Berlin feminist (dance) collectives question hierarchies in society and the art world
A witty-yet-strong image comes to mind: Dana Michel is sitting on a mobile platform in between aligned chairs and a screen – reminiscent of a conference setting – while beatboxing arhythmically. In the piece "Palna Easy Francis”, performed last October at Sophiensæle as a part of Witch Dance Project, Michel’s weirdly positioned topless black upper-body – reminiscent of a so-called freak (!) – slowly starts to hit the chairs and undoes the formal setting of the space, depicting the strength of queering with humor.
Recollecting this image felt somewhat inevitable after having had conversations with the Berlin collectives/platforms Female Trouble, choreographer-dancer and founder of the series Amazonas, Claire Vivianne Sobottke, the dancer-choreographer-writer Louise Trueheart of Coven Berlin and choreographer-dancer Nasheeka Nedsreal, one of the founders of the Soul Sisters collective. What makes them upset and gives them the energy to create spaces to dwell upon topics like feminist/afro futurisms, the precarious position of the freelancer or the neglect of certain identities in society?
Female Trouble: Un-/re-doing learning
Founded in 2013 by the three HZT dance students Roni Katz, Agata Siniarska and Xenia Taniko Dwertmann, the Female Trouble collective has been organizing a renowned event series, Vulva Club. Meanwhile, besides film screenings of female directors, FT has organized talks with, say, writer Sarah Schulmann or scholar Derrais Carter; lecture performances, salon events, choreographic encounters, failure trials and performances – also with Claire Vivianne Sobottke and Louise Trueheart; workshops such as "Kinging and Queening and The Sensation of Genders”, art-blind dates for "intuition and impulse.” During these events a wide range of topics from dragging, feminist strategies and herstories to drones and warfare have been addressed in detail.
FT’s intention has nothing to do with shouting about feminism, queerness, or political agendas per se, but more with providing a space for invisible yet vigorous artists, as they strongly criticize the hierarchy of ‘names’ on the stage. According to FT, as a result of the commodification of queer identity politics and because of their aestheticization, the act of queering lost its meaning – is it just about colors or the form of the piece as in Michel’s performance? Instead of contemplating which identity category you belong to, "you’re busy with undoing things,” unlearning a form that a festival imposes upon your work.
Amazonas: A platform for the female perspective
We live, most probably, in the least misogynist city imaginable. However, as Claire Vivianne Sobottke pointed out, Berlin is a microcosmos. After her research on statistics – the number of female leaders in EU or, say, the female theater directors; female vs. male artists funded by the Senate – Sobottke believes in the necessity to generate platforms for female artists, makers, thinkers. She criticizes the fact that in the last centuries the male perspective has been valued a lot. Her intention with the Amazonas performance series is to create a platform from a female perspective with the focus on love and sexuality: "Like sexuality, performance and dance are the place to experiment. They give you the chance to become whoever you want to be and to put your body or mind in whatever position you want to,” she explains.
Reflecting on Amazonas #1 and Amazonas #2, whether intentional or not, it seems that rethinking hidden histories is a crucial aspect, as done by patching a piece of Valeska Gert laughter in #1 with Jule Flierl’s research on vocal dance, "I INTEND TO SING”, or going back to a book from the 1970s, "Women on the Edge of Time” by Marge Piercy, for #2. The performative story-telling in Amazonas #2 by Maria F. Scaroni and her friends is a good example of dragging a past and unlearning/relearning through the process by using performativity as the tool. In Scaroni’s genuine attempt to re-evaluate language, roles in society based on certain economic structures or the concepts of care and love were highlighted – how about reimagining the notion of family, for instance? Each time, by inviting dance journalist Astrid Kaminski to build a discourse, the performance prompts in-situ conversations and criticism. In spite of vigorous collaborations, I ask myself: How would it be to give space to a less known feminist performer to be a part of this discourse?
Coven Berlin: Prioritizing minorities
As "a sex-positive transdisciplinary genderbender collective focused on feminism, love, gender, sexuality and art” (as they describe themselves), Coven Berlin has been covering topics from man-spread to personal queer stories on their online magazine and curating exhibitions and performances. The choreographer-dancer-writer Louise Trueheart contributes to Coven Berlin with her texts and by curating performances. Throughout the published texts and exhibitions-performances, the collective builds a playful and inviting position in a feminist structure with the urge to subvert the predetermined form of, say, a text, a dance piece or relationships.
Recently, the collective got a grant from the Berlin art society neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst (nGbK) to curate an exhibition in 2018. With this first funding Coven has ever received, besides creating an exhibition with the long-term collaborators such as Female Trouble, finding a solution to emerge from their white privileged circle is crucial to them. As Truheart emphasizes, Coven aims to "prioritize minorities of various situations: not abled-bodies; Eastern European, Turkish, black, not cis.”
Soul Sisters: Raising awareness of racism
During a conversation, the dancer Fabian Barba Izuerita – a P.A.R.T.S. graduate invited by the scholar Rolando Vazquez for a workshop on decolonization during Maerz Musik – stressed the problem of Europe seeing itself, still, at the center; what is contemporary (also in the dance scene) is based on the idea(l)s of white cities while other temporalities are abandoned.
In a similar fashion, the collective Soul Sisters (Black Out Loud) brings attention to decolonization and "the empowerment of Black female consciousness.” Entering their website mentioning "the exploration of Afro-futurism, African mythology, self-care and speculative art and fiction” my heart beat got faster. Founded after the workshop Colored Woman in a White World that took place at Ballhaus Naunynstraße in 2014, Soul Sisters raises awareness to racism and builds a womb for females of color. In the dance classes Black and Brown Bodies in Motion, taught by Nasheeka Nedsreal, and during their workshops the Soul Sisters discuss exclusionary mechanisms of white feminism(s), or say, unintended (hidden) racist or exoticizing gazes on the streets or even in the dance scene.
Despite the focus on certain identity groups, none of the afore-mentioned collectives/platforms are exclusive, and moreover they are aware that there is a limit of reaching out to others. Nevertheless, the urge to gather and create theirstories and to build a support system among each other is what really unites them. These collaborations/collectives open up spaces to undo, unlearn and rewrite. Rather than simply giving answers, their aim is to create discourse and look at history from an angle that most theaters don’t bother with. The problematization of institutional modi operandi, the hierarchy of names and funding opportunities in the dance scene as well as the question of who has the power to be institutionalized are topics to be discussed further.
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