‘So, just a couple of steps behind me is a tall woman with short hair, who is just beginning to move. Now she is standing on one leg, her right arm pointing to the ceiling. She is looking down towards the floor. Behind her right side, towards your left, is a large black curtain.’ (Gabriele Reuter 2010)
The tall woman in the text above is the performer standing onstage behind Gabriele Reuter. This text is delivered in German and proceeds to zoom out of the theatre, out of the building, past a lake, out of the city towards a building without walls on a hill. It is a text that travels, that takes us outside of ourselves and outside of our own experience. It is a text that will change wherever it is performed to acknowledge the specific location.
It is difficult for me to write about Tourist, Gabi’s new dance performance, because in some ways, I was a tourist during the creative process. I zoomed out like this text. I spoke mainly to Gabi from a distance, 610 miles away from where she was working in Berlin. When the process came to the UK, I visited the studio twice, but never for long, and when the work-in-progress came to Nottingham, where I live, I was absent again.
I experienced this process mainly through documentation. Photographs of performers in costume under a flyover. Pixellated video streams of Julieta standing alone in the studio. Her voice echoing in the space and then mediated via the internet. Gabi’s descriptions of the project, whether verbal or written, have choreographed a dialogue between us where I felt like the visitor parachuted into a strange world she was creating.
Stranger is a synonym for tourist, and certainly the characters we meet in this world are strange. Gabi and I spoke after the work-in-progress about how the world, the spatial landscape, defined by the performers invites a string of interpretations that shift like the landscape itself from funny, to strange, to foreigners, to outsiders. Camus’ L’Etranger is a useful footnote, dealing as it does with resonant themes of the outsider and isolation.
As a dramaturg, I sometimes feel like a tourist in a contemporary dance context, dance has always been another language to me, spoken by other people with foreign bodies. It is perhaps a good idea to approach Tourist through this lens of distance and foreign-ness. As a German choreographer working with artists from three different countries, Gabi is always exploring space as material in different languages as well as her own.
What marks Tourist as different to Gabi’s previous work is its investment in characters, here coloured by costumes and their particular physical and linguistic characteristics. Gabi said she wanted to ‘invite the personality of the performers to inhabit the space’ and this is at its most noticeable when different guest performers visit the performance, each bringing their own history, identity and language to the landscape, like a passport.
This moves it away from a purely analytical study of the performance space into a study of something more existential, opening a line of enquiry onto identity. How a space, or a place, defines us. How where we are born or where we live shapes us. How we might feel if we find ourselves in a different space, on the other side of the curtain. Maybe in this sense, as performers, as audience members, or as a dramaturg, we are all tourists.