“Sometimes theatre can bundle all gender, immigration and identity debates in one single scene and at the same time ironize and explode them with good humour. For example when five relatively small Arabic boys from Berlin ñ a coming generation of machos – dress up as female Arabs in colorful veils and, as women, precociously talk about their problems with machos: ìMen are addicted to sex, they only want to fuck, even on the washing machine when itís on.î They grin with such unabashed charm that it is clear how much fun they are having with their dirty words and dressing up as women.
Five years ago, the choreographer Constanza Macras worked with professional dancers along with young break dancers and immigrant children from the gritty neighborhood of Neukoelln at Berlinís Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) theatre to put on a show that generously and intelligently explored living and growing up in a foreign country. ìScratch Neukoellnî was simultaneously research and a rough party where one could see, for example, how Arabic children at first shy away from a flamingly gay dancer from Israel, only later to have fun with him.
Now Macras has staged the sequel, and the fact that the children from five years ago are now adolescents has not gone unnoticed by this installment, such as when a fat girl pushes all the pubescent Arabic boys, smug grins and all, to the floor with her generous upper body as punishment for not finding an attractive lover.
Constanza Macrasí new dance piece ìHell on Earthî in Berlinís HAU Theater is full of scenes in which cliches about immigrants and their strong ideas of gender roles are simultaneously exhibited with aplomb, brought to their logical conclusion, and then recoded ñ all so laid-back and free from pedagogical twitches so that the only thing remaining from everything that makes life difficult between cultures and in the lower margins of society is joyfully exploited material.
This stripping down of cliches functions beyond travesty. For example when a small girl whose parents emigrated from Lebanon to Berlin ages ago finds it self-evident to associate the headscarf she wears with feminism: ìI thing boys are disgusting because they exploit girls and show off. But girls should really be the ones showing off.î In order to change this she has a plan; she wants to become a lawyer specializing in family law. But until she does, she keeps dancing to Arabic hip-hop with the boys.
Identity patterns are always only quoted snapshots, and cultures are there to be mixed. Such as when the Arabic teenager says to the well-styled Arabic girl, ìYou look like Michael Jackson with a veil.î Even the grim bouncer, who stands with crossed arms and bomber jacket, the whole time exuding a dull coolness and the readiness to attack at any point, at one point starts to dance an oddly contorted, somehow neurotic and very tough solo. At the very latest after this freedom he can take what liberties he wants. He promptly poses in a purple dress that most charmingly harmonizes with his dark expression. This is exactly the offer this evening makes: re-invent yourself!
And exactly as the people onstage piece together their sense of self and self-dramatization from many cultures, so too are Macrasí elements of style a mix of pop culture, smatterings of theory, choreographed scenes and moments of real feeling. The ravishing evening is a hybrid beyond the German purity law.” Süddeutsche Zeitung, April, 2008
“They scream as loud as they can, not only when they hear the name Tokio Hotel. They slack off, hang out. And launch into break-dance battles and hula-hoop ecstasies that could break oneís neck. Or they intone the hymn of their generation with verve: ìI donít feel like it.î The adolescent youth in ìHell on Earthî might go through hell. Yet what the choreographer Constanza Macras instigates on the stage of the Hebbel Theater is a great party.
For her successful piece ìScratch Neukoellnî in 2003, Constanza Macras brought born and bread Neukˆlln kids onstage alongside professional dancers. Now there is a reunion with the fresh Fatma El-Moustapha and her brothers. Macras repeated the experiment: she let the young actors tell about their hopes and fears. But the winds have changes; the kids are now teenagers. The Argentinean choreographer places her focus on diverse experiences of being foreign, and these do not only spring from socialization in Berlinís most disreputable neighborhood.
She finds powerful images for this that are at once fantastically inflated and offensively comical. And you think: thatís exactly how it feels! We do live in a no-age society, as the piece enlightens us, and never progress from puberty. Macras connects this with a critique of consumption: youth is defined by consuming products marketed toward youth. In ìHell on Earthî she is also concerned with such important questions as ìam I too fat or too skinny? Do I shop at Pimkie or H&M? Do I listen to hip-hop or Oriental pop?î
Macras demonstrates that whoever works with youth from immigrant families doesnít have to surrender her grit. She asks about body and gender, she explores how of concepts of femininity and masculinity relate. This is often polemic and bold ñ gender politics onstage. The young actors reproduce inane stereotypes, only to confront them in good humor.
In this way, Macras lets the young Arabic and Palestinian boys take on female roles; they dress up, giggling all the while, with a veil and Oriental capes ñ and then let fall a few vulgar female comments: ìThey only want to fuck!î And when Fatma, the only one wearing a headscarf onstage, starts, she explodes all prejudice about the ìsubmissiveî Muslim. Fatma, Lulu, Lial and the other girls impress with their authentic girl-power. They teach us a lesson in pride and prejudice, and talk back to the boys.
The professional dancers also connect wonderfully to this teenage cosmos ñ in particular the fantastic Tatiana Saphir. The Argentinean embodies the psycho girl in a pink skirt, the heavyweight who explodes the construct of cuteness. Her feelings are also powerful. When she confides her love to a boy, it sounds like a threat. With naÔve surprise she realizes what sort of reactions her body provokes. In the funniest scene of the night she barrels over all the boys with her undulant breasts.
Horror and hormones, conformity and rebellion. ìHell on Earthî is impressive for its rapid dancers and abrasively funny statements. Macras has achieved the perfect union between empathy and enlightenment. And the young actors are head of their class!” Der Tagesspiegel, April 2008