Please take my address as an invitation to dance, maybe we can find each other sharing some weight. In the calibration of such intimate moving-with we may fall out of balance or get dizzy and step on each other’s feet. It will be a choreography of numerous separations and returns, but when we arrive at the dance in each other’s arms, we will know it was worth the effort.
From my room’s window I see the remains of the Berlin Wall. Long procession of corroded steel poles constitutes a frame for empty spaces that can be crossed now. What remains after the Fall is a haunted space - there used to be dozens of rabbits, now there are dogs and tourists. The intrinsic ambiguity of the wall persists after its material breakdown, what used to be both protecting and confining gives no straightforward answer to the question of unification. There is, still, no equality in being free.The haunting of the Iron Curtain is now travelling across open borders. Almost exactly eight years ago I announced to my family that I am moving to Germany to study dance. My beloved grandfather fiercely declared that he would never visit me on the German soil. He said it loud and clear. Very loud due to his hearing having been severely impaired during military service. For years he was bound to tanks and battlefield exercises in preparation for war that has never happened. On the post-communist skin closing of borders and constraining of movement may feel ominously familiar, and the heart stops for a moment. Goosebumps. For me, being born after the Fall of Berlin Mauer, those are the stories that haunt me.
First, there was a little tick in a stomach when in the DM in Wedding there was no toilet paper. This is what serious jokes look like now. I remember my parents telling me that there used to be queues to buy toilet paper, you know, in the old times. Over the video-chat later that day my mum told me not to underestimate the situation and toward the end of the talk she made sure that I had enough toilet paper at home. And I do now, actually. In the shop downstairs from my apartment there was some toilet paper available, but only for cash. I walked out from my insulation into the open air, there I was walking to the bank. Gentle trembling overtook my body as I crossed the streets. The viscosity of the world in pandemic is what makes the body alert. As the war metaphors proliferate we are asked to drift away from each other as a matter of security. But what seemed to be released from beneath the underbelly of fear was a longing for the other, longing to be-with, maybe in a previously unknown manner. And others are coming to deconstruct a wartime imaginary with their kindness offered at a distance. We can try again to be neighbours, fellows, beloved strangers. I took my time to wander around from Mitte to Prenzlauer Berg and back, and walking has almost never felt so good. Walking feels currently like a privilege, or maybe it has always been exactly that. In the small shop I purchased the last family package of toilet paper to the amusement of the seller. “9,50” he said with a smile, and reached toward me with his hand in a disposable glove. And myself smiling, I handed him a bill, keeping safe distance. From an equally safe distance we bowed to each other and parted. Those are the dances of the moment.
On Thursday I had been video-chatting with my mum, we’d talked about me coming home. On Sunday the border was closed. Two weeks later some Polish press announced that democracy in Poland was dead as of last night. The ruling party insidiously pushed through the supplement to the so called “anti-crisis shield” that would open a way to presidential election, planned on the 10th of May, to be done by correspondence. Other Polish newspapers presented an analysis of how PiS (Law and Justice Party) wanted to send their voters to death in order to consolidate power - the polls showed A.D. would win and remain a puppet in the hands of Polish Voldemort. The latter has shown his real face, though many had seen it already before but disbelieved or rejected it when repulsed by its resemblance to a Tyrant. On the post-communist lips the bitterness of tyranny tastes familiar. Grimace. Now, it looks like a Final Battle in the Wars of Polands, because you must know, dear Comrade, that since some time there have been two Polands. Or so they said. And from the Left to the Right, we believed. Dividing seems to be ideologically universal. And some borders never open.
When video-chatting with my family I shared my uncertainty and fear to which my dad raised a glass of whisky. “We saw the regimes falling,” he said. So they must fall too, eventually. Shivers of anticipation went from the bottom of my spine upwards. I visualised the fall of a Tyrant, one of many, a random one. In the times of pandemic, imagination remains un-confined. And, in the meantime my parents reminded me again that I should apply for a German passport.
In Berlin, spring has a particular touch to it this year. The unprecedented grounding of people across the city resulted in some home cleanups. There are plenty of books left on the streets to be taken, amongst which some real treasures for literary scavengers can be found. A friend offered me a German anthology of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories which she picked up from the street. She knows me well, for Poe has been my dark companion since my early teens. In the weeks of isolation he came back to tell stories about death and mystery. One in particular called to be re-read: The Mask of Red Death. It goes like this: Prince Prospero’s lush party at the private monastery is interrupted by the Plague that arrives as it is - without a costume. An initial disbelief at the arrogance of Death showing up at the bunker of the Royals is inevitably followed by convulsions, crimson marks on the skin, and then, death of Prince, and all his fellows. Lately, I’ve been fantasizing about some other Prosperos having their day of reckoning. But it is just my imagination running wild in the times of solitude.
Perhaps there is no revelation of truth in a crisis like the present one. Nothing that we did not know already. Necropolis is laid bare in front of us and the gore of everyday news haunts the body-mind. Still, so many old things living their Golden Age. Heroism and sacrifice have their great comeback while we come to terms with the everydayness of exception. Death by calculation is delivered through some shock-mathematics and some of us experience terror of the actual possibility of being counted out. But if we can, we shall not despair - there is something that feels new and gives a different kind of goosebumps. Some new procedures emerged from the space of ambiguity. Observation and distancing work in miraculous ways.
