Donna Sternberg and Dancers and Heidi Duckler had dancers up the wall – literally – in two site-specific pieces performed at the Wende Museum this week.
Both site-specific pieces make due with reconciling the world female artists inhabited “back then” and the not-so-different world they live in now. Poignant, at times distraught, both performances offered heart-stopping moments, and together took the audience through the entirety of the space.
Heidi Duckler showed “What Remains,” a five-part piece that entangles two stories: The tale of Eurydice and Orpheus under Stasi Surveillance, inspired by Ranier Maria Rilke’s poem and German writer Christa Wolf’s novella, “What Remains,” respectively.
The most gripping moment of “Iron Women,” Sternberg’s exploration of female artistry, came at the end, when the dancers divided themselves into rows by gender. The male dancers took steps forward and shouted the names of Cold War male artist, growing louder and louder. The women took steps back, their voices shrinking to become discernible. We – as a society – are getting better at pulling out from the crowd our female artists, but who will win in the history books?
The fantastic part of site-specific work is how intimate it becomes. Like Mona Lisa’s eyes following you around the atrium at the Louvre, both Sternberg’s and Duckler’s pieces enlightened a sense of the personal, based literally on where you were standing.
For instance: at one moment in Iron Women, I watched a dancer thrash and throw her body behind the Verena Kyselka piece, The News Anchor Antenna Costume, an armored costume wired around the body and worn with a large, industrial headdress. From where I stood, only me and perhaps a few other people around me could experience the same thing.
And the costumes, oh, the costumes. Working with Nancy Hunt, owner of Santa Monica clothing store Brat, Sternberg and her costume designer Rosalida Medina pulled subtle, gender-bending costumes. “We didn’t want the costumes to be more expressive than what’s there,” Medina said.
“I hope the audience will take away the fact that art can take place on multiple platforms,” said Duckler before the show. In “What Remains,” this is literally the case.
Dancers scaled telephone poles and rooftops to escape the Stasi, an invisible character throughout the performance, but one that had a very real presence.
“I like to think about the characters and the space,” said Himerria Wortham, one of “What Remains’” dancers, about preparing for the piece. “Everyone can read the same story, hear the same story, and see something different.”
What Remains was written in 1979 but wasn’t published until 1990. What would have remained if the story had been removed from history entirely? Fortunately, we don’t have to find out.
The final performance of “What Remains” is at the Wende Dec. 13
The Medea Insurrection – Radical Women Artists Behind the Iron Curtain is on display at the Wende Museum of the Cold War until April 5, 2020.