#ablebodiesandstones – research blog – residency at Chamäleon


We are going towards the end of 2020, with the pandemic still raging. Due to this, Chamäleon like other theaters has been closed (they will reopen in November though, yeay!!!). So, generously, they are offering their space to Berlin based circus artists for residencies – and I am one of the lucky ones to be here!

And, like before, I will start this research diary blog post by feeling into my body and into the bodies of my guests. Trying to find out about our abilities and to evaluate what able bodies feel like. I am not trying to pretend that I do not have an able body. I am not trying to victimize my body in order to appropriate minority positions. I am very much aware that at this moment my body is more able than most bodies, I am aware of my position of norm and power in this ableist society. Or at least, I am trying to.


Contact with stones
Guest artist: Jennie Zimmermann

My body
At the beginning of the pandemic I had a lot of time to train and keep fit. There wasn’t very much else to do. But then, from August I had a very busy summer with a few gigs (preparations and rehearsals are the same, whether you perform once or 30 times…), a research residency in Diepenheim, NL, and 10 days of vacation on our boat. So by now am I very much out of training like every fall – rehearsing and performing do not count as training: people keep thinking that this keeps me fit, but quite the opposite. It keeps me moving, but this movement lives off my physical capital, off my training before.
But I am nowhere near as exhausted as after a regular pandemic-free summer tour. I am strong and fit, but need to restart training soon.

My guests‘ bodies and our space
I wanted to work with one guest, Jennie. I was imagining and  looking forward to a quiet research space, just for ourselves and our work, without interruptions.

But at the beginning it was completely different. The Chamäleon crew was very busy preparing for their re-opening (YEAY YEAY YEAY!!! Go, see circus in Berlin!!!), so I had many guests. Light designers and technicians working in the theater, stage hands setting up tables and chairs, a film crew preparing a big television feature about the theater. All of them trying to be quiet and to not disturb us.
Their bodies did not interfere with our space on stage, but they were in the room a lot. Only later, when we had our last two, really quiet and concentrated days, I realized that I am so used to improvised creation conditions (like creating in a training studio or outside in winter…) that it didn’t even bother me in the moment.

On the third day they were filming a TV feature, with me as one of the featured artists. I am grateful for this opportunity to be heard and seen on television in these times. I was interviewed about my work by a host who was very much pregnant. A completely new aspect to #ablebodiesandstones. We did some balancing together and danced with swinging stones. With her, I saw a completely different ability of human bodies, pregnancy. So completely different from my own ability.

Jennie was very much in her body, as always. Except of avoiding pain in her knees, she was nimble and soft, and connected to the ground. I had forgotten how much I love watching her move (we used to work as a performance collective). One afternoon she brought our other former partner, Jo, also a contact improv dancer. It was almost like old times. With more mature bodies.

Research approach
I wanted to explore contact with hanging stones. Hanging stones being like animate objects, reacting to touch and contact, resisting to movement and giving support.
So they feel animate, but in a way they aren’t. Or maybe it is another state of being, a life that we do not understand. Communication with hanging stones has to be learned. They are tenatious.

But once we begin to understand them, they can be interesting and multifaceted partners. We found ourselves in constant transition between danger and support, attraction and push: dancing with them, making them swing, flying with them, under them, on them – endless possibilities of movement, in constant danger of getting smashed by a flying stone, directly in the face…

Each improv score we did, we talked about it, trying to understand the forces, the physics behind life. Which led us to gravity – of course: circus and gravity, our ancient topos.
Jennie shared thoughts about gravity by some renown contact dancers, bringing different aspects to my aerial understanding of gravity. Gravity is attracting, gravity gives support, gravity is a toy.

I explored support, when Jennie wasn’t there. What support can my stones give to me? How can they help my balance, stop my falling? When is their resistance support and when just tenatious restistance?
My handstand, far from perfect or predictable (but getting better thanks to the pandemic making me an #aerialistonthefloor) is up to a hundred percent with support of my hanging stones. Not using them like a wall, they wouldn’t like that, would evade, push me back down. Just contact, micro resistance, support.

The last two days we explored gravity, falling, landing. We watched cat videos: not why do cats land on their feet, but how do they land? What happens in their spine? How do they find the perfect amount of muscular tension and release to not hurt themselves? We tried to find the difference between falling onto the ground and falling into a hanging point – landing on something or below something. The more you release your muscular tension the more you hurt yourself in an aerial drop – but the safer you land on the ground. We tried falling ourselves, tried to overcome fear of falling, tried collapsing, losing balance. Tried to imitate a stone, to be gömböc.

A stone is not a cat. But this does not matter, as our stones are never landing. They are locked in eternal fall, hanging in the air, never touching ground, imagining life as a Foucault pendulum.

Supported by  Chamäleon Theater Berlin.


Infos about Jennie Zimmermann

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