“Berlin has a deserved reputation as a, or the, new world center for all things young and hip. Anyone wishing to test that proposition need look no further than Dance Theater Workshop, where on Thursday a piece called ‘Back to the Present,’ by the Berlin-based group Constanza Macras/Dorky Park, was happily ensconced. Theater Heute, a leading German theater magazine, wrote that the piece reflected ‘exactly the scene of Berlin bohemia.’ That seems about right.
Ms. Macras comes from Buenos Aires and was trained, among other places, in New York. In 1995 she gravitated to Berlin, like the 12 dancers in her wildly international company. That company, named to recall Gorky Park (the Moscow park and/or rock band) but also to sound dorky, was founded in 2003. Before that she had another group, Tamagotchi Y2K, and she has worked extensively with the various Berlin theaters that subsidize dance. Dorky Park’s first show was a nearly four-hour version of ‘Back to the Present,’ performed in a rambling, derelict Berlin department store. The piece was retooled for the stage in 2004 and lasts two and a half hours (with one intermission) at Dance Theater Workshop. The three performances here are part of the citywide European Dream festival. At first glance this might seem like another of those endlessly proliferating post-Pina Bausch exercises in random vignettes, some dance and some theater (and here, some video) performed by a personable young cast. This kind of work can seem charming but also inconclusive.
What distinguishes ‘Back to the Present,’ apart from a particularly personable, sexy cast, is the manic good humor of the entire enterprise. The piece ends with a crazed free-for-all, with everyone stripping (or being stripped) naked and hundreds of stuffed animals and other detritus hurled around the set. It’s just exhilarating. Everything before that leads up to the end. At the outset a woman intones a mantra: ‘We dance and we love; we love and we dance.’ And they do dance, intermittently, with considerable skill. But there are also all manner of vignettes, often sexy or sexual or barely clothed. There are personal stories, charmingly delivered in native or lightly accented English (the lingua franca of Berlin bohemia). There are songs, performed very well indeed by the Dorky Park Ensemble, which consists of the dancers and sounds sometimes like a pretty good rock band and sometimes like a fractured society band, with all manner of bizarre instruments, played well and (deliberately) ineptly. There are many stuffed animals, sometimes cuddled, sometimes thrown, occasionally disemboweled. (One video shows a beautiful girl in minimal underwear being assaulted by stuffed animals.)
There are videos of the dancers in naked orgies, sniffing cocaine. All, it should be reiterated, with terrific, almost childlike sweetness. In this kind of dance a viewer seeks themes binding the sketches together, some overall shape that lifts the performance above its isolated moments. In interviews Ms. Macras has spoken of memory and ‘storage,’ yet at times you had to wonder where she was heading with all this material. But the animals and the props and the songs and, above all, the cast, which emerged more and more into strongly defined individual personalities, made the whole apparatus cohere. That, and nice self-satire. (‘I can’t believe this is where the city of Berlin puts its money.’) And, above all, the unstoppable charm, ‘La Boheme’ without the tuberculosis.
I myself know ‘bohemians’ in Berlin who are sad or impoverished or disappointed or embittered. Ms. Macras does too. But ‘Back to the Present’ sees life there among its young and lively through rose-colored glasses, and makes a convincing case for what it sees. No wonder it’s been so popular at home. And here, as well: Dance Theater Workshop was packed on Thursday, and erupted with cheers. The performers all deserve mention: Knut Berger, Diane Busuttil, Joris Camelin, Nir De-Volff, Jill Emerson, Claus Erbskorn, Jared Gradinger, Ayelen Liberona, Maike Möller, Rahel Savoldelli, Yeri Anarika Vargas Sanchez and Thomas Witte.” New York Times, September 2006
“…one only divines that one find a lot biographical themes are mixed into this performance (Back to the Present) – in any case this scene is performed in a very convincing way, following Macras’ credo that only a perfect artificiality on stage creates authenticity. The same thing is also true concerning the esthetics, which is taken from silent movies, slapstick, horror movies, MTV, reality-TV and the classics of the modern dance-theater. This vast mixture is formed by the choreographer into an independent oeuvre.”"… the enthusiasm of the spectator is transformed directly onto the stage. One can feel the charm of improvisation as well as the determination to achieve perfection. Six months of intensive rehearsals, condensed on four hours of performance. Hard work and energy alone are not sufficient to turn it into the secret tip of this season. Using this theme Macras hit the nerve: her public, mostly in the early thirties is dressed in a young Berlin off-design chic like herself – (…) people who claim to keep the right of a collective memory for themselves, even if for them – lucky as they are it is just a pop song, and not a battle in Russia. Or in a more self ironic way, as written by the choreographer in her short biography: ‘The most traumatic event in my suburban youth was the loss of our family’s swimming pool.” Kulturspiegel, September 2003