Now it’s finally here: the new creative leadership of Berlin choreographer Sasha Waltz at the Staatsballett – anticipated by some and criticized by others. And the season premiere of Plateau Effect by Jefta van Dinther could not have been a more daring choice for the first piece of this new era.
The Swedish choreographer van Dinther is well known in the contemporary dance scene and has been often invited to Tanz im August and to HAU theater. His pieces are known for an emotional radicalness and for not caring about the needs and expectations of the audience. Even if his work is acclaimed by critics and the dance and art world, it is not something you would take your granny or even your parents to watch. Many of his pieces are raw, sexual, rough and often accompanied by a soundtrack you would rather hear at Berghain than in an opera house.
Creating a World and Destroying it in one Day
Plateau Effect has all the above-mentioned attributes. It’s a piece that is rather performative or theatrical than a choreographed dance. It starts with a play of shadows and lights with a thick grey curtain that seems to be alive and eating the bodies of the dancers one by one. The individual expression merges in a monstrous hyper body with many legs and no head.
After the curtain falls the dancers seem lost with a broken piece of civilization they then start to build and rebuild in many ways without finding a successful result. In the end, they lose control and become manipulated puppets. Invisible threads drag them in front of the audience before the lights shut down casting them in darkness.
More Performance Art than Ballet
To open a ballet season with a piece that is everything but not something you would expect a classical ballet company to do is definitely a bold move. And a choice the typical opera audience might not easily warm up to. It is also a smart choice because with this statement Sasha Waltz sets a beginning of a new era and also starts to attract a new type of younger audience to the Staatsballett. Yet I am a bit surprised that they didn’t open with a completely original new piece. Plateau Effect premiered in 2013 and was already shown in Berlin in 2014. Back then, it won many prices for its radical essence that is still appealing today. So it is, of course, a great addition to Berlin’s stages.