Intoxication: Spreading the limits of mind, body (and theatre)
In recent years, the third-year-drama students’ annual dance performance at Rostock University of Music and Drama has become a widely-known, much acclaimed and beloved event under the careful production of choreographer Romy Hochbaum. Romy Hochbaum’s personal style has left its signature on every performance, however different in topic, making it a constant thread throughout the years. This year’s production “Rausch” (Intoxication), however, saw some crew change due to family commitments on Hochbaum’s side. With Israeli dancer, choreographer and producer Efrat Stempler, who already worked at Schauspiel Stuttgard and Deutsches Theater Berlin, amongst others, the university found a young but experienced replacement.
“Intoxication” is exactly what it promises to be. It’s a piece about the uncontrolled and exorbitant appetite for more and more: drugs, sex, more drugs and more sex. Yet it doesn’t start with a noisy rave-scene as you might expect but with silence. Eleven performers enter the stage, scarcely audible, and position themselves each in front of a microphone. Waiting. Suddenly one person starts to breath in and out loudly. His body slumping down and straightening up again and again. . One after another, performers join the rhythm and movement in unison, gradually boosting the volume. After a few moments you realise that you know this rhythm from somewhere: It is Carl Orff’s immensely influential and famous introductory piece O Fortuna (O Fortune) to his 1937 scenic cantata Carmina Burana. This piece embodies the anxiety and helplessness you feel when you are at the mercy of your own fortune – with death being the inevitable end. An escape into the illusionary world of drugs, into obsession with sex and other addictions seems to be a desperate try to escape the finality of life itself, to let go of any control and to find unlimited freedom.
The performance, like the condition of intoxication, is about exceeding the own senses and limits. Such limits are also present on the stage of the Katharinensaal concert hall, which is divided into five levels by four gigantic steps that, from the audience’s perspective,look like oversized ascending stairs. . These ‘natural’ barriers are overcome by the performers from time to time. And there is yet another motif: falling. Starting from the highest step, the performers descend gradually in the course of the performance. They fall, jump, climb again – only to come closer and closer to that last and final step which disappears into the bottom, invisible to the eyes of the audience.
From time to time one performer recites a text while the others are dancing. One of such texts is – very tellingly – the Greek myth of Icarus, son of Daedalus, who is overcome by giddiness and flies higher and higher against the warnings of his father until he is too close to the sun, which melts his wings made out of wax. He falls into the sea and dies. During the recitation one performer moves too close to the edge of one step and falls, others, who are moving in the background, cry out, rush to the edge and take her back from the lower step onto their level. It is a lesson that sometimes exceeding the limits results in a fatal end – you reach the high point only to fall all the harder to the ground.
The drama students’ performance is passionate and energetic. But they convince more with their articulate facial expressions and commitment than with an intricate and innovative dance style. In comparison to past performances, Efrat Stemplers choreography lacks complexity and sophistication, though individual performers really show potential for a more demanding choreography. There are only very few solo and partner dance scenes – more would have been dramaturgically justified. However, there are surprising moments and powerful pictures.
One scene in particular attracts attention when all female performers change to a pink bunny costume (costumes: Keren Korman) and undress until their waists, uncovering their breasts. Together they perform a ballet-like synchronised dance in the middle of the stage, while the male performers sit on one step and look in their direction from time to time. I can’t help thinking that this doesn’t have too much to do with the performance’s action but is merely a notoriously lame attempt to follow a certain trend in contemporary theatre and be somewhat radical. Theatre producer Jürgen Gosch once stated: The actor’s body is material for the play. Nude scenes are neither uncommon on stage nor do they excite contemporary audience anymore. It is not radical, not spreading any limits that have not already been transcended; you only ask: what the point? You could read this scene as an objectification of women, but I see it more as a try to reverse gender representations: If it is commonly accepted that men uncover their breasts, why should that not be the case for women as well?
Although there are some compromises in the quality of this year’s production, “Intoxication” is a very likeable and worth-seeing performance with a well-chosen and interesting topic that inspires more discussion even after the event.