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Happiness cannot be a permanent condition. After a while the frozen smile begins to ache. The choreographer Helena Waldmann’s “Happy Piece” shows the pain of happiness. The circus aspect is important, the game of bright announcements and acts performed with clenched teeth. And occasionally it is also possible to become quite giddy with happiness – as the dancers show when performing a humorous mouth choreography.
Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, 4.9.2012
ERBITTERT ERTANZTE EXSTASE HINTER DEM TüLLVORHANG
Fiercely Danced Ecstasy Behind the Net Curtain
A net-curtain circus tent affixed with heavy golden tinsel seams – so that’s what
the stage for happiness looks like! The choreographer Helena Waldmann sends out her
troupe of four dancers as if into a ring. Each piece of music marks a new round. And
the music is upbeat – plenty of sparkling 20s hits, interjected with rock ’n’ roll.
They jive and tap, twist and spin, turn cartwheels and do the splits: dynamic,
precise and inspirational.
Evelyn Beyer, Neue Presse Hannover, 4.9.2012
Here happiness – and simultaneously its death – is presented in a masterful, highly artistic revue. It begins with Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” – pure pathos – and leads at breakneck speed through a broad range of music styles and routines taken from the glitzy world of entertainment: never boring, always full of joy.
Helge Mücke, typepad.com 12.9.2012
The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno once wrote: “Fun is a medicinal bath”. And even if fun isn’t the same as happiness, it is evident that today happiness too has become something of a duty or an addiction, something that we imagine we can achieve through drill or consumption. This view is at least that of the Berlin-based choreographer and director Helena Waldmann. In her “Happy Piece” she lets the four dancers André Soares from Portugal, Brit Rodemund from Berlin, Moo Kim from Korea and Tobias M. Draeger from Munich tread the knife-edge between what happiness is, and what happiness seems to be. Waldmann shows how the performers chase after happiness or are overwhelmed by it. “Happiness comes in 10 Minutes”, we read. And with a wonderful irony instructions for dying are projected onto the tent: “Take a remedy against nausea, 80 anti-malaria tablets in apple purée, sleeping pills and an upright position. Good luck!” Is human happiness based on the certainty that we are allowed to die, that life is finite? Theodor W. Adorno says that only someone who has suffered is capable of feeling happiness. Applied to the conclusion of the performance, this could mean that only someone who is conscious of the finiteness of life is able to live in the moment.
Neue Züricher Zeitung, 27.4.2012, Katja Baigger
The self-presentation of Helena Waldmann’s “Happy Piece” is drastically different, and elaborated through both theatre and dance. The performances of the Berlin-based dance director have a political quality of the first order. Her works frustrate the self-understanding and perception of the audience. At the same time, Waldmann demonstrates that dance is not only a question of a physical attitude, but also a political one. What is particularly striking is that her works can be read entirely as socio-critical statements. The messages press from sensual perception into the choreographic composition and are dramaturgically precisely articulated. The dance thus becomes “language”, a language that for a receptive audience is entirely legible – or better: can be felt.
Ester Sutter, Musik & Theater, 12/2011
REALITY AND APPEARANCE
The performance always demonstrated a certain rebellion – the soul’s rebellion in search of its own dignity and self-determination. But what is this happiness that we chase after at any price? A glamorous setting, dancers dressed in well-cut suits and euphoric music? And what is the price of such a search? What sacrifices are we prepared to make? How far are we prepared to go?
A re-examination of our habits of perception and judgement becomes inevitable. Subtle but constant provocations are given a virtuoso packing. “Happiness will come in 10 minutes” – projected sentences such as these and a guide to suicide through sheer delight and empty promises of happiness provide the audience with food for thought.
