Right on Kastanienallee, once home of artists and students, Dock 11 is now, thanks to gentrification, in one of the hippest areas of Berlin. With its extensive offer in dance training, rehearsal spaces and an informal stage, Dock 11 is an important place for the Berlin dance scene. Located in an old ‘bau’ (old construction), with its white painted brick walls conferring a particular atmosphere, the small theatre has an interdisciplinary programme (theatre, performance, literature, music, visual art, film and club art) where it is possible to experience new upcoming choreographers such as Rosalind Masson and Jack Webb. Their Quartet presents four different tableaux exploring different sides of a coin through movement, sound and light.

Quartet © Irina Steinbrecher and Tim Nunn
Quartet
© Irina Steinbrecher and Tim Nunn

A collaboration between different techniques and consciousness practices, Quartet was conceived and developed by Daniel Squire – a former Merce Cunningham dancer and now performer, teacher and curator – with Rosalind Masson and Jack Webb. The four different solos, on music by Jan Hendrickse and James T. Mackay, have several engaging moments. The opening features a woman dragging a microphone over her body, to which – at first – a man responds with sleek and fluid movements. As she leaves, he enters into physical dialogue with several radio sets on stage. The second and third sequences introduce dark poetics. A figure, dressed in glitter top and leather leggings, all rigorously black, is seen lying on her back with black balloons attached to her stomach. After a moment of stillness, the balloons seem to be dragging the convulsing figure across the floor. As they are released, they leave a disarticulated puppet rolling about, in a string of contortions. In the third sequence, the man takes up this jerkiness: Wearing similar black attire, he enters walking backwards like a robot after an electric shock. His fascinating solo reminded me of Salvatore, the monk and demented hunchback heretic, in the 1986 film of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. A figure, governed only by his senses, with his black tongue out and his eyes closed for most of the time, evoked complex emotions. The fourth scene harks back to the first: the woman presents a solo of slanted diagonals that at times reminded me of the bi-dimensionality of Nijinsky’s Faun (perhaps also because of her costume, a long dress with side slits). Meanwhile the man offers up a soundscape: the sound of radios being tuned to her dance.

A piece with a cyclical structure, Quartet shows obvious influences of Cunningham technique, enriched by serpentine and every day movements. These are most obvious in the transitional moments when the dancers change direction, stepping through the classical Cunningham wide fourth-position stance, with bent legs. It was most striking to see the dancers move from the formal sequences in the first and fourth sections, which required them to produce external shapes, to the dark sequences in the second and third sections, that required an internal, instinctive approach to movement production. The scurrility of his monk sequence was disturbingly fascinating, whereas, in her solo, she gave the impression of being a boneless puppet.

The most effective movements were the simplest ones. Towards the end of her acrobatic contortions, she creates circles by rotating her torso from side to side. The quality of her movements and their repetition had an entrenching hypnotic effect, with her arms and hair establishing a circumference. Her hair offers an interesting effect – like she is a wild animal – as she approaches the exits on all fours, her hair hanging down. The first and fourth sequences, that see the two dancers react to each other and to the surrounding media – the microphone and the radios – feature lovely, formal sequences that were interrupted by abrupt transitions. These felt unfinished as they seemed unrelated to the rest, and left me a little unconvinced. The costumes – a blue and brown dress, a T-shirt with trousers, and the glittery top with imitation-leather leggings – fit into single scenes, but seemed unrelated to one another on the whole.

An interesting production for the contrasting qualities of the sequences, Quartet was a little too brainy and not accessible enough. The programme notes could have been more useful to the general public, usually unaware of how movement can be generated, but instead were of little use. On the whole Quartet is a watchable production, and requires a great deal of effort from the dancers. To quote the programme notes, ‘There are no truths but only interpretations.’ - Nietzsche.