The fusion of different art movements can currently be observed nowhere as well as in contemporary dance. The Afro-American Trajal Harrell, who has been a guest several times at Impulstanz, made a guest appearance this time with his dance company, the “Schauspielhaus Zürich Dance Ensemble” at the Volkstheater at this year’s festival. His cross-border choreographies are a fine example of performative art that is not satisfied with dance alone.
“The Köln Concert” is the title of the evening and refers to the music used in it – Keith Jarrett’s live recording of his improvisation concert at the Cologne Opera in 1975. Unexpectedly, sales of the recording, which was made under adverse circumstances, developed phenomenally and today “The Köln Concert” can boast the title of the best-selling solo jazz record in the world.
Trajal Harrell has been called to Zurich in 2019 to add his own dance company to the Schauspielhaus. The dancer and choreographer is known for repeatedly incorporating elements of vogueing into his work. This is also readily accompanied by a fashion presentation, albeit – as in this production – in a satirised manner.
Harrell refers to Keith Jarrett as “his composer”, someone he knew immediately on first hearing that he wanted to dance to and work with this music. Interestingly, he doesn’t leave the evening to him alone, but prefaces it with four songs by Joni Mitchell. If Harrell speaks of Jarrett as “his” composer, he also dubs Mitchell as “his” singer. Combining the music of both in one piece was therefore an obvious choice for him. And so he realised the idea of using Mitchell as an “opening act”.
Even before the audience has completely taken their seats, Harrell stands at the right edge of the stage, a flowered summer dress hanging over his black outfit. From the very first moment he makes it clear: there will be no gender attributions of the conventional kind on this evening. And the choreographer skilfully follows through with this concept. As the first song plays, he begins to dance with slow, soft, repetitive movements, standing on the spot. One by one, the dancers come on stage and sit down on one of seven piano stools. Harrell himself also takes a seat. As if they wanted to get into the right mood for what was to come, they warm up by sitting on the stools, arms swinging and legs moving up and down. What immediately attracts attention are the different costumes, which are really put in the spotlight at the beginning of Keith Jarrett’s interpretation. For this, the ensemble struts towards the audience one after the other, as if on catwalks. Each and every one of them stops at the front edge of the stage, poses with standing and playing leg and gracefully walks off again on tiptoe – as if in high-heeled shoes.
This scene will be repeated later and clearly shows two aspects. Firstly, the dancers present themselves as a homogeneous troupe. As a community that follows an overall choreography. On the other hand, however, they are left with so much individuality that they can also be perceived as independent personalities. “Look who I am” – this unspoken announcement spills imaginatively over the edge of the stage – “look how beautiful my body is and what I’m wearing here!” The costumes are by Trajal Harrell, as are the choice of music and the setting. Some of the avant-garde fashion on display here appears as if it has not been properly donned. Dresses are sometimes just held in front of the body, tops seem to be just thrown over and are worn once over the shoulder, then again as an open skirt. “What you see here may look like a fashion show, but it is not” – again, an unspoken, rather subversive statement imposes itself. After the weird fashion defilee is over, the ensemble comes on stage a second time, one after the other. Now they wear individual black dresses with sophisticated, softly flowing cuts. These are cleverly executed so that the dancers’ bodies remain clearly visible. The different skin colours, the different physiques, all this can be consciously perceived and is also deliberately staged. The great diversity of the group is striking.
Each and everyone now gets a solo, while the rest sits transfixed on the piano stools. But the dancers never touch each other, lifting figures or contact improvisation seem to be foreign words. Harrell’s choreography, in which there is not a single physical contact between the dancing and posing people, refers to the time when Corona rules simply forbade such contact. Again and again, those who are not dancing sadly lower their heads in their seats. Others stare into the distance or expressionlessly into the audience.
Strongly remembered is Songhay Toldon, who dances a seemingly drunken faun. Whenever he stops for a moment, he presents himself as an admonishing saint with a corresponding hand gesture, his index finger extended upwards. Nojan Bodas Mair acts with veritable drag queen leanings and moves his lips as if he were singing along to Jarrett’s music playback. He immerses himself in every sequence with such exuberant facial expressions, swinging arms and graceful steps that his high energy level fills the entire room to the last row. His shiny white skin makes him look like an ancient statue whenever he poses motionless. Harrell staggers incessantly during his solo, as if he might fall at any moment, and accompanies Jarrett’s never-ending cascade of trills with his hand movements.
that you think you can visualise every single note. Titilayo Adebayo’s body is caught in the vibrations that pass through her as her long dreadlocks swirl in space, while Ondrej Vidlar moves with graceful swaying hips, lasciviously lifting his dress. The androgynous appearance of Maria Ferreira Silva and the striking divergence between model attitude and powerful, masculine appearance of Thibault Lac make it clear how broad the possibilities of expression are that are used here to one and the same music.
“The Köln Concert” by Trajal Harrell is also interesting in terms of audience acceptance. After all, many of those who watch this dance performance received a special jazz connection through Keith Jarrett when they were young. This may well have served as a calculation for full houses, but nevertheless does not show the slightest skin gout. Harrell’s choreography is neither smarmy nor chumming up. Rather, it expands Jarrett’s composition with interesting levels of experience that allow for a new perspective.
This article was translated automatically with deepl.com