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A way of dancing

USP Group adopts the principles of German Tanztheater

Ballerina Bárbara Lins (below) in the choreographic piece Momento(s) de silêncio and a scene from Unterwegs

Silvia MachadoBallerina Bárbara Lins in the choreographic piece Momento(s) de silêncioSilvia Machado

In 2011, when teacher, researcher and choreographer Sayonara Pereira created the Research and Studies Laboratory in Tanz Theatralidades (Lapett) at the Department of Performing Arts of the University of São Paulo’s School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP), she knew that one of her first challenges would be to express Tanztheater in its various dimensions. According to Pereira, instead of seeing Tanztheater exclusively in terms of “dance theater” (according to the common Brazilian translation)—particularly through the works of German choreographer Pina Bausch (1940-2009)—the movement should be viewed today as a way of thinking and creating dance based on the teachings of its pioneers, while at the same time recognizing the contributions of those who currently create and interpret its forms and concepts.

German dancer and choreographer Kurt Jooss (1901-1979) is believed to have coined the term Tanztheater in 1935. In 1932, Jooss choreographed The Green Table (a ballet about the hardships of war inspired by the German Danse Macabre of the 15th century), considered the initial expression of Tanztheater.  In terms of both its subject matter and the way it was composed based on a variety of sketches, the work represents a departure from the formative elements common to classical ballet and a landmark work of its time. To this day, The Green Table is a part of the repertoire of dance companies the world over.

“What characterized Tanztheater was its ability to transcend the techniques of classical ballet and incorporate the dramatic elements of theater,” Pereira explains.  Just as Pereira was beginning her career in 1984, German choreographer and Tanztheater disciple Susanne Linke recommended her to Essen, Germany’s Folkwang Hochschule (today the Folkwang University of the Arts), under its director Pina Bausch, after watching Pereira audition in her native city of Porto Alegre.   “In Essen I began developing my calligraphic choreography and the basic outlines of the teaching techniques that I would later refine,” adds Pereira.

scene from Unterwegs (above): products of the dialogue between the Lapett and Tanztheater

Silvia MachadoScene from Unterwegs: products of the dialogue between the Lapett and TanztheaterSilvia Machado

Today, Lappet includes six undergraduate and graduate student participants from ECA’s Department of Performing Arts and partner universities. Dancer-actors without required dance experience are selected each year through a trial class that takes place at the beginning of the students’ first semester.

Lappett members meet twice a week for a little more than three hours of physical training, exercises to help develop the expressive quality of movement, and theoretical classes about the history of Tanztheater and its choreography. Pereira’s focus is either on the gestures of everyday life (walking, eating, brushing teeth) or in exploring new spatial dimensions.

“Tanztheater techniques cannot be taught in class,” explains Pereira, both instructor and author of Rastros do Tanztheater no processo criativo de Es-boço (Tanztheater’s footprints in the es-boço creative process), (Annablume publisher) a book about the German group’s relevance to her work. “It is a way of applying one’s work,” she adds, “focusing on the interpreter—his feelings, sensations, and memories. Kurt Jooss suggested that the interpreter’s body was the material itself: a precious stone ready to be cut.”

choreographic piece Momento(s) de silêncio

Silvia MachadoChoreographic piece Momento(s) de silêncioSilvia Machado

At Lapett, Pereira sets out to combine research and practice. “She always made clear her desire to understand what each one had to show, express and assert through movement,” says Rafael Sertori, a Lapett participant from 2011 to 2013,—who introduced the cast of Momento(s) de silêncio (Moments of Silence), the group’s first performance, in 2012—now pursuing his master’s in the performing arts at ECA with a scholarship from FAPESP.  “As the group’s weekly meetings took place,” explains Sertori, “she had the insight to perceive common themes that came up in our conversations, and in the texts and images that we brought along with us.”

“The task always begins with an effort to stimulate memory in the interpreter’s body—sensations and feelings,” says Pereira.    In Vãos (Empty spaces), which had its debut performance in August 2015, the choreographer relied on photographs.  Each interpreter researched and then photographed spaces or situations that were identified in terms of the following ideas: what would the urban spaces be and who inhabits them?  The starting point for each participant is always individual research. Pereira follows up by suggesting gestures or sequences for creating the piece at hand.

Lapett also encouraged Pereira to pursue yet a second post-doctoral degree. In December 2015, with a scholarship from FAPESP, she enters the Free University of Berlin to work on a project titled “Arquivos corporais dos intérpretes: memórias levadas para a cena” (Interpreters’ Corporeal Archives: from memory to the stage). “The group is my constant source of inspiration,” she says. “I now try to imagine my ‘task’—viewing in an academic light the works I had carried out primarily with performance in mind.”