DANCE AS PLAYFUL PROVOCATION
ANTJE PFUNDTNER IN COMPANY: FOR ME
Together with her team, Hamburg-based choreographer and dancer Antje Pfundtner developed a piece for everyone 8 years and older – as part of explore dance – Tanzpakt Stadt-Land-Bund. Für mich (For me) deals with the central questions of life and is at the same time (re)dedicated to its young audience, the actual initiators of the piece.
Written by Katrin Ullmann
One thing is for sure: to watch a dance piece together with a young audience is as rare as it is unusual. Long before the doors open, excited laughter sounds through the foyer, colorful gum bubbles explode every couple of seconds, people are jostled and pushed and, when everyone is finally seated, sitting still seems out of the question. A lot of energy pulses through the room. Untamed, impetuous, and undisturbed. But what does it actually look like to create a dance piece for a young audience? Where do you start? Or does a choreographer even want – or can and will she – work in an artistically different way, just because she knows the particular age range of the audience? “As a director, I found myself wondering what I do or should do differently. I think that is mostly a structural or societal problem. Young people should go to the theatre a lot more anyways and you should not have to produce something just for them,” says Antje Pfundtner when formulating first thoughts regarding her commissioned work, which is part of explore dance – Netzwerk Tanz für junges Publikum — Tanzpakt Stadt-Land-Bund. It is easily discernible that Pfundtner has her doubts, that she almost questions herself and the given framework a little bit. And yet for her and her team, engaging with the “target audience 8+” will be a central aspect of her work. Not because Pfundtner has dissolved all of her doubts, but because she has returned to her own, always research-based work method.
IN TOUCH WITH THE TARGET AUDIENCE
As she often does in her works, she here once again – or here especially – gets in touch with the audience, whom she integrates into the process of developing and rehearsing the play. The future young audience becomes a core aspect of the piece; it is interviewed as its driving force. Representing their age group are approximately two dozen children and teenagers ranging from 8 to 16 years. Pfundtner and her team engaged in conversations with them: “I fell into a trap, and did so quite consciously. Because I interviewed them, they of course became essential to the piece. They are its point of departure.” In her interviews, she tried to find out what the young people are interested in, and also what interests her. In her piece for explore dance – Netzwerk Tanz für junges Publikum — Tanzpakt Stadt-Land-Bund she decidedly does not want to create something that fulfills a service function, something that is only and exclusively designed to work for one target group. Instead, it appears that what she extracts from numerous conversations with the children and teenagers are the larger questions of life, particularly one central question: “what do people not ask you often enough?” It is an essential question, one that Antje Pfundtner and her team are also intrigued by. It is at this point that the clear line between the generations appears to dissolve. As a consequence, the team’s research tackles philosophical topics just as much as age-specific sensibilities. This is how the performers establish a close connection to the audience, and this intimacy is exactly what works.
PHYSICAL INTIMACY AS PLAYFUL PROVOCATION
Was ihr wollt(what you want) is the working title of the piece that Antje Pfundtner will later call Für mich (for me) and which she developed together with her team and dancers Juliana Oliveira and Norbert Pape. As a consequence, Pfundtner perceives the piece as an homage, as a re-homage to the young people that inspired it. They are its driving force, its indirect protagonists. The age recommendation “8+” is, however, difficult to pin down, since it is as diverse as the audience of every performance. While some members of the audience may appear irritated or overwhelmed, other teenagers will loudly disrupt the performance with energetic comments. Elementary school kids, on the other hand, may grow very silent and serious, offering nuanced and smart feedback in the conversations after the show. The adolescent audience generates – as in a tree’s annual rings – a different and always individual (self)perception of its physicality with every new year of its life, a fact that permanently opens up new intellectual windows. Pfundtner, Oliveira, and Pape seek to open them up widely: “This next dance is for you alone!” they call out to the audience and begin, dressed in bright red sweat suits, to confront them with joyful power. They throw their own and others’ statements into the room, tell personal stories, and in doing so open up a space for the audience’s own stories. They provoke physical closeness, dance a simple Step-Touch followed by the popular floss dance from the Fortnite computer game. Both dances consist of continually looped moved whose easy repetitions tell stories of movements and dance – while at the same time questioning them in a self-ironic way.
FULL OF ENERGY, OPEN, AND UNPREDICTABLE
The performances are familiar with their audience’s codes. They irritate the children with a sincere Pas de deux, they get very close to them, ask awkward questions and move beyond their boundaries (of shame). At one point, they walk across the room burping and moving along very softly. Then again, they adapt jump-style moves with such energy that a few teenagers can no longer stay seated. The audience sits in close proximity to the performers, their rows of chairs immediately frame an almost empty stage. They cannot evade the performance, but have to give in to it. The performers, on the other hand, seek out eye contact and maintain it, they immediately integrate them into their dance, their game. Norbert Pape repeats the seemingly harmless question “together or separate?”, initially referring to his hands, which he holds closely together, or his feet, which stand next to each other. The audience responds by calling out the answer. From here, he develops an at one point personal, at another point political round of questions: “my parents – together or separate?”, “your parents – together or separate?”, “Germany – together or separate?”, “Europe –together or separate?”.Für mich works extremely well as a dance performance for young people. Probably because the piece is a little like its audience: unrestrained and full of energy, open and unpredictable.
A GUIDED GLANCE, A MIXED AUDIENCE
But is this really how it works? Would the piece be a different one if it did not come with the age recommendation “8+”? Would it be less unrestrained and energetic, less permeable and unpredictable? Probably not. This ascription is probably generated mostly through the guided glance. The piece could probably be seen and experienced in the same and thus also in a very different way by an audience consisting solely of adults. Of course the “the information of these young people is somewhere in there,” Pfundtner concedes, and adds: “but since it also speaks to me, couldn’t you also say that it is a piece for 42-year old women living in a big city?” After having performed in different venues, at different times of the day, and with a different age range in the audience, Pfundtner comes to the conclusion that “it works best when we have a completely mixed audience.” At the end of a performance where this was the case, the entire audience stood up and danced, took over the sage, imitated movements from the show – almost as if the performance simply continued, the choreographer remembers and thus newly asks herself and the involved institutions: “why don’t we turn every G-rated piece into a matinée or a 6pm family performance?”
GOOD TIMING AND THE RUSH OF AFFECT
For Pfundtner the question whether you can determine a particular target group and whether dance can be produced for a specific age range remains essentially open. If such an ascription happens in advance, it should happen as late as possible in the rehearsal process, says Pfundtner when speaking about her experience.
Did the ascription change anything for her, on an aesthetic and artistic level? “Of course you want to resist the demands that come with a target group, and yet this is a central piece of information.” At the same time, the age specification remains difficult for her: “The age group that we focused on in our research were teenagers ranging from 13 to 16 years. But when you have mostly younger kids on stage (for instance 6-10 year-olds), not everything in the piece will work out. As a performer, you have a good sense of the audience’s attention – and you can consciously guide it through the production. A very young audience, for instance, sometimes likes to remain in the rush of affective situations. You have to know that as a performer in order to be able to get their attention back. A mixed audience automatically compensates for such things. But when the audience consists solely of children that are younger than the research target group, I do begin to wonder whether I would have developed the piece differently if I had produced it specifically for them. And that is when I again fall into the trap. Or don’t I?”
She laughs and adds, sounding almost a little ironic with regard to the whole endeavor: “After a few performances, the organizers said that they could imagine showing the piece to an adult audience, too.” Because they felt, as they said: “it was also FOR ME – FÜR MICH.”