Anna Willi, Volksblatt Liechtenstein 23.4.2012
HAPPINESS COMES WHEN FEAR GOES
With disdainful courtesy Waldmann has no specific programme; her work sets out to perturb, to provoke, but also to make the heart dance, the soul leap. This she achieved on Sunday evening with the wonderful “Happy Piece”. André Soares, Moo Kim, Tobias M. Draeger and Brit Rodemund sweep across the stage with such a refreshing physicality that it is a joy to watch. A glittering mini circus ring becomes the scene of action, and the source of the happiness that the quartet of dancers is so intent on seeking out. And, in doing so, often loses the ground beneath its feet, seeming to defying gravity to reach for the wonderful moment of light-heartedness. “Happiness comes in ten minutes” is suddenly announced in large letters. But as soon as one has the chance to enjoy the good news one learns that death is not too far off either. Black and white, happiness and unhappiness are closely linked; they could even be said to depend on one another. Where no tears have flown, there can be no laughter. Where there has been no rage, there is no room for miracles. And thus Waldmann’s cloverleaf-troupe alternates between joy and sorrow, and in doing so even touches on the threshold of madness. For whoever is not already a little mad can never be deliriously happy. Mad in a positive sense of course. The tight one-hour performance is accompanied by a lively soundtrack, combining Elvis with the infectious sounds of the Charleston, jazz interludes and a tap finale. The happy end brings a smile. Happily.
Tiroler Zeitung 3.4.2012
A PHANTOM TO CUDDLE
When a work chooses the title “Happy Piece”, it is almost inevitable that a strong dose of irony is involved. Especially since the ideas-friendly dance theatre is not especially interested in lottery prizes or stirring up its audience. The Berlin-based body-language author Helena Waldmann now follows her recent treatment of dementia with the hardened grin of deceptive exultation.
It could almost be the supporting act for the latest Oscar winner “The Artist”. In a canopied arena four dancers run through the swing and rock eras, wordlessly and breathlessly in pursuit of a good mood. The soundtrack is set in golden-oldies mode. The actors get into the stride of big-show nostalgia, and their salvation is broadcast in an illuminated text: “Happiness will come in 10 minutes”. And death, as we read afterwards, will also make an appearance. Nevertheless, the scaremongering is kept in bounds; at most the forced laughter is put temporally on hold. Ah well, in common parlance “to get lucky” only means to get away.
In her most recent works the conceptual choreographer Helena Waldmann has never dared so much while claiming so little. “Happy Piece” is free of overtly critical theses and full of mischievous entertainment – a Las Vegas concentrate of minimalist show numbers, whose original spirit is quoted and then sent high-speed through the circuits of the brain. Happiness as finger clicking, as a rushing between Charleston and shuffling, shaking Elvis, manifesting radiant enthusiasm in senseless straddling, and emitting hilarious playback noises, remains what it is: a phantom to cuddle.
Four soloists in top form and humour: Brit Rodemund, garnishes heavenly showbiz fun with infernal laughter, her three partners (Andre Solares, Moo Kim and Tobias M. Draeger) eschew neither leaps nor pulling faces. The performance functions both as food-for-thought and as a revue. The audience were able to grasp the happiness and cheered appropriately.
Stoll, Abendzeitung 19.3.2012
“HAPPY PIECE” BY HELENA WALDMANN
In the confined space of a vaudeville tent four superb dancers confront us with the world of our great desires. We experience a circus act as if on a high-voltage wire.
Claus Clemens, Rheinische Post 10.3.2012
HAPPINESS TO BURSTING POINT
Wonderful! A nostalgic variety theatre surrounded by a velvet curtain with golden tassels. Three good-looking men smile while cheerfully gliding through their dance numbers. Curtain up and it’s already there: happiness!
If you go to see “Happy Piece” by the Berlin-based dance director Helena Waldmann, the first impression you get is of people who are clearly in their element. The captivating finger-snapping choreography of the three male dancers or the breathtaking solos of Brit Rodemund will definitely put you in a good mood. Helena Waldmann presents Lindy Hop, an American dance style from the 1930s, whose influences include Charleston, tap and jazz.
But, as we know, happiness is fleeting, and Helena Waldmann doesn’t make things easy. Someone who brings subjects such as Alzheimer’s (“Get a Revolver”) or the Islamic full-body veil and Japanese bondage techniques (“BurkaBondage”) to the stage is clearly not interest in cosseting their audience.
Dancers as the Aggressive Grimaces of a Feel-Good Society
The ensemble, made up of three men and one woman, becomes increasingly restless and fidgety. Smiles give way to wary glances. The dancers have become grotesque happiness-puppets, the aggressive grimaces of a feel-good society that will chase after any promise of happiness. But why the relaxed mood changed is never fully revealed. Wasn’t enough enough? It was all so wonderful!
There is – or at least so it seems – a way out of the crisis. With a collective shaking of the knees the four are able to smile again. In the final Breakout the ensemble dances as if suddenly set free. No longer an entertaining, well-behaved revue number. The buzz of happiness comes from total expenditure.
