Modern Dance Reviews

Frank Gratkowski and Marguerite Papazoglou

Frank Gratkowski: clarinets, saxophone and voice
Marguerite Papazoglou: dance

Dresden, March 2010

Avant-garde music and modern dance rarely encounter one another. Frank Gratkowski's and Marguerite Papa- zoglou's performance was not just an encounter, it was an outstanding symbiosis between the two genres. Frank Gratkowski's improvised solos on clarinets and saxophone built upon eccentric sounds invented in free jazz, but the musician used harsh sounds sparingly and provided a fair amount of repetitions and iterations to satisfy the receptivity of a general audience. Marguerite Papazoglou's dance matched the rhythm and dynamic of his music.

Most of her stories were abstract but a few possessed theatrical legends and involved mimic, allowing the dancer to demonstrate her acting skills. The artists interacted with each other intensely, often crossing the boundaries of their genres much to the joy of the audience. The connection between contemporary music and dance was exceptional. The performance was a highlight, the best among dozens we saw in the last months. Frank Gratkowski and Marguerite Papazoglou are on our "watch for" list.


Although we thought we knew all the platforms for the performing arts in Dresden, we hadn't heard about Atelier P. Schulze yet. The address pointed to Neustadt. Numerous stages serving the free-lance scene are located there, some of them well known, others hidden in the backyards and abandoned factories. Atelier P. Schulze is a visual art gallery. We were the first visitors there. The stage is the entrance area covered with parquetry, about five by eight meters large. When we saw the place, we bet that there wouldn't be more than ten persons in the audience. We underestimated Neustadt: thirty-five visitors eventually squeezed themselves into a space designed for half as many.


Marguerite Papazoglou began her solo from behind a pillar in the audience. She flashed her feet and arms and entered the stage in a bent posture, exercising caterpillar-like motions. Waves were passing from her legs through her belly, chest and shoulders, while she gradually raised her body. You may watch a similar scene in the beginning sequence of a performance recorded last year in Dublin. The dancer selected a different style for each piece of music. Most of her stories were abstracts but a few contained elements of acting and pantomime. The speed of her motion, alternating from moderate to very fast, complemented rather than copied the tempi of Frank Gratkowski's music. For instance, she chose a series of blistering air-cutting arm movements to match protracted, transparent clarinet tones. The performance relied on improvisation but the transitions seemed thoroughly rehearsed, as no slow-downs due to adjustments of the artists to each other between scenes were apparent.


The bass clarinet was Frank Gratkowski's principal instrument in the first part of the performance. If you listened to his music without seeing him playing, you would hardly believe it. The pitch of the sound stayed above the conventional limit of the instrument most of the time. His tones were delicate and warm, raspy but not forceful. He exploited countless options discovered by free jazz and sophisticated in the avant-garde, where everything but sounds for which the instrument has been designed is welcome. His clarinet served as a noise generator and as percussions when Frank Gratkowski tapped and knocked it with his fingers, but he also created melodies. Yes, real melodies! Althouthg his tones were unusual, he did not leave the listeners behind, arranging sounds into patterns and advancing patterns into musical stories. Except for a few short aggressive figures, the sound remained gentle, avoiding roaring low-pitch positions. You can find many recordings by Frank Gratkowski on YouTube, for example here, here and here.


Music and dance were both worth attention in their own right, but what excited the audience most was the interplay between them. The artists systematically crossed the barrier between their genres. Frank Gratkowski moved across stage, balanced on one leg in a manner coordinated with Marguerite Papazoglou's motion, and lay on the floor while playing. Even direct physical interactions happened: Frank supported Marguerite's body by one of his his legs bent in the knee, and he held her foot between his legs while she was struggling to escape the chasing sound of his saxophone. Marguerite blew Frank's clarinet while he was switching from bass to soprano; she managed to play a tone which Frank matched on the second instrument. Another memorable element was a percussion duet in four voices. Frank was hitting the orifice of a clarinet (mouthpiece removed) with his palm and at the same time generated clapping sounds by loudly opening and closing his lips, while Marguerite, lying on her back, played her belly as a drum while hitting the ground rhythmically with her back and feet.


The door of the gallery served as a requisite for a dance theater story which terminated the first part of the performance. Marguerite opened the door and was struck by a gust of wind. She struggled to close the door, fighting the wind in front of her while a violent sound howled behind her. A pedestrian on the street happened to pass by in that moment, stumbling at the startling view. Eventually Marguerite succeeded to shut the door. The sharp blow provided a full stop to the first part of the performance.

the wind

The more loosely designed second part of the performance began as a scene evolving around a bucket and a bottle of cleaning agent. Marguerite's acting and performing was of greater significance than her dancing. She added an acrobatic element when she leaned against the wall, did a headstand and lifted her arms, supporting her body only by her shoulders. You may watch a similar scene at the end of this recording. Frank Gratkowski replaced the clarinets by an alto saxophone. One of his improvisations stuck in my memory. It was made of straight, equally long tones sung and played on the saxophone alternatively and simultaneously. In the middle of the piece he held a vocal at the same pitch for three bars, adding a major second of the saxophone above and then below it; after this encounter the voices parted again, continuing their journey. It was while listening to this piece that I decided to buy one of Frank's CDs displayed behind the stage.

after a break

Petr Karlovsky