Review: FIRST THINGS FIRST – Ada Studio, Berlin, 24.8.13
Straight down to business: this solo was incredibly funny, intelligent, charming and amazing. But most importantly, in my eyes, the signature was that the performer himself pushed his way in front of the concept. Or: the performer above his subject.
In many other cases, it’s easier to talk about the topic of a piece, or about your experience watching it – which is not often the intention of the choreographer. But the way this Australian Joseph Simons (2013 Tanja Liedtke Fellow) presents his movements and body language is as important as the idea or the image he means.
Because of that, I will talk about the quality of the performer first.
Joseph Simons is a chameleon, a theatre animal, a phenomenon that seems exotic in the UferStudios. A gifted entertainer, who is such a talented dancer, choreographer and actor that it’s irritating (especially in Berlin, where we are trained that stage presence can be minimal without losing quality)
Besides that, Simons is also the author, sound designer, dramaturge, designer, playwright and his own PR staff of a work he presented in Berlin -after just 3 weeks- in a work-in-progress version (That fact that he also shot and edited complex short films for his daily video blog is a miracle) The talents of this young performer are so varied (literally), that the world stages are open, but he also seems at home in the comparatively small Ada Studio.
Even though it was his first time in Berlin, last night the Ada resident played the perfect host. From the outset, the way he gave everyone a name tag and with a drink in his hand greeted us, the audience, as we entered the room, made it clear that he sees and approaches his audience. He welcomed each individual, even joking with some. You could see this as something to be dismissed, but it’s like a smile, whether it comes from the inside or not – it works.
And actually, Simons smiles like a professional. It’s an ‘American Waiter’ smile that doesn’t claim to be authentic. It comes and goes between the thousand other faces of Joseph Simons. His face is almost stronger than his body, which he effortlessly moves between qualities and styles (dance, acrobatics, posing, gesture, speech) It seems fully transformable; joyful or reserved, clownish, flirty, arrogant or self-depreciating.
First Things First is about first experiences, and the transition between the unfamiliar to the familiar, with Simons taking inspiration from his own observations of exploring the foreign city of Berlin.
But what it tells is a world in which everybody is permanently under the desire to perform. In an ever-changing series of poses, Simons shows the lasciviousness of commercial images; the victory of athletes, the kitsch of old film scenes, the coolness of pop-star dance moves or the artificiality of game shows.
How the soloist is capable of perfectly representing these like a master is unknown. But one thing for certain: He’s a perfectionist, and highly virtuosic in dance and drama. He instinctively understands timing, the real surprise, and the right humour (ie: he is a kind of magician!) and a distinct awareness for the theatrical context of the performance.
The latter perhaps only because Joseph Simons obviously enjoys it, and being loved by the audience, because he breaks down the fourth wall.
This openness of presentation to the audience (who see every illusion as a game) differs from conventional ballet dancers who try to be contemporary by doing unusual movements to an electronic soundscape in an exciting venue – but they continue to do so as if they were just in a different reality of spirits, fairies and ghosts.
Why use this comparison? Because Joseph Simons’ stage presence, training standard and education are not only classical, his body has been trained intensively to ignore the physical limits of others – and make it look easy. Joseph Simons can naturally stretch his feet perfectly, but he can also bounce across the stage from right to left doing consecutive push-ups. This show-off scene drew cheers and applause from the audience, until he finally collapsed exhausted, provoking him to show a normal human constitution as he laughed with relief – that again stops when he jumps up and completely effortlessly starts chatting as next scene begins.
He who controls everything, is truly free to play.
(That would be a great last sentence, but frankly, kind of spooky. A better final sentence: Joseph Simons is a damn good trickster!)
By ANNA VOLKLAND
Click here to read this review in German.
Click here to see the Berlin showing of First Things First.