Anniversaries are best when celebrated with friends. On Sasha Waltz & Guests’ 25th anniversary, the company gathered old and new collaborators – dancers, choreographers, musicians and visual artists – for four playful encounters questioning the nature of improvisation and group action. In the spirit of the more the merrier, the first sold out evening of the series “dialogue – wirbel: improvisationen” (dialogues – vortex: improvisations) saw a whole community coming together, with several rows of people sitting on the dance floor. The family atmosphere perfectly suited the cryptical and magical celebration of Waltz’ universe of images and the sizing of the moment in improvisation.

Sasha Waltz and Guests in Dialogue Wirbel
© Eva Raduenzel

Conceived as a dialogue between dance and music – but also between other art forms as there is a video projection, and usual props, lights and costumes on stage – the evening is divided into two parts. On stage are nine dancers (Sasha Waltz also participates), all seasoned improvisers, and three musicians. Cooperation, antagonism or co-existence characterizes this group search for aural and visual images and Waltz’ experienced and keen eye directs the action from the inside stirring or sustaining the development of one or another sequence. Three musicians produce the music or, to be more precise, the aural background, rather than a melodic accompaniment to the action. Two of them hide behind tables full of mysterious and usual objects whereas a cellist sits in the middle of the action. It is difficult for them, as they needed to interact with the other musicians as much as paying attention to the dancers (improvisation in music runs through the ears, not the eyes): they play all at once, they cancel each other out, they forget to play, mesmerized by the action. Their interaction creates dreamy and at times mundane sound images devoid of any recognizable tunes. Some sounds have clear associations but now and then one is surprised and has to look twice to determine whom and which object has produced it. Beside movement and music, a video projection adds layers of meaning. Other elements for the dancers to play with are five hollow wheels, a piece of cloth and some white boards. Still, in the spirit of creation, all objects at hand such as a water bottle, a cello case and the sticks of one of the musicians become vehicles for images: with water, one can write, a case provides hiding and drumsticks can prompt a living statue.

Is there a score that holds the event together? Or not? During the intermission, we are left wondering just to be swept away by the next swirl of images. Despite being improvised the evening is a concentrate of Walzian images. “Improvisation through movement and (a few) words” could be the caption of the first part as we see Waltz exchange lines with a male dancer (Sergiu Matis) discussing their rising in the morning. Her lines come first, his answers echoes a few minutes later. This is followed by a couple dancing salsa in slow motion and a woman stuck inside one of the wheels. In another occasion, a wheel becomes a chair for a woman in red (Hwan-Hee Hwang) who elegantly reclines over one of them. The projection changes direction constantly moved by the dancers: a black T-shirt becomes the perfect screening surface, the tower made out of the wheels at the far edge of the stage is suddenly illuminated with spirals of bubbles before the projector is pointed at the audience. The vortex of images in the second part – or “Reaching for the moon while flowing like water” – started with the group running in circles chasing and being stopped, breaking free and restraining one another and comprised a woman (Sophia Sandig) reaching for the moon while standing on the shoulders of a man (Virgis Poudziunas), two women (Waltz and Hwang) on their knee brushing the stage frantically with their hair, a woman (Hwang) dancing while the group clapped their hands first chasing her feet and then sustaining her dance. In general, the women had a much stronger presence than the men who often looked like porteurs. Still despite the great creative effort of all, behind most of the images is Waltz. Clearly comfortable on stage, she can eclipse the other dancers.

Chaotic, pointless, and liberating, improvisation is the very thing dances are made off. Patience is required to witness the stratification of movements creating a sequence. The absence of a clear structure can be disturbing to some but is central to the creative process and it is great to see it on stage. With a different cast each night, each performance is unique. It is a must-see for all that are interested in improvisation as it puts the artistry of the individual at the service of the group. And for those who got inspired, the evening ends with an open dance floor next to the bar.