The quote “We are nothing but stardust” seems to be Kat Válastur’s point of departure for Stellar Fauna. Second station in her “Staggered Dances of Beauty” cycle, co-produced by the choreographer and the HAU Hebel am Ufer, Stellar Fauna merges reality and fiction in a minimal yet expressive way. It’s hybrid work in two parts – a performance and a film installation – in which great importance is placed on creating a dreamy atmosphere, a parallel reality, where archaic mythology comes to collide with the contemporary world, thus highlighting what has stayed constant, the essential in our lives, the things upon which our survival depends.

<i>Stellar Fauna</i> © Dorothea Tuch
Stellar Fauna
© Dorothea Tuch

The audience is divided in two. Those seeing the performance first are brought to a David Lynchian oval, white-carpeted room, delimited by curtains. After removing our shoes, we are allowed to sit on black rubber tiles in the middle of the space. On each side, are three stations: on our left a faun-like reclining figure with its head hidden by a rigid petal-shaped screen, in the middle an upright stone stele with a bagpipe-looking pumpkin and on the right are some black tiles with flowers. Slowly the dancers rise up revealing skin coloured unitards engraved with words, black shorts and white sneakers. The metallic shimmer of their golden faces reminds me of Egyptian deities. A weirdly archaic yet robotic sounding soundscape is created by the distorted sounds of their breaths and voices repeating a kind of mantra. Similarly, there is nothing natural about their movements. They walk on their toes with bent legs as if wearing weirdly shaped heels. At a certain point, they look like those videos obtained by collating stills: from one position they slowly morph into the next and hold the pose. This is paired with psyc hedelic lights – blue and violet – that drastically affect our perception of the room. In this contemporary ritual, the Egyptian and Hellenic mythologies collide as these goddesses plant votive plastic flowers, and pumpkins on their heads, change spaces crossing through the audience to take the same initial reclining position as in Claude Debussy’s Faun. Scary yet stunning, Maria Zimpel and Harumi Terayama perfectly embodied the goddesses’ wrath, tenderly hugging their steles, elbows peaking out of the darkness, fully lit, and repeating threateningly the mantra “We are waiting for the floods to break free, although that would be the end of us”. The clapping brought us abruptly back to reality.

To reach the second part, we have to cross the backyard as the first snow falls on Berlin. The room is equipped with two big screen surfaces one facing the other and several grey maxi beans-bags that require interacting with our neighbour while adjusting for the projection. In the video, which contains Válastur’s recurring themes of anatomy and water, we see the same dancers floating and laying next to a pool in summer (which feels a bit odd given what we just experienced outside). As aquatic creatures, we see them plunge and swirl into what looks like lavender deep-sea water. Hypnotised by the flowing movements of these contemporary Sirens and the folds of their wet clothes moving around their bodies, I am sort of lulled into a dreamy state and I am not following the video properly. A voiceover describes anatomical facts on the circulatory system, giving details of how water and oxygen are absorbed into the bloodstream and how this determines the working of some glands. I am not sure if these are real facts or a fictional fabrication of some mutation we will acquire once the flood has come, submerging reality, as we know it and we are all forced to become mermaids. The voiceover also recounts the research undertaken to produce the video, but again I am not sure if this is yet another fabrication. The Undines are now lying next to the pool. Weirdly, I perceive them as twins. As they look innocently into the camera, their matching heterochromic eyes – brown and blue, blue and brown – mesmerize me. Again, there is no transition from this floating world back to reality and the end of the film suddenly breaks the dream. We leave in silence (there is, afterall, nobody to applaud).

This work surprisingly rasps your soul with its raw sweetness. There is something aesthetically pleasing about Stellar Fauna, especially in the video. The performance is a raw, elegiac experience of the twilight of the gods. It is indeed “A discourse about bodies in the wilderness of our times” that brings with it an archaic primordial call. Cryptic in its references to the ecosystem breaking down and becoming untamed, it is a veiled critique to our way of living that would upset the ancient gods. We are killing the natural beauty surrounding us, unleashing unknown forces. 

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