Gerhard Bohner

Gerhard Bohner was invited to the festival of the Akademie der Künste in the early 1980s to put on a commissioned production, but when he found he had no dancers, he created a “Ballet without Dancers”, a piece with ten objects in motion, at the centre of which the choreographer showed the movements himself. That is the starting point for Schwarz Weiss Zeigen, in which the choreographer performs the movements himself. They are “exercises for the choreographer”, who, in personal union with the dancer, stages the conflict between imagination and physical possibilities. As dancer, Bohner only suggests the leap, while as choreographer he indicates the radius of the movement with his finger. Between imagined, suggested form and actual execution, the dancer-choreographer creates a spectrum of possibilities of reality and imagination. Within this tension between real limits and ideal boundlessness, Bohner acts within the means of concrete possibilities, addressing and overcoming these possibilities. With the utmost concentration, he shifts the radically reduced gesture into the realm of intellectual imagination and lends it an artistic quality without complying with the demand for extreme movement, for virtuosity. At the same time, the artist opens up a new space. What is on display are the laws of emotional and dramatic effect created by body, movement and space.

The stage situation is limited to a few elements. A black and a white wall converge at an acute angle. The walls dematerialise the stage space, while at the same time seeming to spatialise the triangle of the stage floor. It is as if the laws of the surface, as formulated in painting by Kandinsky, are projected into the space. The dot is the dancer standing still. The line is their movement, and the two-dimensional idea of dance-like sequences of movements on the stage floor is turned into the dimension of the human body. Bohner enters the geometric space. Black trousers and a white shirt point to the dancer’s incorporation into the abstract order. Touching the white surface of the wall, the dancer pauses for the briefest of moments. […] He is introspective. He is the primal element of dance, just as the dot is the primal element of painting. The energy of the lingering dancer is concentric. His outward form materialises from the tension residing within him. With the first movement, the inner tension gains momentum, before stepping out and crossing the space as a line. The moment of concentric calm, however, remains latent, existing as possibility. When talking with Bohner, he uses the example of a pyramid to explain this quality. Just as the distances between the poles of the baseline on the side surfaces become shorter and shorter as you move towards the top of the pyramid, so too do the movements between them become more and more interesting. The movements are directed towards the apex, the place of non-movement, where the poles converge. This moment is, at the same time, that of the highest degree of movement. […]

Schwarz Weiss Zeigen takes as its starting point the maximal reduction of language. In an almost “silent ambience”, the choreographer explores the structures of lyrical and dramatic, warm and cold movement. White and black surfaces are the edges for the dancer and his objects. The closer the dancer gets to the centre, the lower is the tension of his movement. The further he steps towards the edges, the greater the drama on stage Only when the edge is touched is the drama dissipated. The dancer does the same with objects. The black staircase and articulated figure gain in dramatic energy the farther they are from the centre. At the same time, the dancer-choreographer’s manikin brings the abstract space out of kilter. Using the example of the perfect artistic figure, he objectifies the possibilities of organic human movement using the mechanics of artificial joints. With the movements of his artistic figure, the choreographer takes his own ideas to the point of absurdity. The human body appears to defy the laws of geometry and mechanics, of abstraction and analysis. The figure’s unrestricted radius of movement is an indirect reference to this. The dancing human, by contrast, tells a personal story with his movements. Here the theme that develops between dancer and choreographer, between material and imagination, between subject and objectification is revealed as a key motif of dance in general. In the personal union of dancer and choreographer, Bohner condenses this reference in the dialectic relationship between human and puppet. What Walter Benjamin describes using the example of the whore – the converging of saleswoman and commodity into one and the same person – is what Gerhard Bohner conceptualises for dance. The dancer is object, material, and subject, persona. The concrete and individual conditions of the body run up against the ideal of mechanics and abstraction.

From: Johannes Odenthal, “Pose und Bewegung im Raum”, in id. (ed.), Tanz Körper Politik: Texte zur zeitgenössischen Tanzgeschichte, Berlin, 2012, pp. 34 ff.


In the exhibition:

Gerhard Bohner
Schwarz Weiß Zeigen – Übungen für einen Choreografen

Choreography and Dance: Gerhard Bohner
Music: Georg Friedrich Händel, Glen Branca
Space: Axel Manthey
Commissioned by Akademie der Künste, 1983
Estate Gerhard Bohner, Akademie der Künste
Recording München, 1990
Camera and Editing: Jean-Louis Sonzogni + Florian Zimmermann
Produktion JOINT ADVENTURES - Walter Heun