Martin Hansen

When I met Martin Hansen after a performance in Germany, he was thrilled to catch up with a fellow Australian. Hansen had just performed his critically acclaimed solo work, Monumental, at the PACT Zollverein in Essen.

Hansen trained at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School and after that, he describes how “I did the first year of the BA at the VCA too. I dropped out with the intention of returning, but never did.” Hansen visited Berlin for the first time in 2006, eventually moving there for good. “I possessed the typical desire for travel and adventure and I was very interested in dance practices that were taking place in Europe,” he recalls.

Immersing himself in the Berlin dance scene, Hansen became aware of how his dance training was also, as he formulates it,“the embodiment of a geographically and context-specific ideology.” Referring to the Australian notion of contemporary dance – generally dominated by modern dance techniques, and postmodern styles which were a reaction to the modern dance movement – he further states, “I needed to broaden my understanding of what a moving body could be.”

In Europe, Hansen has worked with a diverse range of groups and artists, such as Christoph Winkler, Sebastian Matthias, Ehud Darash, Jeremy Wade, CADAM and Tino Sehgal. In hindsight, he says, “Finding work took a little while, but I was always busy.” In collaboration with Ligia Lewis, Hansen created and presented A call for empathy at the Sophiensaele (a centre for independently produced contemporary theatre and dance projects), in Berlin, as well as You go first then I go first at the Tanzhaus NRW in Düsseldorf. He was named Dancer of the Year by the magazine Tanz in 2012, after he was “discovered” portraying the Red Army Faction terrorist, Andreas Baader, in a creation by Winkler.

Hansen modestly brushes off his new found fame as “the coming together of certain interests with certain institutional frameworks […] The magnum of champagne tasted great!” However,the celebration was disappointingly short lived. He describes how he and friends “drank it on the streets of Kassel with some friends but then a scary man stole it from us!”

In Germany, institutions such as the publicly funded dance theatres PACT Zollverein and Tanzhaus NRW (mentioned above) are places where freelance dancers and choreographers receive financial and technical support. These theatres bear many names, but share similar structures: Mousonturm, K3, and the recently opened Tanzfaktur, to name a few more. They provide freelance artists the chance not only to show their work, but also to take part in residencies to develop works in progress, or longer term support by engaging affiliated artists.

Residencies are highly sought after and the high expectations of panels selecting artists in residence have resulted in contemporary freelance works taking on an increasingly theoretical basis. Even before works have begun to be developed in a studio, an intricate, often philosophical framework forms the foundation for the creative process. This can also be said to have resulted in the founding of crossover higher education institutions such as the Inter-University Centre for Dance, Berlin, better known in Germany as the HZT (Hochschulübergreifendes Zentrum Tanz), which allows dancers to pursue a theoretical study of dance. This centre was founded in 2006 as a pilot project under the guidance of Tanzplan Deutschland, a federal body which promotes dance in Germany. Speaking from his own experience, Hansen explains how “at a certain point I felt the need to study with real rigour and redefine how I operated in this context. The HZT is perfect for that.” In July, he completed the bachelor’s degree Dance, Context and Choreography.

The current project of Tanzplan Deutschland is known as Tanzfonds Erbe (Dance Heritage Fund). Funding has been provided to a long list of dancers and choreographers who are attempting to “reclaim” dance history with creations which generally, but not exclusively, are reactions to archival material. While Hansen is not a part of this large scale project, his work Monumental definitely has its finger on the pulse.

Monumental appears on the surface to be a reconstruction of Anna Pavlova’s much loved solo from 1905, The Dying Swan. Upon closer inspection, the work deals extensively with written and spoken language, incorporates cardboard signs displaying carefully selected words, and choreography performed simultaneously with Hansen’s own monologue, during which he quotes Isabelle Stengers, a philosopher of science.

The problem of replicating a piece historically, as opposed to recreating a performance’s innovative elements which had originally garnered praise in its historical context, is a pressing issue in the restaging of dance repertory. In Monumental such concerns are dealt with theoretically and creatively. Instead of reviving significant repertoire in order to affirm a sense of continuity in dance history and traditions, Hansen argues against nostalgic interpretations.

Hansen will be restaging Monumental on the 31st of August as part of the Tanznacht Berlin, at the Uferstudios. His latest work, The Body Doesn’t Lie, will be shown next at Het Veem Theater in Amsterdam from the 9th-11th of September.

– LUKE AARON FORBES

Published in the August-September 2014 issue of Dance Australia magazine. See: http://www.danceaustralia.com.au/news/martin-hansen. Support dance journalism and subscribe at http://www.danceaustralia.com.au/toolbar/subscribe

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