To sum up: Helena Waldmann’s most recent work, which was premiered in December 2011 in Berlin, is a piece that is well worth seeing, that swings, that grins conspiratorially into the audience with a self-ironical wink.
Bettina Trouwborst, Westdeutsche Zeitung 9.3.2012
ON COURSE FOR HAPPINESS
Helena Waldmann’s stage designs are as rigorously filleted as all other parts of her performances. She sticks to the general rule of thumb: “cut away the fat until only the meat is left on the plate” so that a single element – language, dance, multimedia or music – never steals the show, but contributes sparingly to the success of the whole.
A prime example is her most recent work, “Happy Piece”. At regular intervals white letters on a black background announce that happiness will appear in ten minutes – then freedom, then death. Below, four performers caper, carouse and cajole their way through a golden curtained arena until – thanks to the wonderful light design – the sparkling tinsel becomes a funereal crape. Meanwhile, the spirited performers continue to scamper after happiness, whose coattails they will never quite grasp. With ever-more grotesque Ensor-like grimaces, they finally lurch into the abyss of motionlessness. Life punishes those who miss the moment – with torpor, a cold heart, anaesthesia. Forced among the ranks of the living dead.
tanz, 3/2012 Dorion Weikmann
Fats Domino and all the other hits from the 40s to the 60s that fill the evening really put you in a good mood.
Nevertheless, the swinging music cannot disguise the fact that this “Happy Piece” is not really about being a happy piece, or even an unhappy piece. It’s more like a rhetorical question addressed by the choreographer to her audience. And that is: You call that happiness? This fake cheerfulness?
A woman and three men in elegant suits descend an elegant stairway, dance jauntily like Fred Astaire in his best period. They swing, jazz, tap and smile. Occasionally sentences appear on the curtain at the back, alternating between irony and seriousness: “Happiness will come in ten minutes” or “Death will come in ten minutes”. This is accompanied by advice on how to commit suicide. For the well-known Berlin-based choreographer, happiness means freedom –hence also the freedom to decide when to terminate one’s life.
In the snappy 60 minutes there are increasingly moments where the show changes suddenly. Arms and legs twitch wildly to Elvis Presley. The dancers spin at high speed on the spot. The wonderfully precise Brit Rodemund laughs with diabolical despair. Another shouts out his rage. But everything is held in the frame created by the stage design. A loosely draped curtain is drawn almost into a circle, creating a rather restrictive space for the dancers. It is hung with long glittery fringes and little light bulbs. That too tends to represent the promise rather than the fulfilment of happiness. Here is the stage: be a star!
In her much celebrated works Helena Waldmann examines society up close. In the past she has worked with women from Iran; last year she presented a work about dementia. The irony with which the choreographer stages her new piece is wonderful. She rightly avoids all symbols and theatricality. Nevertheless, at the end we are left with the rather empty impression that she has danced around real happiness. However, perhaps that is the insight of the evening. After all, what is real happiness?
Anna Pataczek, Frühkritik rbb inforadio 16.12.2011
IN BERLIN HELENA WALDMANN STAGES A QUARTET OF HAPPINESS SEEKERS
In the former West Germany, curtains from the company Ado – characterised by their golden fringe – were seen as the epitome of domestic bliss: no ordinary flounce; rather, the expression of a middle-class mentality of safety and security. 20 metres of golden Ado curtains hung around a circus ring and open to the audience provide the frame for Helena Waldmann’s “Happy Piece” in Berlin’s Radialsystem. The four performers who invite us to partake in the spectacle of their private obsessions are, however, buried alive. So involved in fortune seeking they miss the decisive moment; the tinsel atmosphere therefore gradually dims to become an anthracite-coloured coffin lining.
The Berlin-based choreographer Helena Waldmann has one up on many of her colleagues: instead of riding hobby-horses to death, for each new piece she takes a new horse from the thematic stable, letting it canter through the arena of current debates. From dementia (“Get a Revolver”, 2010) she has now moved promptly to the hurdle of happiness, towards which we have been guided by so many purveyors of advice – mostly to no avail. According to Waldmann’s reading our difficulty has a simple explanation: whoever indulges in a constant nostalgia or anticipation of pleasure spends his life in a state of waiting – until, as an emotional skeleton, he finally sinks into his grave.
