Ausgabe September/Oktober 2019

On Generosity And Openness

Talking about the Tanzkongress 2019, its director Meg Stuart and the journalist and writer Astrid Kaminski reflect on their Dresden experiences.

Tanzkongress Meg Stuart © Klaus Gigga Tanzkongress Meg Stuart © Klaus Gigga

Thinking back, the Tanzkongress seems a dream in my memory. Not a good or bad dream but more of a dream-like fabric, weaving together a variety of rare experiences. I like to remember the poetry, the big silver ball rolling over the meadow, the mud ball meditation, how we often sat harmoniously under trees. Maybe this following talk with Meg Stuart could as well have centered around the question of how to live dreams. Considering my Tanzkongress contribution “Death of a critic,” preparing the ground for a post-critique future, I conducted the interview partly in a way that I most probably don’t want to continue. Doing an interview was, in this form, not intended; it developed out of a personal feedback talk. Still, since there was quite some criticism towards the congress, we ended up in a kind of role play in which I took the role I learned to perform. How to deal with that? How to speak about the critique? Some of the questions could have been addressed in advance – by the contributors, organizers, by others. I didn’t, at least not really. The first time I brought up a critical question was in my public speech during the congress. My (non-)approach was, in my opinion, mirrored by the activist group who intervened at the end of the congress stating that there was no access for disabled people. They were acting elegantly. Yet, they, like me, were using the power situation of a public speech to bring up their concerns – without having raised the topic beforehand. Of course, missing to address things does not mean that one should not speak about them anymore. It’s only very rare to do so publicly together with the person responsible. So I tend to consider this talk as an essayistic approach. Without the courageous openness of Meg Stuart, it would not have been possible.

Text and interview: Astrid Kaminski

Meg, do we have to legitimize something in this talk?
You mean defend? I don’t know. Maybe we could evaluate the impact of it. I heard the Kulturstiftung des Bundes could imagine another experimental edition. The Tanzkongress won’t go back to where it was before. The understanding of it will be changed.

This is already kind of a legitimization, isn’t it?
I think it’s important that it had an impact. It was about practicing trust in being outside of certain patterns and norms and social roles. Outside of the show, the festival format, the market of selling something. This was important for me, and my wish was that it would move things. It was challenging and playful and nourishing and daring. We primarily met through practice.

As you already know, my question has always been: Why did you accept directing the congress – which was so much about collective practice – as a single director?
I discussed this with the team. It’s true: I accepted this; they accepted it. The team was made up of freelancers and academics whom I couldn’t ask to commit to the congress full time. I think this is a general problem with temporary projects. You always have to keep too many balls in the air. I even put into question the term “Artistic Director”. Does it make sense to call the Tanzkongress an artistic project? I could say that in the first instance, it was a structural project. We had to rethink everything: How do we want to work, where do we work, how do we eat, clean, how do we spread information… It was not like you were inserting things into something that was already functional. We radically experimented with the format, including participants from around the world through the Salon project, expanding the duration from three to five days, and focusing on multiple layers of encounter.

Would you run it collectively next time, or was there also some pleasure from your side in directing it?
I didn’t have a lot of pleasure in that. It felt loaded politically at times. I did enjoy the questions and the conversations with the team and artists. I realize now what is essential about a congress is that it is a gathering of many voices together. In the future I could imagine a group with a broad spectrum of expertise holding it equally would be very strong. But I don’t know. I think it’s good for me as a person to speak about this but I don’t know if it’s good for the community to read about it.

When I saw the program, I immediately had this panic about navigating through it all …
These masks of choices and suggestions were maybe also dealing with the question: What does it mean to make a mass choreography today in Germany? It could have been much more minimal, but on the other hand, it flowed. In surprising ways … We were also looking for smaller, parallel settings and that’s what made the program so dense. And we were trying to set a tone: A tone of generosity and openness. Not one of shopping and consuming. I think this was effective. People were fully present. Trusting art as a force of healing.

I heard from some others as well that they felt stressed. Every contribution meant a lot to us. It was very difficult to still feel free and fully take part in what the others did. Through all these talks, all your investment, we maybe felt the pressure of paying back and doing something meaningful.
Another aspect is that we had to deal a lot with fear. Fear of Festspielhaus Hellerau that we would harm the historical building, fear of the Bundeskulturstiftung that it would be too hippie. Dealing with those fears and the impossibility of predicting whether it would work out also created an uncertainty towards the process. But finally we dared and there were magic moments when all the spaces and events started to hum and converse simultaneously. The reading room, the poetry place, the music zimmer, the sauna, the messy room – these spaces grounded the congress and were actually ongoing dialogues, allowing people to drop in and out as they chose. It was interesting that the messy room was not really messy. Nothing was really messy; it was almost over-structured with a lot of respect towards the space. People were highly sensitive to each proposal which was gratifying. For me there was just enough chaos to make it edgy.

What was the reason to keep things a secret, i.e. publishing the program only one day before and only for those involved? There was already the reproach of esotericism in the air …
We didn’t want to fit into the economy of announcements, of trailers, but instead to leave the process open. We also wanted to separate ourselves from previous congresses, and to clear the way for an unfamiliar experience. It was a brave step to choose to attend, and to commit to the unknown.

It’s interesting to think about this: There is this norm that you announce things, and if you don’t, it’s looked at as hiding things.
Yes, but it was just an experiment in form.

We’ve now touched on the subject of access. Who could access the Tanzkongress? In general we could say, everybody who has the privilege of taking independent decisions. The Tanzkongress not meeting the different needs of disabled people is only one of the questions of accessibility, but that one was publicly addressed. Was this surprising? What were your ethics of accessibility?
It was always a topic. The same for translation. In the case of disabled artists we didn’t find a solution for how to handle the ideas in the given timeframe. This was a pity, because the issue is totally in line with the aims of the congress. From the beginning, there was so much thought about care and support. There were some proposals that fell through, and some invited artists who dropped out for different reasons. All the details don’t have to be handled here. Of course the topic needs visibility and critique, and that’s what’s happening now.
Concerning the concrete situation of the intervention by Anna, Gerda, Noa and Perel, I have to say that I didn’t expect it this way, it was in one way disruptive to the overall positive and supportive energy of the congress, but I still found it very strong. I think people were really moved by it. The generous and receptive nature of the assembled group allowed the concerns to be heard and will have lasting impact.

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