PRESS: “STATIONS” – “Station 1, Berlin”

“Meeting of Theater and Reality”
By Constanze Klementz
Berliner Morgenpost, 10/4/03

The Berlin choreographer Thomas Lehmen is hot on the heels of reality – in theater. He does not accept that being on the stage cannot come together with existence outside and overlaps both before the background of systems theory in the first development of “Stations.” Are the two on the same level if the system of the theater, reduced to its functionality, meets other social systems?

All meet around a table: the choreographer, who introduces his project; the reality which he found through an advertisement: people who explain their jobs, like the insurance broker Knut, the lawyer Tanja, or Gabriele the remedial teacher; dancers who at first do not dance; viewers who are requested to raise questions or are brought into discussion with the dancers on topics like cohabitation or the potato.

Lehmen’s research follows a captivating concept. He reckoned with the overlapping of authenticity and representation. But with the authority of the theater as well? It tempts the representatives of ‘real’ life to portray themselves, and as actors portraying themselves they become more present than the systems that they embody. The result: more and more audience questions poke into the private. The choreographic sequence at the center of “Stations,” a composition of individual modules of movement, remains uncommented on, and the dancer as interpreter and person remains unexamined. One takes the dance as is; one must not and cannot peer through it. So Lehmen’s laboratory not only sows clever uncertainty, but also some clichés. Making it all the more believable.

“The Professionals”
By Katrin Bettina Mueller
Tageszeitung, 10/4/03

Cut out, copy. Since the invention of the computer, these functions have become everyday. Cut out a piece of reality and paste it on the theater: Theater producers, performers and musicians have been doing this for two generations, but nevertheless it is still not everyday practice. Perhaps because this occurs in places still on the periphery of cultural institutions. Perhaps because the hunger for the everyday in the media has often produced such a rigid format, that escaping it has in the meantime become an art in itself. But certainly because the context and motivations behind displacing slices of reality have changed.

Thomas Lehmen, performer, dancer and choreographer, chooses system theory as his departure point. In “Stations,” premiered in Berlin Podewil, he searches for the productive surplus value of system theoretical discoveries for artistic production methods. Thus he comes up with structures to bring together various systems and to investigate their points of contact, forms of reaction, and incompatible elements.

To that end, he invites representatives of various occupation groups, allowing the system of context displacement to line-up against the system of dance composition, and brings various experts into the game to speak about socks, Islam, potatoes, money laundering, and the reproductive system of sponges.

“Stations,” developed each evening with different participants, begins like a seminar under neon lights. An insurance broker, a former prosecutor, a pastor, a delicatessen saleswoman, and a doorman speak about their occupations and discover very quickly as a common pattern the presentation that one must give one’s respective customers, clients, defendants, or believers, and how one trains that. Because, more or less, we all perform. Found interfaces for contentment.

“If you are sad, look at the ceiling”
By Michaela Schlagenwerth
Berliner Zeitung, 10/10/03

At the beginning of the year, the Berlin choreographer Thomas Lehmen put out a classified advertisement: “theater production seeks people from all sorts of occupations.” Several hundred called. Thomas Lehmen and his team met with a few of them. Sitting communally around a table, the people told about their professions, “and that,” says Thomas Lehmen, “was an exciting performance.”

In Podewil last week as part of “Station I” people from occupations of all sorts gathered around a large table. There are also dancers present, who will later attempt movements that are less dance than sequences of movements from everyday life. There is liverwurst and bread and cheese, and on the side a self-produced dance magazine is being put together that one can purchase for 2.50 euros. Forty viewers sit around the table as well.

First, an insurance broker relates: “[…] Most important in the sales situation is the moment after ringing the bell. This is the decisive moment. It’s best if I show you how it works. (The insurance salesman acts out the door situation with a dancer.) You see, exactly at the moment the door opens, I take a step back. That way the customer does not feel pressured. While shaking hands, I take a step forward into the home. Once there, the first thing I do is look around. Maybe there is a dog, sports trophies, or family pictures, something one can ask about and build trust with through a personable conversation.”

