski, rather than straightforward images, radically alters the representational possibilities of a performance. This dramatic practice emphasizes more than others the centrality of the body in theater.

“For my students, even in German Theater, we try to get out of the situation where everyone resides 99 percent of the time between here and here (pointing to her head), since it’s so important to involve and understand the body, and ultimately to understand language,” Shier said.

While it may be beyond the means of most to travel to Berlin for the express purpose of seeing plays, this workshop presents an opportunity for American students to upset many of the norms and standard practices in theater, internalized by so many, through the expert guidance of Shier and the members of Tanz Tangente.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.