REGINA ROSSI: PUNK, BEAT…LOL!
“I’m very enthusiastic about rage,” says choreographer Regina Rossi. However, the young audience in her piece “Punk, Beat…LOL!” thinks rage is pretty uncool. Which is a good thing. This contradiction creates tension. And out of this tension, dance emerges, the kind found in rock ‘n’ roll, as well as in pogo and in the Black Panther Party’s choreographies of resistance.
By Falk Schreiber | 3rd March 2021
For starters, let’s take a look at what Wikipedia says. According to the online dictionary: “Rage (also known as frenzy or fury) is intense, uncontrolled anger that is an increased stage of hostile response to a perceived egregious injury or injustice.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rage_(emotion)) Aggression, hostility, injury – these aren’t exactly what you would call a positive environment. However, Hamburg choreographer and performer Regina Rossi, whose works regularly premiere at Kampnagel, seeks a different approach to these issues.
The opening scene of Rossi’s classroom piece “Punk, Beat…LOL!”: Voices can be heard from offstage describing what makes them angry. When things aren’t tidy. When people aren’t taken seriously. Racism. Then Rossi stands up in front of her young audience and asks what makes them furious. And when the answers don’t come quickly enough, she begins building up pressure. Bit by bit, Rossi actually becomes the one making everyone angry, the way she stands there in a suit that is a little too big, her voice taking on a demanding tone and her gestures expansive, strongly, aggressively disrupting the audience’s sense of comfort. This is not a play. This is a lesson. And a rather authoritarian one at that.
Sure enough, the piece primarily comes across as a tutorial about rage and pop culture. “I’m very enthusiastic about rage,” is how the performer describes her approach to the subject. However: according to the Sinus Study of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, today’s younger generation is not angry. They think anger is uncool. “Young people want a job, a family…security, safety, orientation and a boringly normal life,” Rossi reads out, and so… getting their hackles up hardly suits them. Which in turn doesn’t suit Rossi: For her, rage is power. Passion. Movement and dance.
Dance? “Punk, Beat…LOL!” is actually a translation of rage into dance, as the performer transfers affect into movement. Joy, for example, is an upward movement, sadness downward, fear backwards. And rage, accordingly, moves forward. A kick, a lunge, a punch. A dance. Rossi is, of course, a choreographer, so angry movement naturally leads to dance. In a very literal sense: the 45-minute production provides a cultural and historical overview of the influences of rage on pop culture, and Rossi describes in detail how pop and rage are released in dance, in “dance steps that were thought to be really dangerous”, as she says at one point. The gyrating hips of Elvis Presley. The twist of Chubby Checker. The pogo of Iggy Pop. Video artist Katharina Duve projects iconographic images onto the walls, and Rossi recreates these images: history becomes body. Rage becomes dance. “It was mainly bodies and words that triggered and expressed this rage,” Rossi summarises. “So: without rage in the body, there is no pop culture.”
The lecture draws closer to the present: from rock ‘n’ roll to punk, to the Black Panther Movement and the feminist appropriation of rage by the Riot Girls, with all the respective sounds filling the room, beat, hip hop, grunge. But this rage is not a wave rolling over the audience, it remains distant and self-conscious. Rossi constantly leaves her theatrical means exposed. Everyone can see that the music comes from an MP3 flash drive, or sometimes from a whirring walkman and sometimes from a portable record player. And the fact that the images are shown on a mobile phone, which is filmed with a complicated camera construction so that the images can appear on the wall, looks awkward, while also impressively revealing how images are created – leaving us to analyse the rage rather than lapsing into headbanging. At the same time, dance is not primarily treated as a form of expression, but as an ordered system, the order of which Rossi makes explicit at one point. “Bend both knees – stretch your legs”, is how she describes with enervating precision the sequence of movements that form the pogo. But that the result of this endeavour is no more than a highly unspectacular bounce proves just how much humour lies in this piece.
It also means that the production does not become bogged down working its way through historical benchmarks. Almost imperceptibly, “Punk, Beat…LOL!” has gone from lecture to physically tracing outbursts of rage. And in the process, the performer has also changed. Her jacket has long since been furiously flung into the audience, her hair styled into a wild mess with the help of large amounts of hairspray. In the end, during the Riot Girl section, Duve has designed her a band T-shirt. “Rebel Girl” is now scrawled across her torso, after an old Bikini Kill song: punk is also a commitment to do-it-yourself.
From here, it would have been possible to build a bridge to the present, to the slacker movement, to contemporary pop feminism. At least now we have a young woman visually connected to the world of her audience, with a shirt, wool hat, headphones, that literally cry out to be linked to current discourse. In any case, connections to today’s day and age aren’t overly obvious in “Punk, Beat…LOL!”, but they are always there in the background (the experts on current pop culture are sitting in the audience and don’t need any tutoring in that respect): for example, when Duve collages pictures of various punk bands, she cites the scissors-and-glue aesthetic of early fanzines. And this is much closer to the artist’s youth than to that of the audience. On the other hand, artistic nostalgia is not taken too far: the images may be homemade, but they are still digital, created on a mobile phone and enlarged using a digital camera and beamer. Fanzine culture thus overlaps with the meme aesthetic of social media and blogs.
Yet just before it all starts getting a bit too comfy, the situation is disrupted one last time. Out with the notebooks, this is a test: Rossi quizzes the audience on everything they’ve learned so far. A worksheet is handed out with a handful of questions, and only the last comment on the page ensures that all frustrations about the required task are channelled into rage: “Crumple up the paper and throw it at the artist!” And that is the moment when the room begins to dance: the moment in which balls of paper fly through the air. This is an act of liberation that touches on another aspect of working with rage – liberation. Rage wants to be liberated. If it is not, it seeks strange outlets, and the angry person becomes, at worst, an indignant citizen. Better to throw things at the performer.