A woman and three men spin over the stage like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, pushing the pulse of wellbeing to its limits. But Technicolor showbiz belongs to another era, and all the other affect-filled promises – “freedom, fury, death” – remain unfulfilled.
In the no-man’s-land between past and future the quartet (standing in for society) falls apart, because the moments of reciprocal awareness and collective vibrancy are reduced to milliseconds. Each the forger of his own happiness? Here, this means: the forger of the nail for the collective coffin of happiness.
Dorion Weickmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung 17.12.2011
MANEGE DER HOFFNUNGEN
Eine kleine Manege steht auf der Bühne des Radialsystems. Mit dem goldbesetzten Vorhang, den Lamettafransen sieht sie aus wie eine riesige Weihnachtgeschenkschatulle. Vielleicht hat Helena Waldmann ihr neues Stück tatsächlich als ein Geschenk an die vom Adventshopping gestressten Zuschauer gedacht. Zuletzt sorgte sie mit „Revolver besorgen“, einem Stück über Demenz und Vergessen, für Diskussion. In „GlückStück“ legt sie zunächst eine unverschämte Leichtigkeit an den Tag. Doch der Ausgangspunkt der Choreografie war die Überlegung, warum sich in dieser Wohlstandsgesellschaft so viele Menschen „irgendwie tot“ fühlen. Einen „existenziellen Mangel an Lebendigkeit“ diagnostiziert der Philosoph Peter Strasser – das ist die Krankheit unserer Zeit.
Durchs Manegenrund traben keine bemalten Clowns, keine dressierten Ponys, vier Tänzer schlagen hier ihre Kapriolen. André Soarez stürmt als erster über das Treppchen, wie durch Knopfdruck erscheint ein breites Lächeln auf seinem Gesicht. Sie müssen ausdauernd ins Publikum lächeln, die Tänzer, die hier zu wahren Heiterkeitsathleten werden. Zu Beginn der Proben hat Waldmann ihre Darsteller gefragt: „Macht Tanzen glücklich? Und wenn ja, warum erscheint der Tanz auf der Bühne so viel unglücklicher als in einem Ballsaal?“
Von DJ Jayrope hat Waldmann sich dann einen Soundtrack mit Swingmusik zusammenstellen lassen, überwiegend Bigbandsounds, aber auch recht skurrile Nummern. Von Elvis kommt das geheime Motto des Abends: „A little less conversation, a little more action.“ Was soll das ganze Gegrübel? Besser die Beine in die Hand nehmen! Die Choreografie lehnt sich bei Tänzen aus den dreißiger und vierziger Jahren an. Und so steppen und schieben und gleiten die Tänzer über die Bühne, machen X- und O-Beine, springen in einen angetäuschten Spagat, schlagen ein Rad. Bei den Tap-Dance-Andeutungen denkt man an die amerikanischen Filmrevuen mit Fred Astaire und Ginger Rogers zurück – und wird ein bisschen wehmütig. Denn Waldmann lässt nur minimalistische Varianten mit simpelsten Schritten zu, die rhythmisch oft nicht richtig zünden. Zur Swing-Seligkeit reicht es nicht. Zwar hat der Abend manchmal die Ausgelassenheit eines Kindergeburtstages. Doch das Vergnügen wird eingetrübt, mitunter wirken die Tänzer wie gedrosselt. Nur das Glück des befreiten Körpers, der alle Disziplinierung abschüttelt, vor Augen zu führen – so einfach macht Waldmann es sich nicht. Sie setzt sich auch kritisch mit all den eilfertigen Glücksversprechen auseinander, mit denen wir tagtäglich bombardiert werden.
„Das Glück kommt in 10 Minuten“, steht anfangs auf einer Leinwand zu lesen. Das Dauergrinsen verzerrt sich bei den Vieren schon mal zur Fratze. Der feinnervige Koreaner Moo Kim verfällt in einen Zittertanz. Und die steppende Brit Rodemund rutscht auf dem Frohsinnsparkett aus, rappelt sich aber wieder auf, um ins Happy End zu gleiten. Alle steigern sich schließlich in eine stumme Wut oder schlottern mit den Knien, was fast schon wieder lustig ist.
Letztlich tanzen André Soares, Brit Rodemund, Moo Kim und Tobias Draeger gegen die Angst vor dem Tod an. Wir verpassen das Glück, wenn wir ihm verzweifelt hinterherlaufen – will uns Waldmann sagen. Ihren furchtlosen Entertainern sieht man aber mit Vergnügen zu.
