In two minds about Zweiland

Chitra Kalyani
5 Min Read

Dance performance “Zweiland” — meaning “Twin Lands” — would definitely have had more resonance in Berlin where it was first staged in 1997. Since then, it has made its run around the world in various locations, including Cuba where it received the Villanueva Prize for being among the most important presentations last year.

“Zweiland,” is renowned German choreographer Sasha Waltz’s epic on recent German history, particularly the fall of the Berlin Wall that once divided the capital city into East and West Berlin. The choreography involves a lot of play along the structure of the wall that serves as background for action. The dance performance opened this week in Cairo for two sold-out performances at the Gomhuria Theater.

The wall is also permeable and mutable: dancers float from above it and around it, attempt to scale it, bang and tap their feet against it. It serves as a canvas where they paint a blue sky, and doorway through which instrumentalists pass through. The action unfolds on a street alongside this wall and a kiosk constructed from material onstage that is then broken and reconstructed.

Two intermingled dancers open the act. A body with one head, two hands, two bellies and four legs is pulling out an invisible ribbon from its mouth. Another arrival on stage shakes hands with this creature, but finds himself unable to release him hand from its grasp. He then struggles then separates the creature into two bodies.

Another dancer appears from behind the wall, with a surreally long braid on her head. As she walks diagonally across the stage singing, she is pulled back from her hair.

People and scene subsequently follow as images interconnected with a thin thread — as in a dream. They speak to each other in different languages — the variety easily provided by the dancers onstage, all from a variety of nationalities. Arabic also makes its way into this babelogue. However, at least in one instance, this device of inviting the audience into the world may have served the opposite.

In a scene where two women are responding to provocations of Neanderthal men, one of the women hikes up her gown and moons the two men. Delighted by this, the men pull at her clothes. It is difficult to interpret whether she is disturbed or delighted by this further attention, but later on she leads one of the men away by rubbing herself and offering her scent on her hand.

A sweet summer image of lovers is of a girl in a yellow dress that appears dancing with a man sporting bell-bottoms, weightless in their dance and ever-entangled in kisses. This everyday image from movies stands in stark contrast with other more surreal images.

Three women stomp in pulling themselves by their hair, unbraid and braid it again. When they finally stand holding their hair, their three heads appear to be sharing a long unbroken thread of hair.

Another beautiful image depicts a man carrying a ladder over his shoulders spinning around a man and woman on either side of the ladder. With the weight on his shoulders, he renders them weightless.

In the final image, an “angel” pours water over the wall — suggesting perhaps that nature and other forces do not stop at man-made boundaries.

In one sequence, the world seems to endlessly fall apart for a man, who tries to hold up the bits of the kiosk as it falls apart on him. “Sometimes I feel that way,” my neighbor quipped at this.

While some scenes were relatable on a more personal level, others carried political commentary. Another audience member noted that the German song characters sang as they rebuilt the kiosk (destined to fall apart and be rebuilt again) was about the workers being the builders and inheritors of the land.

At a press conference the following day, Waltz revealed that the production was “about walls, not just the physical walls, but walls of the mind as well.” Yet this voyage through dual-lands and many languages left seemed like a series of loosely connected images, leaving one more confused than illuminated.

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