Concept/artistic direction – Christoph Winkler
Musical co-curator – Jan Rohlf
Music and choreographies – Ernest Berk
Choreographic implementation and dance – Martin Hansen, Emma Daniel, Lois Alexander, Luke Divall, Lisa Rykena, Dana Pajarillaga, Riccardo de Simone, Sarina Egan-Sitinjak, Julia B. Laperrière and Gareth Okan
Additional live music – group A, Rashad Becker, Pan Daijing
Video – Andrea Keiz
State and costume – Valentina Primavera
Production dramaturgy – Elena Polzer
Organisation – Lilli Maxine Ebert
Scientific support – Dr Patrick Primavesi
Management – ehrliche arbeit – freies Kulturbüro
The Complete Expressionist - Musique Concrètre and Modern Dance
The dancer, choreographer and composer Ernest Berk was born in Cologne in 1909 and studied violin and improvisation at the Rheinische Musikschule as well as dance and improvisation at the institute of the Wigman student Chinita Ullmann.
After his first solo dance evening in Cologne in 1929, he quickly became an artist in demand and among other engagements was asked by Max Reinhardt to play Puck in his legendary staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His career came to a sudden end when he had to leave Germany in 1934 on account of his Jewish background. He moved to London, built his own music studio as a pioneer of electronic music, founded an improvisation group and continued to work as a solo dancer. From 1985 until his death in 1993, he lived in Berlin where he taught at the Academy of Arts and continued to work as a dancer and actor.
His oeuvre, which is characterised by a stylistically unusual combination of modern dance and musique concrete, has largely been forgotten.
The Berlin choreographer Christoph Winkler’s project set out to create an evening that illustrated the full breadth of Berk’s artistic work with reconstructions of various short choreographies complemented by performances of the artist’s electronic music compositions.
In addition to Berk’s extensive estate, the basis for the reconstruction work was mainly interviews with contemporary witnesses – namely Berk’s former dancers, friends and students – that Winkler conducted himself and were an integral part of the evening.
Concept/artistic direction – Christoph Winkler
Christoph Winkler’s comments
Every reconstruction depends on the material situation: what documents have been preserved? Are there recordings of the works? Can contemporary witnesses be found and how accurate are their memories? The character of the reconstruction is determined by all these sources. Ernest Berk’s career spans six decades and oscillates between Germany and Great Britain. The material situation is thus very varied and there is no filmic documentation of his dance works. After his death in 1993, Berk’s estate was handed over to the historical archive of the City of Cologne where it remained dormant until 2001 when the budding music scientist Martin Köhler decided to view and analyse it for his dissertation.
As part of this work, Köhler digitalised 180 pieces of music and attached them as a DVD to his dissertation, which was published as a book – and just in time, too, as parts of the Cologne archive building collapsed in 2009 and the Berk collection was damaged. The restoration process will take decades to complete and it is currently impossible to predict what can be saved.
In addition to the music pieces, Köhler collected lots of notes about the associated choreographies and these gave us plenty of initial information for our reconstruction work.
The next step was to look for people who had worked with Berk, mostly as dancers or his students. The eldest of them had started to work with Berk in the 1960s, e.g. Rebecca Wilson, thanks to whom we also had another dissertation focusing on Berk’s choreographic work.
All the other contemporary witnesses met Berk mostly in the 1970s.
Most of the early photographic documents come from this time. Not only did we derive certain dance poses from them but also aspects of the stage sets.
After looking at all this material, we selected those pieces for which we had the most information about choreographic structure and which we thought were the most musically impressive.
Despite all research efforts, in a dance reconstruction there is necessarily a certain distance between original and reconstruction. Today’s bodies are different, as are training and aesthetics. It was therefore more important for us to focus on intentions rather than striving for a level of accuracy that is impossible to achieve anyway.
The structure of the evening, namely a collection of several short works, is typical for the time. We adopted different approaches for the reconstructions: a few pieces are relatively accurate illustrations of the original versions; others, by contrast, approximate the performativity of the originals; and Rashad Becker organised his own handling of the material by taking the most varied texts about the performance as the source for his work.
All of the pieces were contextualised by extracts from the interviews with contemporary witnesses.
In an introduction to the composition What’s up, the dancers show how they appropriated the historical material physically and thereby make the difference visible and expose the gaps that emerged in each reconstruction.
This is then followed by two of Berk’s solos, Apparition and De Profundis, which he danced himself and were seen by the contemporary witnesses interviewed.
Next is Gemini – Les Amie, a duet for two women, and for which there is also a relatively large amount of information about form and development.
The composition Synchrome, which Berk originally composed for the International Week for Experimental Music in 1968 at the Technical University in West Berlin and only later combined with dance, follows. This is Berk at the height of his compositional creativity.
The next pieces, Seci and Trance are structured improvisations based on the so-called Liberation Workshops. Together with the music, they offer good insights into Berk’s work in the 1970s.
A lifelong nudist, Berk naturally welcomed the liberation themes of the flower-power generation. The emancipatory potential of nudity was in any case obvious to him and he organised regular naked trance-dance sessions with interested dancers in his studio. In front of a wall of synthesisers and cassette machines, the dancers began rising into a trance to rhythms provided by Berk. He was part of the action himself and observed the movements, returning regularly to his equipment to find those frequencies that supported the dancers’ trance.
These sessions were supported live using body painting and lighting direction.
Both these pieces can therefore be seen as re-enactments of the former performances with Berk’s role taken by the Japanese duo Group A. They work with the original beats and, during the performance, attempt to create sounds that on the one hand support the performance and on the other hand link Berk’s music to today’s music, at the same time ensuring no separation between musicians and dancers.