Huddled together like a pack of penguins in a small side chamber stand several dozen people. They are all dressed in suits with plain T-shirts underneath. They all look in one direction: A door leading out onto a stage, before whichsits an anticipating audience. hile these people look uniform, their backgrounds are intrinsically different in a great many respects. There is a lorry driver, a doctor, a salesperson, a teacher, an architect, an unemployed, an independent, a pensioner, a child… What unites them are two things: First, they are all from Hoyerswerda, a deprived town in the formerly socialist east of Germany, suffering from an ageing population and the decline of the coal industry. Second, each one of them has made sacrifices for some greater good.
This sacrifice, this putting oneself back – sometimes to the brink of despair or illness – for one’s career, children, some obligation or just to fit in, is the main issue to be artistically deconstructed in this year’s theatre dance project by the Kultur Fabrik Hoyerswerda. The idea that in a world that follows the rules of competitiveness and the threat of career redundancy, sacrifices are made in order to withstand the pressure put on oneself by expectation and fear of social downfall. The proposal put forward by this project is that not all of these sacrifices are justified. Some stand in the way of happiness and health. Furthermore, the process of discussing and dancing this state of affairs is meant to bring about relief and courage.
The musical accompaniment of this expression is Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps”. This timeless masterpiece was written just prior to the Great War in a society fixated on power and multi-national tension. It tells the tale of an ancient tribal society, which sacrifices a young woman from within, o that spring may come again. It asks the question what sacrifice we are willing to make as a society so that the earth can bloom once more. Though what are the wishes of that woman? Is she honoured or terrified? Does she at all desire sacrifice for society over her own path to discovery of a life she just began? Moving forward to today, we inquire as to what we are willing to sacrifice. Will our sacrifices lead to renewal and rebirth or something less sustainable and sinister?
Every one of those people crammed in that room has asked these questions and reflected upon their own sacrifices and whether they led to any blossoming. Many believe that it did not, that in fact their former selves might not be proud of where they are today. One person barely took part in the raising of his child due to his frequent delivery tours throughout Europe. Another tells of a cloud of death surrounding her medical work, which sometimes becomes so dark that she has trouble calling in the next patient. Some speak of their childhood dreams of being artists, and how circumstances shifted them in new directions. A man just out of school reminisces on his planning a model biography to the liking of potential employers.
Grey and black business jackets lie on stage. As the light come on, the group of about 70 dancers finds theirs and with the first notes of the music put on this uniform. To the beat of the drums, the sweet strokes of the violins or abrupt brass punches, those dancers teeter, balance, tense and convulse their bodies, which are not all dancers’ figures. Through this performance, which is interleaved with interviews of individual dancers, the audience gains a sense of remission of these sacrifices. At the end, one by one the dancers break formation and declare silently that their willingness to participate in their sacrifices has ended. No jackets are worn at the close.
Prior to this performance stood months of rehearsals including hours and hours of strength and stamina training. Given the diversity of the group, this is a tremendous achievement, thanks for which go to Dirk Lienig, who took the group through rehearsals and also Judith Gamm, together with whom he devised the choreography. Speaking to the dancers, one cannot help but notice both the pride they take in making this happen next to work and family, but also how intimate and trusting this strange group of people have become over the course of this project.
One thing left to mention is that I had the privilege of dancing with them, which has been a magnificent experience and brought me close to more people in Hoyerswerda, than I have known here since moving overseas. Also, dancing together with my mother – a veteran withthis project – has improved an already excellent relationship in my family. For that alone, I am very grateful. Those moments of standing behind a stage with others that are likeminded, anticipating and begin nervous, is a superb sensation. Now that it is over, we are all very saddened. Our bodies may revert to a lesser state of athleticism, though I know that many of us will choose more wisely the sacrifices we make in the future.