Fifteen years ago two East German men dreamt of being dancers. One, Wolfgang Hoffman, was a toolmaker. His friend Sven Till was a student of German history. With no school in which to train, the men met in attics to rehearse for shows that might never be staged.
Then on 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. The repercussions were global and for Hoffman, transformative. Study became possible and eventually the pair created their own company called Fabrik based in Potsdam. Fourteen years later, the dancers’ latest show Pandora 88 is performed entirely within the walls of a 1.5 metre square box -“ an even more confined space than their shared attics. Hoffman explains.
In the rehearsal process it was really a liberation, that confinement, Hoffman says. It made us focused. There was no escape. We had to rely on our thoughts and our imagination. We also decided to throw away all extra props and settings, we had extra trapdoors and hatch things -¦ And all this is gone -¦
Hoffman is on the phone from Potsdam, which is just inside the former East Germany in Berlin, an area architecturally transformed into a shiny modern revision of Berlin before the Wall. Pandora 88 became for the long-time friends a way of re-imagining their relationship and addressing masculinity in new ways.
People get stuck in stereotypes and clich? Hoffman said. I think Pandora 88 settled certain unspoken things. The way we worked before, we functioned very back-to-back in a way -¦ And that was one of the reasons we thought we should do the show in a small space. We were two people who had worked around each other without really ever touching or ever noticing each other -¦ In that way it was emotionally a very deepening process really.
Of course, on paper (meaning press release), the work is allegedly also inspired by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and the 1992 book by Brian Keenan called An Evil Cradling. It turns out this is also true, however much the content of the work was shaped by Sven and Wolfgang’s emotional journey.
What interested me first of all in the book was the needs that the English and the Irishmen had for each other and their own differences, Hoffman said. They needed each other being different, being not the same person, being another source of imagination, for them to stay sane in this incredibly uncertain circumstance -¦
Yeah, they were in love with each other. There’s nothing about a really sexual situation. You can take that but I don’t really think it’s so important. But there’s a lot about tenderness and touch and how important it was to be held and stroked and calmed down physically and dancing with each other, Hoffman said.
So for us it was not so much about the confinement that we sought -¦ It was just the world in which we lived -¦ But it’s not about how to get out, it’s about how to live in that space, he said.
One gets the sense Hoffman holds some sympathy for Katrin Sass, the pro-communist mother in Goodbye, Lenin! whose son hides the unification of Berlin from her when she awakens from a coma. (Hoffman liked the film, but feels there are better East German films also deserving of attention.)
There’s so much talk about freedom and liberation you know, he said. But you often see so many confused people who don’t know what to do. Everything is possible. It can go in any direction -“ your career, your sexual desire, whatever. Nothing is taboo. And it confuses people naturally, because nobody knows what is right, how to spend your life, Hoffman said.
We make up new borders now. We make up borders that don’t exist.
Pandora 88 runs from 20 February to 6 March at the The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House. Phone 9250 7777 for bookings or visit www.sydneyoperahouse.com for more information.