Andreas has organized a Contemporary Tango Night as part of his festival “Ankunft: Neue Musik” with contemporary music and performace in the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s central train station, for the last 7 years, in collaboration with the Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s train company. For 2016 this festival has a new structure and is completely dedicated to Contemporary Tango. (You can read my experience of the 2015 Contemporary TangoNacht Milonga at the Hauptbahnhof.)
The 2016 festival will include 2 absolute beginner lessons per day, advertised to nearby hotels and hostels, as well as the government staff working nearby. To support people in taking the second step, only local teachers will be invited to give these classes. So people can continue with a teacher they connect with. There will also be lessons in Turkish and Russian.
There will be a milonga every night with live music and a show. The dancing couple must have a special relationship with the musicians.
“It’s important to remember that this festival is not only, not even primarily for dancers. It’s for people to watch.
“The theme is tango’s globality and connections with other cultures and movement disciplines. Berlin has its own style: queer, defa, contact improvisation, interdisciplinary. That is Berlin. Berlin is about the people who come, the people who arrived yesterday. That’s what makes Berlin special.
“This festival is a way to give Berlin’s special tango a stage. There is a Finnish tango festival in Berlin. I met the organizer the other day. I learned that we do not have one single facebook friend in common. That is how isolated Finnish tango is from the rest of the Berlin tango scene. Why is there not an embrace?
“At the moment Berlin doesn’t even have a tango festival. We should have five every year!”
One of Andreas’ themes is the connection between dancers and musicians. It’s a difficult theme.
“Many tango musicians have had bad experiences playing for dancers who complain when the music isn’t predictable enough. They accuse the musicians of not playing tango. This is very hurtful. Astor Piazzola and Dino Saluzzi are two of the more famous tango musicians who retreated to the stage after being abused by dancers. It was not always their intent to separate “concert” music from “dancing” music. For most of world history, dancers could not dance unless there were musicians willing to play. Since the 1960s, technology has facilitated a separation. Dancers and musicians don’t need each other. It’s the same with Ballet. Opera-Orchestras frequently don’t really want to play for ballet, because they are not getting the attention, and ballet dancers don’t really want to have to deal with orchestras.”
But Andreas believes that tango dancers should be in relationship with two partners: another dancer, and a musician. “As a contemporary opera director I have very much experience with the resistance to contemporary art –Many classical musicians say I don’t need a connection to today. There is so much beautiful music to play from history”– with musicians’ disassociation from bodies and dancing, and with dancers’ preference for recorded music.”
Perhaps predictably, when he has invited musicians to choose their own tango dancers, they have found themselves at a loss.
“It’s a travesty that in many tango festivals, even when a live orquestra is present, the tango artists choose to dance to a recording. Or ask for the CD in advance, or only dance live to a very simple traditional song.
Successful dancing orquestra musicians are resigned to playing “what the people want to hear” but when the dancers don’t allow them to do anything new, the dance develops alone. The music is not allowed to develop. But that’s not a real relationship.”
Andreas will spend the twelve months leading up to the festival facilitating collaborations between Berlin dancers and musicians.
“It would be easy to bring amazing musicians and dancers from other places. I want to encourage people here to cooperate more.
I have made many experiments already in past years. I created an experience with two bandoneonistas, one man and one woman, instructing each to play for their own gender, and asking the dancers to listen only to their own bandoneon. It was a simple idea, but very hard for the dancers to do. (photos Christian Gerber and Judith Brandenburg von 2011, photos by Erik-Jan Ouwerkerk)
More successful was an event in 2009 when I invited Rafael Busch and Susanne Opitz of TTMS to dance to “Song of Songs” by Karen Tanaka. They dancers were surprised that they could enjoy eight minutes of music. The video is now their most famous.
“A few years ago I brought two opera singers there to repeat a production from Madrid. Both highly trained professionals. On the site, one found a huge voice, and other became small and retreated.
“Once I found two musicians to play very quiet music by Amercian composer Morton Feldman there. They weren’t afraid. Other musicians have created ideas which they say they “can only do in your festival.” One played a ten-minute, very complicated piece, repeating it over and over throughout the day, on an adventure through the changing environment of the station. One played a piece continuously from sunrise to sunset. And another did a piece hourly for 24 hours. With a double bass. These are tasks they gave themselves.
With these experiences, I now trust this new festival.
Andreas talks a lot about the place itself. “I have learned that I have to use the place as it is, not make it different. I have to work with the power of the place, which is always changing, which is full of technology. I cannot imitate a quiet dark milonga. Not every idea makes sense in this place. It’s not a place where you can teach a meditation lesson for beginners. You could have meditation for people who already know how. When you teach, you will use a microphone. Everyone will hear everything you say.
“The Berlin Hauptbahnhof is very special. It’s the largest and most central crossing in Europe. The purpose of the Deutsche Bahn is not to support culture. 300,000 people pass through every day, to the center of German government, tourists, blind people… 24 hours a day. It’s built on the site of the former wall. It’s an embrace, an oracle, as well as a place that is always prepared for a terror attack – very high-security because it’s 500m from the German chancellor’s office. It’s not a playground. It’s a place of life and death. People make their suicides here. It’s a station, a political place, and at the same time a mystical oracle. The room is like a cathedral, but the power is always changing. Because people make the power. Suddenly 100 monks are walking through.
Andreas takes time to prepare every artist. “Everyone is enthusiastic at the beginning, but then I take them to see the space. I tell them to stand still for 5 minutes and listen and watch. It’s not a concert hall, it’s a station. It’s stronger than you are. It’s an ocean. You are not the god at the center. They say oh, it’s different than I thought. Some of them are incredibly inspired and others say I can’t do it. Some are afraid they won’t be heard. It’s amazing, it goes deep in the psyche. You have to really want it.
“I want to give space to people to do things. There are lots of people who would like to do something but don’t dare because people won’t come. People give what the market wants, but maybe they have a different voice in their soul. I don’t want to persuade anyone. This festival is not against something, not against tradition. Just a space where people can express something else. I don’t program. I invite people to participate, and to create their own program.
“But it’s not another tour date on a set program. The artist has to transform the space. It’s a love affair. You have to say Yes! I want it! That’s my kiss. I want to kiss this place.”