The ballerina stripped bare

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Marcel Duchamp caused an outcry stripping the bride bare. Today he would have to strip himself, strip his skin and then flay his flesh.

Provocation gets old and dies, and yet there are taboos that against all sense survive. For one: the older, still-desiring woman. In Die Freudlose Gasse, at Berlin’s Dock 11, Trixie Cordua has created a performance piece on a subject wreathed in silence and a strange kind of shame.

Since the 1970s, when she worked at the John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet and appeared in groundbreaking productions of works including Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Trixie, wife of avant-garde filmmaker Peter Schönherr, has been known as the naked ballerina. Times change, however, and yesterday’s shock is today’s nip-slip. Thankfully, Die Freundlose Gasse is devoted not simply to provocation.

Die Freudlose Gasse 4

Die Freudlose Gasse

With a title derived from G W Pabst’s 1925 silent film, featuring a young Greta Garbo, Trixie Cordua’s one-hour modern ballet is a kaleidoscopic exploration of desire, ageing and womanhood that draws on but transcends her own remit as a ballerina.

This is not narrative drama, or classical ballet, but a theatre of cruelty as Antonin Artaud envisioned it. From her entrance, demure in black satin and velvet but shortly to crumble into howls, until she reappears wheeling herself around the stage with a mushroom-top for a hat; via nudity, regurgitated milk and an excruciating karaoke rendition of The Archies’ Sugar Sugar, Die Freudlose Gasse is a compact, powerful but never self-indulgent cauldron of feelings, mood and thoughts. It is provocative the way provocative should be – not cosy outrage, but exposure to unexpected ideas and feelings.

I love history but know little about dance, so as much as I can write of the tradition of Expressionist theatre and how it flowed into Pina Bausch’s choreography and the liberated actor-director relationships of Tanztheatre in West Germany of the 1980s, it still won’t really convey this piece or its qualities. A self-contained vision strong enough to invite you in – what more could you want? Trixie, with her co-performers and creators, the excellent Petra Korink and Thomas Langkau, have here created a powerful work that me, that anyone, can understand, can feel.

Die Freudlose Gasse 14Die Freudlose Gasse

Dance is a young person’s art form, or is supposed to be. Athletic bodies, perfect symmetry. What then to make of Trixie’s breasts, scarred by necessary, life-saving and not cosmetic surgery? Audiences often laugh in theatres when confronted by the unknown. Nobody laughed here. It takes courage to confront such obvious bugbears and such unfortunate consequences of our enslavement to corrective gewgaws and an endless youth. Even more courageous, to do so in your own skin.

With a perfect environment in Dock 11’s own stripped bare surroundings, Die Freundlose Gasse is a wonderful mixture of dance, symbolist theatre and performance art. And in their interactions, fluidity and other-worldly wisdom, Trixie, Langkau and Korink have created a piece that offers its own very special protest, questions and answers.

Trixie Cordua in Die Freudlose Gasse, Dock 11, Berlin

Die Freudlose Gasse

by Ruvi Simmons

About The Author

Berlin-based writer

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