Friederike Plafki & Maria Francesca Scaroni in Berlin

Off in the unknowns of further east Berlin I went with my buddy Jess to see student showings at the Ernst Buch school, which offers trainings towards the equivalent of a BA in theatre, dance, or puppetry. I hear they just started a Master's program as well. With all the hype and money around some of the newer dance schools here the Buch school is off the cool radar, which means it's more likely to show work whose quality of engagement and manifestation is not dependent on current trends (despite my own interest and investment in current trends...)

On July 5, 2008, I saw a showing of an ongoing research/performance by Friederike Plafki - a duet with Maria Francesca Scaroni. San Francisco viewers might know Maria from her work with Jess Curtis (Under the Radar, The Symmetry Project) and Sara Shelton Mann (Inspirare, an impressive duet with Kathleen Hermesdorf).

Here's what I saw, thought...:

Two women walk on, Maria just behind Friederike, matching her pace. Street clothes. Pants. Nothing loose. They stand side by side, just off center. Maria's finger extends, twitches. Is this intentional, as in choreographed, or is she simply releasing energy, settling in to stand?

A slow synchronized dance begins. Quiet. Adaggio. I wonder if it's a subtle improv, duet flocking in which whoever can see the other is the follower. But occasionally gestures seem too detailed and matching in their detail, even if the overall synchronization is not extremely precise.

After what seems like 2 minutes they repeat the choreography. OK it's definitely not improvised. 

They begin a 3d time. Now there's some play with timing which pulls them in and out of synch. There's no music, basic overall lighting, and minimal costume. We're watching movement and we're watching 2 dancers sensing each other, talking to each other with subtle shifts of weight and impulse.

A 4th time.
A 5th time. The subtle games continue.

Now F has travelled around M to stand on the other side. Simple quiet steps, weight shifting, they face each other. The repeating phrase is gone, or maybe it lingers as a distant reminder. The work close, in and out of each other's space. Not touching. Facings shift. Feet once planted easily step - lightly, quietly, quicker now. Occasionally the sound of foot turning is heard. Arms, hands extend towards each other. Bodies arch to avoid contact then thrust back to fill negative space. (Jess tells me later that Freiderike considers this to be Contact Improvisation. Despite the lack of touch I recognize the dialogue, the sensitive listening, responding, playing.)

The space between them grows. They continue to respond to each other's timing, spacing, energetics. Now 4 meters apart on a diagonal. Copying one then the other in the flocking score that I had anticipated earlier. Their facings shift as roles of leader and follower shift. Quicker shifts of role and facing. 

One time they miss & briefly solo. It seems as if Maria thinks that F is still following her but F looks over her shoulder to see M facing away and she continues anyway, her arms float up into the air, bend at elbows to cross in front of her face. M spirals around and quickly picks of F's movement.

In the time it took to write the last few lines, the roles changed at least 3 times.

They close the space. Now F stands directly behind M, both facing audience, downstage right.

A very subtle copying score begins. Details of fingers, shoulder weight, mini pliés that drop vertically. I can't tell at times who is following whom. Maybe the roles shift. The way they pay attention to each other and to their own bodies is captivating. Invited into the dance, I'm watching everything so closely. 

Now side by side facing us. The sensing score seems less visual, or their response to each other is no longer based on visual matching.

Touch happens. Then soft wrist or hand grabs that extend the other's arm into space away from the body. This leads (follows?) into counterbalances which leads to games or sensing exercises that maintain contact, grabbing, a communication of shared, shifting weight. They also continue to revisit copying scores, shifting (or sharing) their attention to weight to visually match the other.

Two people walk out. I see Maria see them leave. At one point, as they are low to the ground, I see M smell F's hand, not by bringing her nose forward but simply by paying attention to scent and acknowledging it. The action, like most of this dance, is subtle yet very alive.

After 5-ish minutes they face us again. A short follow-copy weight score takes them to their knees, then to their backs, then back up to stand side by side again. Their eyes are scanning us. They relax and exit.