Modern Dance Reviews

Jelena Ivanovic: "los-heimat-los"

Dresden, 14 January 2006

Jelena Ivanovic: los-heimat-los

The performance by the "Ivanovic clan" was declared to be a mixture of dance, acting, music, video art and photography. This kind of blend used to be called "cross-over performance" and considered innovative, but now it has become commonplace in dance theater. "Los-heimat-los" depicts the horrors of the civil war in former Yugoslavia, wrapped in and interrupted by reflections about traveling.

The opening scene is so dark that one hardly recognizes the performers, sitting motionless on the floor amidst clothes and opened suitcases. The voices of a young couple are played:
"Ich packe meinen Koffer mit meinem Lieblingsrotwein..."
"Ich packe meinen Koffer mit deinem Lieblingsrotwein, Salz..."
"Ich packe meinen Koffer mit meinem Lieblingsrotwein, Salz, meiner Zahnbürste...".
As the game comes to its end, the light gets brighter, the performers pack their clothes into the suitcases and leave. The voices turn into the sound of running water, which slowly transforms into accordion music.

Jelena Ivanovic: los-heimat-los The second scene starts with a large suitcase lying at the back of the stage and hiding Andres Simon inside it. The dancer gives a short hands-only performance through a gap under the lid of the suitcase before he steps out and begins his solo. He maneuvers and jumps gracefully, turning around and bending in a way reminiscent of ballet patterns. His hands, however, remain tightened by imaginary handcuffs. The conflict between the expression of freedom conveyed by the movement and the imaginary handcuffs connects both subjects of the piece and creates a tension which prepares the stage for the transition to the main story.

Jelena Ivanovic: los-heimat-los The anti-war message comes across for the first time in a scene depicting the suppressed anxiety in the mind of a victim of war, who appears calm and under control superficially. The performer (Jelena Ivanovic) sits at a table while the voice from the speakers tells a story of the horror she experiences daily when walking to her office in the headquarters of a Bosnian-Herzegovina railroad company. At one point she has to cross an avenue which is targeted by a sniper. She waits for the first shot and runs, counting the seconds left before the sniper recharges his gun. The voice is calm and the dancer detached until her materialized fear emerges from behind the table, personified by Hana Zanin. They start dancing a duo, to me the best part of the performance, which symbolizes a struggle between fear and mental control. Each prevails at times and there are also synchronous movements, reminding that both gestalts are just two states of one mind. The dance ends with a pose in which Ivanovic literally carries her burden.

Jelena Ivanovic: los-heimat-los In a solo performed while sitting on a chair, Ivanovic controls the movement of one arm by the other and manipulates her face with her hands in a series of movements repeated with increasing speed, while she faces the audience from the left side, the right side and frontally. Different variations of this idea regularly appear on the stage nowadays. In Ivanovic's version, the music is digitally slowed down and distorted parallel to the increasing speed of the movement, finally dissolving into a single unnatural sound while the dance furiously culminates.

Jelena Ivanovic: los-heimat-los There is an intermezzo in which the performers drive onto the stage in suitcases furnished with small wheels. They tell each other stories from the Balkan war: about parks turned into garbage dumps, naive soldiers boasting about their guns, and about mass graves. They also exchange recipes for traditional Serbian meals.

Jelena Ivanovic: los-heimat-los The final scene portrays abuse of a female detainee, played again by Ivanovic. The interaction between the abuser and his victim is frozen for several minutes, while Hana Zanin in a white pantsuit dances a solo behind. After the scene resumes and the abuser leaves his victim alone, her shame and suppressed anger bursts in a desperate outbreak, as Ivanovic lets herself fall into a bathtub and splashes water violently all along the stage. She eventually attempts suicide, symbolized similarly as in Erdmann-Rajski's "WasserZeichen", and is rescued by her second self (Hana Zanin).

Denouncing the war by exposing its dehumanizing cruelties in pseudo-documentaries is an efficient way to get the anti-war message through. In a dance performance, however, the result might feel blatant, depending on how well the performer wraps the story in movement. This kind of depiction of the Balkan war comes out most convincingly in autobiographic disclosures, for example as shown by Iljana Letic in "I-Migration". Los-heimat-los is more complex, though the story about a sniper is a pseudo-documentary. (By the way, the same story has been exploited by Ivanovic before in her choreography "Stevan".) It is not an autobiographic disclosure: Ivanovic's inspiration originates from her few week long visit to former Yugoslavia ten years ago.

Jelena Ivanovic: los-heimat-los

The main theme is interlaced with scenes about traveling, diluting its heavy message. To me it was a good idea, though an impression might arise that the group has merged two unrelated pieces, none of which would take up a whole-evening performance. As for the dance, I liked duos by Ivanovic and Zanin best and would like to see more of this kind instead of some of the acting, but this is a matter of personal preference. The amount of dance and its quality in mixed performances and dance theater seldom reaches the level usual for performances designated as "choreography" or "dance". In the long run, the genre can only advance by bringing dance back into focus. Ivanovic and her co-performers have what it takes to be part of this development, as long as they complement rather than replace their dance skills by what is regarded as a "must have" in contemporary stage performance.

Choreography: Jelena Ivanovic
Music: Biyuya Ensemble, Bojan Vuletic
Photos/video: Ralf Uhler
Dance: Jelena Ivanovic, Andres Simon, Hana Zanin
Speaker: Andrea Grudda