On ‘Joy of Life’ at HAU1, by Ersan Mondtag and Ensemble.
It made me think about dance as a “figure” (both the noun and the verb) when I read the following description in a text titled ‘Figuring the Self: Unity and Multiplicity’ :
“(…) Numbering its parts; redrawing and, sometimes, erasing its lines. It is considering and reconsidering the contours of cohesiveness and fragmentation, identity and difference, stability and change, closure and openness.”
‘Joy of Life’ by German theatre director Ersan Mondtag and Ensemble similarly blurs the boundaries of categorisation, as its installation and choreography coalesce. The moving scenography interweaves with the choreography, as the performers do with the installation. A soft fabric architecture comes down in intervals and floods the rotating stage. On it, nine performers gradually evolve from simple formal exercises to their own improvised movement language. The front of the stage can be closed off by two white panels to form the backdrop for a large immersive projection that shows what happens on stage in a livestream filmed from the ceiling. Unexpectedly, the performers are seemingly suspended in mid-air, but actually lying on the ground. References to hierarchies and their consequences are woven through the piece in every visual, auditory, and choreographic component. Dancing, the performers seem to be figuring a self.
The voiceover superimposed over the entire performance is a fictional dialogue based on real testimonies  speaking of structural violence inflicted on the speakers and their futures by their parents' generation. Traumatic events and remarks on the life-altering quality of dance are read in children’s voices, creating unpalatable tension. Similar tensions between participation and influence, instinct and fantasy, transpire throughout the choreography. The overlay of serious life changing events seems to narrate the slippery feeling of life as a liminal bump — pressed between what one moves towards, and what life brings wafting in.
The live video projection in ‘Joy of Life’ plays with horizontal and vertical planes and the different perspectives they shed; whether a body steers towards a goal, floats or is thrown off-course. The performers move mostly in tandem, in simple gestures that disorient the viewer through the top-down perspective of the projection. Observing the bodies' interrelations feels like reading between lines, seeing them from different perspectives, moving as one, or suddenly regaining autonomy. The fictional dialogue about difficulties faced blends intersubjective awareness and recognition as key concepts to becoming.
“Developmental positions neither follow or precede one another; rather each co-exists with the other…” is a quote by writer and psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden I find in ‘Figuring the self’. Ersan Montag is not a choreographer, but his way of creating an image similarly coagulates into a complete body of jittery organs. In ‘Joy of Life’, dance, as subjectivity, lives in the dialectical tension between positions.