By Nicola van Straaten
There are times when one has to hurl oneself at a page. Or in this case, a screen.
Language, the thing that takes up the whole body (particularly the roundish lump at the top) occupies our skin so fully, unilaterally even. When I write the word ‘language’ I mean to imply, perhaps, that thing we filter our experiences of consciousness through.
So in order to get it onto a page or screen, or just… out – sometimes a run-up is required, some impetus or force is necessary.
(I am imaging the act of running very fast and jumping as high or as far as possible.)
So now I jump – here are my words landing on the screen (which will also be a page, one day). The act and touch of typing on my laptop is soft, but the words land hard. Here they are:
I’d like to write about a performance a saw a couple of weeks ago as a part of the Tanz Im August festival in Berlin; a well-established international dance festival that takes place once a year. I only went to one show (a free one) because I just don’t have the cash dollar to play those 12/15-euro-plus games right now.
The piece is called Au-delà de l’humain, created and performed by Cie Zora Snake, an artist from Cameroon who made the work in 2015. The work took place outdoors as the audience/crowd mingled amiably and awkwardly on the steps of one of the HAU theatres (there are several apparently – we got lost and went to the wrong one).
It begins. Snake walks determined and mostly naked into the middle of the road, no fucks given for cars or other such deadly vehicles. This stride, this palpable energy with which he walks is enough to immediately grab the entire attention of the 50 plus people gathered around him. There is a special kind of inaudible collective gasp that happens when he leaps up and throws himself onto the hard paved road. He repeats this leap with abandon and skill that takes years of training to accomplish. A falling, throwing, hurling skill that Snake certainly has perfected with his background in breakdancing.
(I fantasize again about dedicating my life and my body to breakdance. What a worthy and most beautiful cause; to experience the contours of your body against the hard-hitting surfaces of cement streets in such a way that is graceful, expressive and non-injury inducing).
A few of the audience form a protective barrier as Snake continues – and a couple of cars slow down, stop and stare, half-aghast-half-amused. Ah Berlin, you’re full of surprises. Loons or artists, people tend to take both in their stride with a fair amount of tolerance. No one hoots.
Snake then whips our focus in one straight line. With commanding shouts he passes something to an audience member (I can’t remember ‘prop’ details, like I say, I saw this about a month ago and my memory is rusty at best. Plus, I was busy hustling for a better view in the shuffly crowd). Instructing us to follow, he leads the procession with solemn authority, I am transfixed, a child in awe, cue the pan-piper effect: I’ll follow him wherever he goes.
He takes us through a cobbled street (oh Europe, a small third eye-roll), under an arched passage and we emerge on the other side. Is this where the coffin comes in? Something else happens and he elects two more audience members in the next step of events (memory stutters). My view is better now. He is passing them black crosses all tied to together with a piece of string.
The crosses are important objects, I can tell, but not as important as what one does with them. They symbolize something over and above the things that crosses are already supposed to symbolize. A string of deaths, tangled up insistently under the sign of the church, Christianity, religion, colonialism, dogma and spiritual systemic violence and control over one’s innermost expressions with cosmic deities of consciousness.
(My thoughts reshuffle as the group trudges off to witness what will take place next). Then, yes, the coffin. A big, heavy, wooden coffin. I’m thinking about what it would be like to turn death into a performance, or no – yes, that’s been done already. Another invisible skirmish amongst the watchers near a traffic light, more jaw-dropped motorists look on. I smirk, now they are the audience, the non-induced bypassers, outsiders to this sanctimonious act we’ve been witnessing since the start.
The pilgrimage continues and together we arrive at the square stage made of dark, good-smelling soil outside another HAU theatre, where Snake begins the beautiful wrap up performance. It feels both like a celebration ceremony and a ceremony of goodbye, putting to bed, letting go, finishing. He covers himself in some sort of red liquid, marks off the area where he will perform and bursts and leaps and rolls across and over this area in a series of magic tumbles. It’s as though he has the ability to turn himself into a ball possessed with the ability to bounce itself. I can’t tell whether he spends more time on the ground or hovering just above it.
He concludes the conclusion by crawling into the coffin, where he reads a statement in French. His voice is out of breath and passionate. I can catch a few words. I know it’s a moving, emotive speech, but the microphone feedbacks in the confines of the coffins, and the effect is somewhat dampened. I think to myself that this aspect of the performance would be better executed if it was a pre-recorded speech played over the sound system, instead of him reading the speech himself.
Despite the technological gap that undermined the momentous ending, I am still convinced, together and totally behind this performance. I have travelled with it; I have witnessed Snake’s secret and meaningful rites and his utter commitment to the physical demands this piece makes. My brain is mulling over concepts of magic, ritual and religion in a way that lets me walk away satisfied.
If you ever get a chance to check out the work of Cie Zora Snake – I strongly recommend! In the meantime, give his FB page a like and stalk him on YouTube & Vimeo!
Photographs by Dajana Lothert