Sandra Luzina, Der Tagesspiegel, 17.12.2011
IN SEARCH OF HAPPINESS
Where happiness begins art ends. The same holds for Helena Waldmann’s “Happy Piece”. The choreographer addresses a theme that is very alien to art – her new dance performance sets out in search of happiness.
Art ends where happiness begins. Most of the time at least. Nobody makes a film that continues after the happy end. For centuries dance and theatre stages all over the world have been populated with love, death, tragedy – and unhappiness. But happiness? Only very rarely.
Glittery curtain, small stairway, spotlight: the four dancers – three men and a woman – search for happiness in the spectacle, in the limelight, in the attention of others, occasionally also with others in a dance. They swing, tap and twist, sway their slender hips and strike poses. A big entertainment number drawing on aspects from the revue, the circus, the fair. If happiness means being alive, then the dancers get very close. Their energy is astonishing. Above all the three men, Moo Kim, Tobias Draeger and André Soares – the latter’s expressivity recalling Klaus Kinski – let their energies run wild.
The fact that, despite all this, they are still not happy quickly becomes noticeable – at some point in the nonchalant stepping back and forth, the strain becomes visible. Smiles freeze; teeth get clenched. Glowing faces harden. The head nods in time to the music until it aches. The dance keeps going, but it has lost its sense of lightness. Something strained, distressed, occasionally even bitter, exhausted and empty, appears with increasing insistence.
Happiness is something ambivalent, no question about it. And the search for happiness resembles a hunt that can end in despair. Or even in death.
Elisabeth Nehring, Dradio -Kultur, 17.12.2011
Putting the theme of happiness at the centre of a work almost automatically raises our expectations, even though happiness is an existential ingredient of our lives. And the audience at RADIALSYSTEM V certainly seems enthusiastic as it is received by a festively glittering miniature circus tent and lively background music. Here a space of suggestive promise has been set up, seems to be the message. André Soares is the first to appear on the show steps, accompanied by Richard Strauss’ monumental composition “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. He stretches up his arms while covering his face in beams of joy. He is subsequently joined by Tobias M. Draeger, and the couple shuffle and bob over the stage to the sound of swing. The team of happiness seekers is finally completed by Moo Kim and Brit Rodemund. And it quickly becomes clear that happiness is something hard to pin down. While the four are keeping up the high spirits at the front, on the curtain behind the audience can read comments like “Happiness is coming in ten minutes”, or “Death will appear in ten minutes”. The choreographer Helena Waldmann draws on Adorno, who remarked that happiness comes from the suspension of suffering. Somebody who has never been unhappy cannot feel happiness. Accordingly, the performers take on the role of balls that accommodatingly fly back and forth between the two poles, occasionally leaping into the fray in grotesque synchrony, or veering off for a furious solo – like Moo Kim, who dances her heart out to Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation”. Grimacing, mad laughter and wildly convulsive body parts probably stand for the normal madness we call life. For this spectacle of happiness, the stage design is both an advantage and a limitation. A circus ring can always also be stylised into a surreal panopticon, a place in which escalations of all kinds are permitted. Unfortunately, the circus context also occasionally gives the piece the quality of a set of revue numbers. However, the actors are excellent performers, who carry the whole to the end. Happily!
Annett Jaensch, tanzpresse.de 20.12.2011
HELENA WALDMANN’S “HAPPY PIECE”
In her new work Helena Waldmann deals with the everyday feeling of happiness, taking it to unexpected levels by providing happiness with a fitting stage. A splendid circus ring full of festiveness. Faithful to the formula that “A little madness is always a good thing”, the dance director subjects her four protagonists to the ups and downs of an emotional rollercoaster ride with a ruthlessness that verges on insanity. At one-minute intervals the next emotion appears in a heading at the back. Here, it is a matter of the full spectrum of extreme feelings between the most catastrophic crashes and soaring flights. A breathtaking André Soares who, rather unsettlingly resembling a young Klaus Kinski, dances himself into a terrible rage with rolling eyes, mad and extremely funny, a very composed Moo Kim, who increasingly looses his composure in the course of the performance to finally become completely derailed, as well as a very natural and, in his honesty, impressive Tobias M. Draeger, and last but not least the extremely masterly dancer Brit Rodemund transform the evening literally into a happy piece.