Refreshed, after taking a surprising break from work and travel, we may be experiencing small revelations. This year spring is by no means silent - in the backyard of my apartment the birds are going nuts. When I heard it for the first time I was convinced it was a recording for I haven’t heard such amassed singing for years. Excitement of the bushes announced the coming of season. Something has started again.The world shrunk within days to unfold in most unexpected ways. Everything got postponed, suddenly there is more time and more space. And let me confess, dear Comrade, that I do not look forward to this “everything” coming at me, eventually, in bulk. This is the longest I’ve ever been staying in Berlin without travelling for work. Me and some of my friends received financial aid from the German State and/or the City of Berlin.The application process and days preceding it revealed a network of connections and skills that allowed many of dance freelancers to deal with bureaucracy in a collective manner. Sharing resources, information and advice incited new ideas for future conversations and engagements. However, there are still many who did not receive support, regardless of politicians’ declarations about the all-encompassing scale of aid policies. The struggle is far from over, and for those who are secured the task is not to forget about what we have declared ourselves. Our solidarity should be enacted to outlive temporary solutions. For those who received aid, gratitude and amazement are mixed with uncertainty and disbelief. Some of us fear that it will be taken away, that it is too good to be true, as it was never so fast and easy to get financial support. According to the survey done in 2018 on the occasion of Round Table Dance Berlin,1 over 60% of freelance dance professionals in the city live below the poverty line, the majority without any work security whatsoever. In the times of global breakdown what was so far unreachable through structural reform became reality almost instantaneously. And for some time we can drift in relative comfort across the stormy waters.
The immaterial storms are stirring up as we drift. My virtual art commune, following mass media, is exploding with anger and prophecies of the end of capitalism. We know how it is gonna end. There is no alternative, the shit is going down. Like, like. Ka-ching! While we are immobilized at homes, global mobilization is spreading across virtual continents. Opinions are roaring, but what is at times hard to determine is whether it is a reptile brain screaming…or is it Capital? I unfollow my lamenting ‘friends’ on Facebook, one by one to be left with a handful of people to call and two persons that I let into my house. No hugging, no touching. Yet, friendship has never been so intimate. And not only friendship has changed its colors. Distance measurements and plexi-glass screens slowed down the most mundane exchanges. The vertical divisions of importance ascribed to labor are now shaking as the real maintenance proves to be un-spectacular. We lean toward some new kinds of tenderness and mutual recognition, and when the world flips back to ‘normal’ let us remember those who held it for us in the first place. They will need some rest too, we must be there to hold space for them.
As weeks are passing there is more and more silence and stillness accompanying my days. Kindness became ever more refined while we are re-choreographing our daily routines. To step aside, to move away, to let pass become movements of care. When unbearable density of urban life is dissolved we can wonder about the long term planning that would follow up on what we’ve discovered when distancing from each other, and from the business-as-usual. Sharing is now in fashion. Finally some trends to follow. Even Britney is now calling for a redistribution of wealth. But she will not be a leader of tomorrow, at least not alone. We shall not be convinced of socialism through a meme. If what is cooking up now is some good portion of unflinching solidarity, let us not eat it alone, Comrade. And let us consume with a generous dose of ambiguity not to feed the Capital with impotent anger and proliferation of fear. We should starve the beast through our refusal to live in the old regimes of thinking and doing. I intend, however, to pronounce those death-wishes softly, for I do not know where we go from here. In the unknown present we are asked to engage with it as it is the future which is at stake. If there are any suggestions of direction in the Now, we could perhaps take slowness for a teacher. In this extraordinary suspension what may be of equal importance is what we contract and what we release. There is un-doing and re-learning ahead of us, and it may not be pretty, or pleasant. In the world watered with death, we should try to hold each other dear. One of my favourite dancing thinkers, Steve Paxton, noted that when bodily tensions are released, the imagination is celebrating. And since we can’t touch each other now, let us imagine ourselves in those post-pandemic waltzes. Do you see yourself swaying and turning? Can you feel how the space turns? When learning how to do that the balancing of oneself is a first step - situating and breathing, slowly turning your head noticing how your movement affects the space. Some time soon, we will meet in the ballroom.
Post-scriptum: For about a year now I’ve been talking to my grandfather about his visit to Berlin. He is 82 years old and very curious to see the city. Finally! When I called him to check how he was doing in isolation he said he was taking all precautions necessary. He promised me that he would live through it for us.
1 Round Table Berlin was a year long process aiming at analysis and development of reforms in the field of freelance dance scene. Initiatives and projects tackled a variety of issues : from touring/internationality, inclusion and accessibility, infrastructural issues of availability of working spaces to the security of income beyond limitations of product-based work. In 2020 the new programs and solutions are to be introduced and tested. See https://www.tanzraumberlin.de/kulturpolitik/runder-tisch-tanz/