There’s always a risk with aspiring to profundity in creating art and I would say most especially with German Tanztheater, which values serious subjects. There are so many ways to go wrong and only a couple to get it right. If you overstep yourself intellectually or let emotions run amok you can easily appear pretentious or ridiculous, no matter your intentions. Sasha Waltz has combined two separate works into one (long) evening length work. The first half, taken from a work created for the Neues Museum in Berlin, is performed in a black box and is emotionally dark and intense. The second half, which has a white floor and is more cerebral than emotional, was originally made for the MAXXI in Rome. 

Edivaldo Ernesto and Todd McQuade © Sebastian Bolesch
Edivaldo Ernesto and Todd McQuade
© Sebastian Bolesch

In Waltz’s own words about Continu:

“The first part is very emotional, like an outcry of society. It talks a lot about collective. The second part, in contrast, is our mind observing. It is the deconstruction of the body and certain theories of aesthetics.”

At times I frankly felt I was being bludgeoned with a “this-is-important!” sort of seriousness, At other times it worked well enough. Overall, it depended on the delivery. It is evident that Waltz has a very deep personal relationship with all of her dancers. They are highly individual and each of them was given an opportunity to be seen in solos that drew on their particular talents. It was these solos and duets that I enjoyed the most in this show.

The first half had many variations on the theme of self versus others. There were couples joining and splitting, the individual set upon by the group, the group itself splintering, and all of it given a heightened sense of anxiety by being played out in the claustrophobic black box. One scene that was especially effective had two men who were furious with each other. They got worked up into a frenzy of mutual hatred but with such impotence that it became comical. The first part ended with a heavy hand when the dancers were lined up at the rear of the stage and then shot to death, one by one, leaving only two survivors who ran from the stage and out through the audience... this seemed like an over-reach to me.

Hwanhee Hwang needs her own paragraph. She is one of those rare artists who make you feel something just by standing there with an aura that is both remote and vulnerable at the same time. In the hands of a lesser dancer Hwang’s solo would have elicited the groans of agony that one feels when observing a modestly talented mime who moves various parts of his body by pulling invisible strings. As a stand-alone technical trick it is nothing but when so invested emotionally as it was here, it becomes powerful. Hwang made us feel her emotional fragility by pulling on those unseen strings, she was unravelling her inner self. She also had a solo to open the second part in which she began by being tense and distraught – I was sure that the merest wind would blow her over – and then slowly collapsed in on herself. Hwang was worth the price of admission by herself.

McQuade, Rodriguez, Matis and JKD de Garaio Esnaola in <i>Continu</i> © Sebastian Bolesch
McQuade, Rodriguez, Matis and JKD de Garaio Esnaola in Continu
© Sebastian Bolesch
For the second part, a large white drop cloth covered the floor. It was less overtly emotional and thus, to my mind, more successful. Waltz used the white floor as a canvas to create a drawing. Pieces of pastel in red and black were crushed under the dancers’ feet and then used to draw lines by a succession of dancers. One of the dancers dashed around the floor and drew using his hands. It was an original element that I thought deserved to be explored in more depth with a more defined goal for the resulting image. At the end of the show, a group of dancers lifted the white floor and it became the backdrop for the closing pas de deux. It would have been more effective if the image on the canvas had been better.

Sasha Waltz and Guests’ Continu combined well-crafted modern dance with a German Tanztheater sensibility. It was performed by very capable modern dancers with a wonderfully moving performance by Hwang. They worked well together at unison dancing and their solos showed a lot of technical ability but at two hours, this show was too long. A good deal of the choreography involved reiterations of the same theme of self versus other and individual anxiety with a relentlessness that was occasionally irksome.