Thoughts on the performance "Stillness is monochrome?"
July 20, 2018, Cobenzl Castle
"The whole body, from one wing tip to the other, is nothing but a thought."
(The seagull Jonathan)
But which one?
I am a Catholic theologian
. The symbolic language is familiar to me. And so is the experience that spirit incarnates, becomes image, flesh, body, dance. But as a theologian, I am in need of the interpreting, revealing word. For image, flesh, body – the symbolon that connects spirit and matter is always ambiguous. So what is the performance in which I find myself telling me? I need a key. A word.
So I orientate myself to the text that is read by the beautiful, upright Margit. A text from a book that I have always avoided. When I started reading it years ago, it seemed too strange, too confusing. A book I hadn't thought of for years – and which a few days ago a good friend of mine recommended to me regarding a question that was on my mind: the question of evil. In view of the current developments in Europe and around the world, I have been constantly wondering how it is possible, after two world wars, 55 million war victims, 6 million murdered Jews, that the Medusa of misanthropy is once again raising its head. Are we underestimating the power of evil? What is evil? What is its reality?
And there it is already appearing
. Margit reads from "The Master and Margarita", a complex novel in which the devil arrives as a black magician in Moscow, which is dominated by the bureaucracy of communist Russia. A likeable character. He redeems the master and Margarita.
Margit with the similar name mentions Asasel, the desert demon, to whom in the ritual of Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement – the sins are handed over, charged to a billy goat, so that Israel can again be free from guilt and sin. This is a fairly central core of the biblical message. God and man can be reconciled. For Christians, Jesus will be that carrier of sin. And all of this is now standing, or better, dancing here in the Cobenzl Castle. I am confused. Dance as reconciliation?
After this performance, I understand why this book has irritated me so much. Why this performance only became accessible to me at home that night after I had started researching what "Master and Margarita" is all about. Margit understood something about evil that I had previously completely ignored in this context. And she and her artist friends explained it to me in a dancing way.
You can dance evil away
. One can dance away from it. The decisive factors are playful ease, continuous motion, encounter and contact, and last but not least love. Margarita is the lover. I have known for a long time that Margit also is a true lover.
But there are also other "messages" that can only be told by art.
"Master and Margarita" contains a few bold "theses".
Reality is fiction. (In the times of Mikhail Bulgakov, bureaucratic totalitarianism. It is a collective system of madness, a delusion).
Real, however, is art and literature. (In the novel, the narrative around Pontius Pilate and the good man Yeshua Ha Nazri).
Evil is a creaturely reality, not dualistically opposed to God, but a participation in the salvation of man. (In the novel the devil helps the two lovers to salvation).
With these three keys in the background, I am able see the performance in reverberation in its full depth.
Three exemplary experiences that have opened up to me with the help of these theses:
1. The arrangement of space
. When I enter the performance space, I cannot orient myself. This room has no center. What is the stage? Where can I sit down and observe? Yes, there are a few rows of chairs that surround a kind of stage, but the cameraman is standing somewhere else. And he knows what"s about to come. Are these beautiful couch arrangements an invitation to take a seat or are they taboo? – I am someone who likes to be in control, and thus in every new space I quickly observe and keep an eye on the center and with it the power structure, but here there seems to be no such anchor. That is irritating. Eventually I find a place where I have almost everything in view. But even here I will have to stand up repeatedly if I want to see everything. Constantly someone will dance away from me – oh, didn't I say dance away from evil? Am I acting evil here? Yes, I want to fixate. To grasp the situation. The best position is close to the cameraman, he has to know what's going and can't keep searching like I do. Too bad there are two cameramen. The place that I eventually end up finding allows me to see that – while the music is playing – Margit is already dancing in front of the castle. It is full of irony: I see people waiting for dancers and staring into the room for something to happen. But in fact something is already happening. Only elsewhere. Only very few people notice this. I observe this from my place of power. After all, I am not completely immobile. Immobility, the beginning of all that is bad. The search for the center, which makes you blind. The compliance with a predetermined order.
2. I experience art
. And with Bulgakov this is the actual, the essential reality in an inverted reality. Real – that is the bodies that are dancing. Art makes it possible to perceive the reality of these bodies, more precisely than ever before. I see and study every movement, every muscle, the dancers are reduced to the essential. Never in real life could I look at and appreciate the real Margit as intensely as in the context of art, this art. It would be embarrassing. The framework of the performance allows me to study the reality of the bodies. Bodies in motion, which, due to the spatial setting, elude me incessantly. We must dance away from evil. What is dance, actually? Only humans can dance.
3. The performance reflects the relationship between image and movement
. "You should not make an image to yourself!" comes to my mind. This abbreviated version of the first commandment also points to something evil, for whoever makes an image of God or his likeness, man, determines him, determines oneself. It is difficult to make a picture of someone who is dancing. Dance is a form that does not grasp at anything. An art that only "exists" by happening. The frame that the dancer wears and in which he holds himself makes this visible. Whoever is not allowed to fall out of the frame cannot dance. He or she is curved. Bent. Martin Luther once described the sinner as homo incorvatus in se ipsum. The man curved inward on himself. The dancer will set him free. Yes, the dancer, not Margit. The dancing Margit is different from the one with whom I sit and talk in the coffee house. She is a stranger to me when she dances. And that is good, because I can change my image of her.
"Break through the limitations of your thinking, and you will break the bonds
of the body." (The seagull Jonathan)
Thanks Margit. You have shown me something new.
Regina Polak, 2018
Translation by Dennis Johnson