Philosophizing with children and bodies, with ruler and monsters

Nora Elberfeld: 1004 Zentimeter Mut

How is a mobile explore dance pop-up actually created? And what does it mean when we say that children and young people are actively involved in all phases of the artistic work process? Choreographer Nora Elberfeld takes us on a journey through the creation process of her pop-up piece “1004 Zentimeter Mut”.

About the process of “1004 Zentimeter Mut”. By Nora Elberfeld | January 28, 2024

Test of courage 15: “Dare to do great things.”

How long is freedom?
How big does a hero have to be?
How much distance is there between your nothing and my nothing?

1004 Zentimeter Mut is a piece that was created in close collaboration with children. Together with the core artistic team Guy Marsan (performance), and Judith Jaeger (dramaturgy), we spoke, philosophized and danced at regular intervals with two groups of children – the second grade of an elementary school and a daycare group of preschool children. Their words and associations were the starting point for our texts and various elements of the play, their fears and desires mingled with ours, we built monsters, saved ourselves from barking dogs and the horror clown, from creepers in swimming lakes and a huge wound from which a lot of blood drips.

It all started with a first visit and workshop with a second grade class. My colleague Yasmin Calvert led a session on “Philosophizing with children” on the topic of courage, during which I was initially only allowed to listen in.

How much does courage weigh? Nothing… it’s more like flying. It’s like jumping into the air.
Courage is when you dare to jump off a house. Or daring to go into the jungle. It’s free. I would say courage costs something.

When philosophizing with children (according to Kristina Calvert), a creative process unfolds in which the children search for meanings together and express their thoughts. Using visual materials or objects (a cuddly toy, picture book or word and picture cards ranging from abstract to figurative), they search for unambiguous and ambiguous formulations and begin to feel and make associations. When dealing with word-picture cards and sorting them together, for example, the aim is to put terms and motifs in relation to each other and to justify why, for example, one card is placed next to another. Sometimes these reasons are logical and argumentative, sometimes they simply arise from the shapes and colors of the cards, always creating new connections and spaces for thought.

We brought the children’s words, associations, ideas and movements into the rehearsal room, where they ended up playing ping pong with the materials that surrounded us and our physical movements. We negotiated proportions and dimensions, rehearsed how big we or everything around us could be stacked, and finally ended up on stilts and under very tall big and tiny little hats (stage: Doris Margarete Schmidt). A yardstick unfolded into a giant snake and was desperate for an answer to the question: “Can you measure courage?” We encountered wild animals and looked our own fear in the eye.

I’d take 1300 for courage.

As we progressed, we expanded the joint meetings and philosophizing to include workshops in which we involved the children in physical research, developed courage and fear scores together and showed sequences from the rehearsal material. We explored the extent to which we could “stay calm in dangerous situations” and the children chose the moment when Guy Marsan walks over them on stilts as a favorite moment.

The fact that courage and fear are like two sides of the same coin – which incidentally also made it into the play – was not only reflected by the children. We spent a week intensively examining our own fears as children and adults and comparing them with the children’s fears. During this time, we encountered eyes everywhere in everyday life that became the symbol and epitome of fear.

And so it was fear that paved the way to courage: Test of courage 3: “Speak out your fears.”

In 24 tests of courage, we looked into the face of the lion (test of courage 1), practiced being different (test of courage 12), shared the room with a monster (test of courage 13), jumped into the unknown (test of courage 18), endured emptiness and heaviness (test of courage 21) and looked each other (and above all our young audience) in the eye (test of courage 24).

When we climb our self-built monster towards the end of the play and look it in the eye, we symbolically meet our fear at eye level. Perhaps fear never disappears completely, and sometimes plays foreground and sometimes background music, like the sound of Gregory Büttner. Perhaps it comes back in very different forms, regardless of whether we are tall or short. “1004 Zentimeter Mut” does not aim to suggest a guide to being courageous or the elimination of fear, but rather to make visible how fears are part of life, are allowed to be and at the same time require a way of dealing with them in order to keep the frightening things in check.

Courage is also when you dare and just do it. But sometimes this small step means a lot of overcoming. We were able to experience how this aspect of overcoming, whether on a physical, mental or performative level, can unleash incredible joy and lightness and, above all, be infectious.

At the last performance at an elementary school, there was such enthusiasm and an urge to move that we quickly changed the post-performance talk to a joint night dance. The children began to physically recapitulate the play on their own, climbing the wall, imitating the animal movements and showing us their own acrobatic moves. This experience showed me that the process of mediation is not finished with the play process, but can be further developed with each performance, how mediation and the artistic process intertwine. Above all, it made me want to try out new things at each performance using small pivotal points and to continue to incorporate the children’s reactions.

That afternoon, we beat the record for autographs and drawing eyes on forearms…

It’s in my stomach, tickles me and wants to get out. It’s green or orange or gold and glistens – like glistening bright light, like sunlight. You can collect it in your whole body – it’s also in your head – in you, in me. Is far and near – is here and there. Is invisible.