Being an expat can be profoundly frustrating and disorienting. It is like having no points of reference, it’s the struggle of constantly renewed self-definition.
You are walking down a street at night, utterly alone. You look up at the suspended street lights. They flash relentlessly, exposing Polaroids, portraits of adjustment as you find your way through the new city. Then, you pass by a bar.
There is the sound of music, of voices, the movement of people. You hesitate, can you really go inside? What would happen? You don’t know a soul!
Just at that moment, something unexpected happens.
A red-hooded sweatshirt falls from the rafters into a pool of light. It’s strangely colourful. But from its gaping hood comes the horror: a relentless Schlager version of Schubert’s Heideröslein. You approach the garment, poke at it, and the volume increases. It’s awful, but also… strangely attractive. You pirouette about it, you caress. Like a one-night stand, it promises a cheap good time. It wants you to stick your head in. And so, in a great act of bravery, you thrust it into the beast, until you are conjoined.
Suddenly, you are a different person, with a new act, a new walk, negotiating a foreign social world that ultimately exhausts and demoralises you, until, anguished, you rip off the new armour, stamp it into the ground, and flee the bar.
The street outside is quiet, and again you are alone. At the end of it is a streetlamp. You stare, want to hold the light in your hands. It has an absurd beauty.
This is, at least, what I felt watching Yui Kawaguchi‘s Andropolaroid at the Dock 11 studio in Prenzlauer Berg. I don’t think I have ever seen a dance piece which more thoughtfully explores this feeling of ex-pat disorientation, dépaysement––of being plucked from your own culture and thrust into another. Kawaguchi, by now a respected part of the Berlin dance scene, originally came here from Tokyo, but the experience she describes is not culturally specific.
After the performance was done, the audience was invited to wander into the installation space, all those many lights suspended from the ceiling that flickered throughout the performance in balletic interaction with the dancer.
We passed through them, suddenly liberated from our seats, enjoying the transgression of the once-forbidden stage. We looked as bewildered as the dancer had been. It was like we could, for a moment, be free.