The banner headline for this year’s congress is cryptic: ‘A Long Lasting Affair’. Is this a reference to romantic affairs in the sense of intimacy, promiscuity and sex? Whatever the answer to that question may be, Meg Stuart has consistently made corporeality central to her work. Her first big success came at the 1991 Klapstuk Festival in Belgium with a full-length work called Disfigure Study. A nightmarish piece in which bodies appear to be almost dismembered by means of abrupt movements and hectic, flickering light effects.
In March, Stuart brought her show Until Our Hearts Stop (premiered in 2015 at the Munich Kammerspiele) to Dresden. A work that shows its performers in particularly intimate situations, unclothed and in full physical contact, ranging from harmonious union to total exhaustion and sheer aggression.
So perhaps Long Lasting Affair can also be interpreted in a different way. After all, there is always something fleeting about an affair. Tanzkongress lasts just under a week – that’s a brief but intense experience. The issues currently preoccupying the dance scene are to be analysed communally and in a variety of ways.
Festspielhaus Hellerau will be the venue for workshops, lectures, debates and various other formats that are experimental in concept: as ritual or meditation, as the snapshot of a mood.
The Fifth Dance Congress
From a different perspective, however, it has indeed been a long-lasting affair. ‘Affair’ is simply a label for the occasion. Tanzkongress has been taking place almost every three years since 2006 and each time in a different city: Berlin (2006), Hamburg (2009), Dusseldorf (2013), Hanover (2016) and now Dresden. And it’s not just limited to those attending the congress itself. Still Untitled@Tanzkongress2019, an artwork by Xavier Le Roy and Scarlet Yu, goes on display from 1st June, and around the world, informal meetings and discussions have been part of the build-up.
New ways of communicating
With the buzz words ‘listening’, ‘transformation’ and ‘agreement’, the Tanzkongress organisers have signalled that other forms of communication need to be identified – not a bad idea in such politically charged times.
The historical precursors of Tanzkongress (Dance Congress) were the so-called Tänzerkongresse (Dancers’ Congresses). Initiated by the dramaturge Hanns Niedecken-Gebhard and the choreographer Rudolf von Laban, these three gatherings in 1927, 1928 and 1930 were intended to redefine aesthetic positions and to create a network of like-minded people. One of the key issues of the time was choreography in the service of an ideology. During a period in which National Socialism was on the rise, the two congress founders were leading players in the politics of dance. Niedecken-Gebhard, for example, staged the opening ceremony of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany.
Ecstasy as a principle: Monte Verità and Magdeburg
The first Dancers’ Congress in Magdeburg in 1927, however, is remembered above all for its legendary climax: the occasion culminated in an outrageous party. Like no other art form, dance is characterised by pushing the body to and beyond its limit, by chaos and by frenzy.
Anarchic revelry also reigned on Monte Verità, another reference point in Stuart’s concept for this year’s congress. At the beginning of the 20th century, Monte Verità in the Swiss Ticino region attracted a colony of artists who revolutionised the art of expression and became a hub of ecstasy and spirituality.
It will therefore be interesting to see which direction the local theatres and ensembles take after Tanzkongress in Dresden comes to an end. Does dance point the way to a social utopia? A community committed to the idea will experiment with it in Hellerau and ultimately express it by means of their bodies.
Tanzkongress promises to be a party for all of Dresden to join in, for example on 8th June when Down by the Water, a talk show and programme of dance, is staged on the banks of the River Elbe and on board the steamboat MS Gräfin Cosel.
It is not a quantum leap from a space given over to the formal discipline of choreography to the dance floor. Consequently, the evening elides into the night as the Tanzkongress participants decamp to the club objekt klein a.