When she left Berlin’s Schaubuehne after five years of being one of its artistic directors, Sasha Waltz returned to what one journalist described as ‘the rat-race of freelance work’ – even if in this case it meant restarting her company Sasha Waltz and Guests. Originally formed in 1993 (by Waltz and Jochen Sandig), the company functions as a touring repertoire theatre, with an ensemble of fourteen dancers and numerous guests involved in eighteen productions currently going around the world. Waltz is one of the most prominent names in contemporary dance; over the years she has contributed to opening new venues (Sophiensaele and Radialsystem) and giving new life to established ones (Schaubuehne), while continuing to develop her aesthetic and language.
Continu, the piece arriving to London at the end of September, is introduced as a consolidation of the last ten years of Sasha Waltz’s work – a statement that seems to complement the volume of author’s work. In fact, it’s a performance created when two of Waltz’s previous pieces were united and modified into one. Originally devised for inaugurations of Neue Museum Berlin, (reopened in 2009 after David Chipperfield undertook a 12 year restoration and redesign project) and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome, these pieces inevitably had to go through a transition from site-specific to theatre-based performances, before they could become Continu. Still it would be unfair to see Continu as a simple merger; Waltz insists that the ideas and material devised for the museum performances were just too many – which in turn pushed her towards evolving them into a new performance.
Rather than framing Continu within a biographical context, it’s perhaps more accurate to see it as a possible (if not final) conclusion to Waltz’s continual preoccupation with the relationship between space and body: her Architectural Dialogues series documented the work taking place at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, as well as the two museums connected to Continu, over the course of ten years, and explored the ‘conversation’ between dancers, the specific architecture, the art it provides a home to, and visitors. In relation to the Dialogues that would later trigger Continu she says that “The reaction to the complex architectural spaces was to simplify by creating almost a complete „empty space“, where the focus would only shift in the physicality. The space is only referred to by “colors” like black and white.“ The adaption that ensued when the two Dialogues were transferred onto a stage, and the specific transition elements of Continu went through, mean the piece is still open to changes and adaptations to different spaces – last July for example, when the company performed in Athens, it was adjusted rather than just placed into the Herodion amphitheatre.
With its history in mind it’s perhaps not surprising that Continu, named to point to the evolving nature of the ideas incorporated into the initial pieces, deals with several basic spatial and physical relationships, exploring the individual vs group dynamics and contrasting white and black spaces. “In Continu I am certainly dealing with contrasts on several levels, also in the structure of the piece which consists of two parts: the white one and the black one. These two parts confront emotion and reason, group and solo constellations, violence and inwardness: The black part is very expressive: affected by explosive elements primordial forces arise. These forces influence the individuum as well as the society. The white part shows more of an inner world.” This insistence on clashing elements meeting together in one piece, is also reflected in the choice of music. The black part incorporates a live performance of Xenakis’ Rebonds B, and Varese’s orchestral piece Arcana – the former explosive and minimalistic in its archaic nature, and the later an exercise in passionate grandeur; the white features Vivier.
Even if Continu unravels itself as a performance that deals overwhelmingly with the most basic of relations, it still manages to encapsulate a significant amount of political content. This ranges from the more symbolic visuals (at one point the dancers’ steps begin to leave red traces behind them), to segments whose narrative can easily be read as straight out political – a whole section of Continu is devoted to the relationship between an individual and the mass. Waltz is open to these interpretations, and traces them back, in part, to where one of the pieces originated: “The question of the individuum that has to deal with the group is certainly a political subject itself. In Continu this relation is affected by violence in some moments – sometimes executed by the individuum on the group and sometimes by a whole group threatening the individuum. It is to me a phenomenon which you can see and experience on many levels in every day life, so it evokes a lot of images and ideas. The execution-reminiscent scene was also shown in the Dialoge-Project at MAXXI in Rome which was a former military prison and therefore inspired me to this scene which certainly refers to war scenarios all over the world, in the present as well as in the past.”
Continu is on at Sadler’s Wells from the 28th September until the 30th September.