Dance criticism in Berlin

A critic’s perspective: Franz Anton Cramer

Sarma 16 Nov 2004English

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Since a few years, Berlin hosts one of the most effervescent dance and performance scenes in Europe. There is creativity and experiment and exchange, but the current discussions and complaints about money and cultural politics just seem to trouble a clear perspective and sense of collaboration. Moreover, one particular debate appears to be forgotten: that on criticism and critical reflection on dance. Looking for a common ground to open a debate, Jeroen Peeters spoke with four people that have a strong interest in discourse, out of different professional perspectives. How do they regard dance criticism in Berlin? Peeters’ analysis was published on the occasion of the Tanznacht Berlin 2004 (‘Brainstorming… on the forgotton debate of dance criticism in Berlin’). What follows is an extensive version of the written statement by the critic Franz Anton Cramer, in response to Peeters’ questions.

Is the free scene properly represented/covered in local newspapers and magazines? What about other papers in Germany? Are these writings easily accessible for readers?

The free scene is of course never “properly” represented in dance criticism. Which has to do mainly with the fact that it, at least in Berlin, is just too manifold. However, the coverage has been far more important both in quantity and in quality before the so called newspaper crisis. Editorial cutbacks and a frenzy to be “more popular”, more oriented towards “the reader” have largely influenced on the choice of what to cover, and the scope of how to cover it. Today, it seems rather a random system than an idea of continuous observation and comment, or of discovery.

I am not too familiar with he situation elsewhere in Germany, but generally it seems to be a problem all over. However, with certain regions being less important as to their dance output, it might be less dramatic in NRW or in Bavaria, for instance. But as far as I can gather, there, too, the tendency is to look at mainstream rather than experimental or discourse oriented work. The Süddeutsche Zeitung, however, does include “off” work also in their national edition; but it is not clear to me whether there is some kind of system or if it is not also haphazard: If someone happens to be somewhere, they sometimes may write about it. The basic porblem, then, would be the lack of responsible sections directors, of real Tanzredakteure.

Although a clear 'Berlin dance' identity seems rather odd to me, it might help to gain more interest from local politics (subsidies) for the free scene, and in the end from newspapers, universities et cetera. How do you relate to that?

As I told you already, I am not sure whether the legendary “struggle to obtain more support from politicians” is really fruitful. For this there would have top be established a common policy, or vision, or line of action. However, this is not in sight for Berlin. And maybe it also and fundamentally contradicts dance as an artform and practice of art that lives of its diversity, incongruency, unmeasuredness, etc. Only the dance well defined – classical or Tanztheater, for instance – have a chance to be “recognized”. The rest will always remain off the track. In Berlin, this became particularly evident during a public discussion during Tanz im August, where the responsible local government member (the Staatssekretärin) explicitly asked the dance community: “What measures should be taken?”, and there was no common answer possible. As far as university and other dance-related institutions are concerned, I am always skeptical that they appropriate dance for their goals, which may be worthwhile and legitimate, but don’t really help dance as artistic practice and/or its structures.

What do you expect in general from criticism?

Criticism in its ideal form would create discourse, translate the discourse created in and by dance into “the public”, and open a continuous dialogue between art and understanding. It would be less about taste and its hierarchies, and more about viewing and contextualizing. However, most dance criticism in Germany’s major national newspapers, is totally in contrast to this vision, and it is precisely this style, or practice, that newspapers want. So there seems to be a sort of negative public consensus about the kind of criticism needed. This is appalling, of course, but it tells a lot about the situation of the media, and of the public, the “Öffentlichkeit”. Just think about what it means if other sections in the respective newspapers where held and directed by equally dishonest and self-centred authors. It’s a startling thing to imagine.

What is lacking, which measures are to be taken?

So the measures to be taken for improvement would be to gain independence from this kind of hierarchical, totalitarian criticism and find new channels. A self-governed magazine, for instance, as I had told you was proposed for Berlin. In Vienna, they are claiming this as well. A proper discussion on dance, or at least on the issues I find interesting in dance, will not be possible in any public context currently existing. And I do not feel the urge nor the strength to start a donquixotesque battle against obscure enemies somewhere “in the media” or “in the administration”. Rather, my aim is now to work on a proper context for dealing with dance on other levels: archive, discourse, history, understanding ...