Who has not dreamt of travelling through time? As a way of finding the "other within us", the American but Brussels based choreographer Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, the Belgian dramaturg Jeroen Peeters and stage designer Jozef Wouters invited a nomadic tribe from the future to share their knowledge on communal living. As part of the HAU's new season and presented also in the context of the Berlin Art Week, the annual rendez vous for contemporary art in Berlin, Projecting [space[ is a site-adaptive adventure in post-industrial living animating the early autumnal evenings at the Reinbeckhallen along the Spree river.

Projecting [Space[, Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Jeroen Peeters & Jozef Wouters
© Laura van Severen

The former site of an electricity provider on the outskirts of Berlin, the Reinbeckhallen area has been reconverted into a cultural hub in the last years attracting many artists forced out of the city centre. At the sunset, on the grass near the Spree banks, as in Back to the Future, a car appears and loud music starts playing. A spotlight delineates a performance area in the dark creating a Sci-Fi-like atmosphere. The two passengers, a man and a woman, unpack and change clothes, while a couple with tiny bikes rides around the area with portable lights peaking from the back of their trousers/slips. This is the first of four tableaux in which the audience is free to roam, taking part involuntary in the nomadic tribe. This is followed by a mechanical ballet of construction and transport machines reminding me of the video to Rio Wolta’s Through My Street. In pure X-File style, a hydraulic excavator performs an iconic solo and then a duet with a woman in overalls. We are unsure if it is waving or threatening her with its mechanical arm while later on a man lying on a forklift evokes Caravaggio’s Narcissus. As we leave the area following a man in a tracksuit and a woman in a golden catsuit we are unsure about what was part of the show and what wasn't. For the second scene, we get crammed into a room of the Reinbeckhallen and are greeted by a new structure with performers walking on its top. They play with the audience intricate hands and arms dances and slowly transform into a group of monkeys. We are then moved into another, bigger room, with a kind of lowered basin and a structure around the walls for us to sit on or climb. Here several activities take place among which are a parachute scene, some kind of rituals involving the audience in the generating of sounds and a techno-tribal dance party that brought us outside again with the dancers moving against smoke torches in the background.

Projecting [Space[ is conceived as a two hours immersion into something 'other', between dance and performance art. The first impression is that of being in a Punchdrunk’s piece. And possibly, that is where it went wrong as I started expecting a story. The atmosphere built in the first scene, outside, did not fit well with what followed. Yes, there was the frisson of being very close to the performers and interacting with them – some people clearly adjusted to it and climbed on the structures in the second, bigger room – but I have not found a reason for the four different locations and for moving from one to the next. The movement choice was not of any help either as it was mostly mysterious, with an internal logic but we were not allowed closer. On a positive note, the performers did a great job: they have wonderful stamina and amazing movement qualities, despite the chilly evening. Worthy of mention is also the spectacular soundscape by Vincent Malstaf and the performance of Klaus Janek who followed with live music. Also interesting were those moments when the immersive setting allowed for other senses to be stimulated. A smellscape was created by the mosaic drawing done with brown powder by one of the performers; at first I thought it was coffee but then realized that it probably was Gran Masala or maybe that was actually the petrol-like smell of the chemical blue paint with which two guys smeared themselves with, some kind of tribal design, during the fore last scene.

I had great expectations for the show which were, in a way satisfied, but not completely. The images created have touched me but not as deeply as I have would liked to. I was not transported by it. Maybe a faint narration would have helped in giving more cohesion, a thread among the scenes. I am unsure of what the intent was apart from producing beautifully urban images of a futuristic travelling tribe at the very beginning. Overall, I am looking forward to seeing more site-specific/adaptive works taking the audience outside the usual black box.