Post image for Berlin

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

Perhaps all the dragons
[…in our lives are
Princesses who are only waiting to see us
Act, just once, with beauty and courage]

I want to ask you something first. It is not a mystery; it’s a question for
those of you who are reading this. You have to choose someone. One person.
One person from the seven billion inhabitants of the world. Someone,
somewhere, it doesn’t matter where. You do not know that person
personally. It can be a sheik in Saudi Arabia, a seal hunter in Iqaluit, a
prison guard in Kotido, or an Israeli fighter pilot. Anyone. Now the question
is: how many steps do you think it will take for you to reach that
person? How many steps, how many people are needed, for someone
to make contact with someone he knows personally, someone who you
speak with on familiar terms and not formal terms. How many do
you think?

Now, you don’t have to remember it or write it down. I’ll get back to it later.

As of 2014, Berlin has been working on documentary-based performances
situated between theatre and film for 10 full years, and has had the
good fortune to be able to create and show these performances in various
places in the world.

Along the way, we continued to come across new and exciting stories
and people, and the desire grew to show the public a collection of these
narratives that were found for the new creation Perhaps all the Dragons;
to let them enter into dialogue with one another.

We started by listing the special stories that have wafted our way, articles
we had kept, items we had encountered while researching and that
had attracted our attention, and searched further based on this material.
With the only guideline being that we would like to interview the
protagonist. Without a predetermined dramaturgy or storyline. Just because
they are interesting stories or people.

During the research process, some common themes inadvertently surfaced:
remembering and memory, concentration and choice, research,

We selected 30 one-on-one stories of an eclectic nature: from a scientific
detail, to a philosophical proposal, to news items and anecdotes.
Thirty documentary stories about willful choices, courageous decisions,
and irrefutable occurrences; about humor, acceptance and resistance,
about forgetfulness, remembering, and love for the word.

berlin production shot 1The one story led to the other, and seemingly disparate people and
events showed more similarities than we at first thought.

An opera singer who played only one single role during her entire career
– a known pianist who while on stage realizes that she has rehearsed the
wrong concerto but can dig up the right concerto from memory, on the
spot – a Russian man who only at the age of 25 realizes that his inability
to forget something is exceptional – a neurosurgeon who successfully
transplants the head and body of two living apes – a Ugandan prison
guard who on a certain day directs his attention to a fleeing rabbit – a
brave little matador – a Jain nun who chooses to systematically phase
out her worldly life – a Japanese woman who has lived in the privacy of
her bedroom for 10 years – the scientist behind the theory that everyone
on this planet is only a few steps removed from each other.

That last story served as a guide and unifying factor between the stories.
Sometimes a character knew one of the other protagonists, or had
heard of his story; in other cases, there were substantial similarities,
geographic proximity, a shared interest.

But we also noticed that the entire working process of Perhaps all the
Dragons was itself permeated by this small-world phenomenon.

From the search for stories, translators, décor items, film material, and
locations, to the most impossible props; via person x who knew person
y who again referred us to z, improbabilities were possible.

berlin production shot 2Looking back on 10 years of Berlin, this principle has seriously driven
and coloured our work from the beginning.

We arrive in a city, as in a real fictional environment, and immerse ourselves
in a world that is alien to us. With the eye of an outsider who wanders
through the meandering streets of the city. By losing ourselves, we
make our way to its very heart. One that can be found in every one of its inhabitants,
rumbling metro lines, crumbling buildings. In the stone that is
cast and shatters the windowpane to smithereens, the silent boats in the
frozen bay; in the gossip of neighbors, the discipline of a military parade.

Berlin makes documentary portraits of cities and situations like a writer
works on a book. By searching for lines, threads, clusters; by creating
characters in a not yet defined environment.

We collected a palette of fragmented voices, perceived by kaleidoscopic
eyes, and put our story together.

We let ourselves go from street to street, from the one human to the
other, until we collected an expanded database of images.

And then, back home, we again lay out a path in the collected material,
between all four corners we visited, and therein write our story.

The one thing leads to another, and to more and wider still. It is not only
like this with people and their stories. We catch ourselves not just playing
the game of six degrees with people, but also with things, with everything.
The chain starts with a thing, a person, an issue, and with the last
link it comes back to us.

And so we move from Jerusalem to Iqaluit in the Arctic, Bonanza, Moscow,
the Ruhr district, the Westhoek, to a roundtable conference with
people from all over the world. There is always something or someone
that pushes us further-along to the next place. Lisbon. Rio. Zvizdal.

Six, that was the answer. On average. Six steps between you and anyone
in the world you can imagine. But six intermediate steps separate you
from, say, a French assassin, a Russian circus director, the seven residents
of a small village in the Rocky Mountains, and the people who passed the parade today.
Before today then.

As of now, it’s only one step.

Berlin About Berlin: The starting point of each of performance by Berlin is located in a
city or a region somewhere on the planet. A characteristic feature of
its approach is its documentary and interdisciplinary work methods.
Focusing on a specific research question, it engages different media
depending on the content of the project. Bart Baele and Yves Degryse
founded Berlin in 2003 with Caroline Rochlitz. They started the series
Holocene (the Holocene is the current geological era) with the performances
Jerusalem, Iqaluit, Bonanza and Moscow. A few years later Berlin
started a new cycle Horror Vacui (the fear of emptiness) of which
Tagfish and Land’s End are the first two episodes. Berlin is currently
working on new performances in both cycles. The number of projects
has not been defined, but the Holocene cycle will end in Berlin with the
creation of a fiction-documentary project with different residents from
cities that have previously featured in the cycle.

(pictured: Bart Baele and Yves Degryse)