A former prosecutor: “But that’s a very naïve image of the customer. But prosecutors as well need to make themselves popular, especially with the defendant, if he has not confessed, to build trust and to gain insight.” Then a former pastor tells about his work with juveniles and the problems of the church to sell itself well. A general discussion breaks out as to whether the church should implement more modern marketing strategies, or whether exactly the refusal to do so, the “don’t dirty oneself,” is not the cleverest advertisement. A delicatessen saleswoman: “I work in a delicatessen in Wilmersdorf. A lot of prominent figures come in there, but also normal people who are mostly nicer. Recently a famous man said to his daughter, if you continue to do what you do, you will soon look like her. (The saleswoman is not very slim.)”[…]

A porter: “I’m a porter. That’s where one ends up if one doesn’t pay enough attention in school. Later I wanted to finish my degree. I have traveled a lot throughout the world, and finished studies as travel agent. But after the 11th of September, the tourism industry hit hard times. An offer for a job as porter of a can factory came along. Previously, the porters had televisions; now there is a PC with Internet and flat rate. I surf a lot and over Internet radio discovered the Blues. (Sings a song.) Earlier, I myself played in groups. I was always good at keeping myself busy when I was unemployed. That’s why the porter job is really good for me. I listen to music and scenarios occur to me. In my opinion, one needs challenges in life.”

In the end, the people sit a long time in small groups. The Pastor says he had very nice telephone conversations with Thomas Lehmen and arranged two appointments. One does not always have to come, only when one can. The skepticism of commercially oriented production and presentation forms in the dance market drives choreographers to search for other working methods, it says in the first essay in the self-produced magazine.

“A Setting for the Real – “Stations” by Thomas Lehmen”
By Sabine Huschka
Tanz Journal 6/03

We enter a production hall on the first floor of the Berlin Podewil and find ourselves in the middle of a spatially and functionally disparate situation. Diverse objects and groups of people line the hall. In one corner, a bar stands where we can order water and open-face sandwiches. At the opposite end of the room stand several production desks with laptop, printer, papers, pens, boxes, cables, behind which several people sit. It is time to take a seat. The chairs stand in irregular rows around a large table in the middle of the hall. On the table lie old, already read newspapers. The stage in the production hall, looming behind the work desks, gapes dark and empty.

We are greeted by Thomas Lehmen and introduced into the self-sufficient logic of the present production. He did not know himself how each evening would be formed as a performance and from which position we – the viewers – would enter into the choreographic events. It had been the idea to not seal off the theatrical space against the real in order to display its facets as merely fictional. Much more than that something should qualitatively come out of it and as such build the communicative production process of the theater. With this line of questions, Lehmen proves himself, as choreographic thinker and dancer, as someone who seeks to use the knowledge he has gained through work with movement in order to activate the real connection to the physical dramatic arts.

As much as this knowledge continually deals with the imaginary – even when it makes an effort to dunk the energetic-theatrical impetus of dancing and narrative bodies into the cool bath of actual movement execution and a ‘narration concrète’ – “Stations” is just as much concerned with the art of the choreographic to lead an unagitated and unpretentious confrontation with present bodies in the theater situation.

At the beginning of the production, newspaper advertisements sought “people from all sorts of occupations” for a theater piece, in which those people would not practice their occupation, but rather talk about them. Lehmen’s choreography did not seek talent for a good dance or stage performance, but instead simply sought people to tell others about their own occupation. Their narratives during the rehearsal phase, Lehmen emphasizes, already formed the situationally fundamental configuration of theater, because all participants (the people from different occupations, dancers, choreographer, dramatic adviser, photographer, etc.) worked together in the sense of actors and audience. What now occurs through the entrance of the audience is uncertain.

“Stations” is therefore understandable not as a piece that has reached the point of performance, but rather as a public process, within whose choreographic scaffolding the public enters as a further system group. Lehmen thinks of the aesthetics of perception as a portion of the aesthetic work of the stage, whose choreography receives the aesthetic configurations of a performance by way of the viewer’s body. Spatially and dramaturgically, the viewers are placed in choreographically ambiguous scenarios, undecided in their real aesthetic character. More radically than in his earlier works, Lehmen interweaves the places, spaces and roles of all participants with changing situational arrangements, whose function is demonstratively occupied by references from reality. At the bar, the two people serving are from “all sorts of occupations” - previously barkeepers; on the stage, trained dancers dance; at the discussion table in the first scene sit the choreographer and the dramatic advisor Sven-Thore Kramm and all of the other actors. Repeatedly throughout the evening the question arises: where in fact do I find myself? The audience is constantly urged to scrutinize their own presence.

To begin with, individual people explain the situational specifics of their occupation: the insurance salesman Knut Ernst reports the merits of NLP for working in the field. He presents to us the golden rules of body language for successfully making contact with the customer. In his narration, the porter Arno Koelker slips from his occupational reality into the imaginary. Almost too emphatically, he presents his newest idea: the porter’s blues. And so he sings us a song. Dancing and acting, he creates the “Porter’s Desk.” He develops into a theatrical figure and enters the symbolic space of the theater, which until now remained sealed off to our perception. Enthusiastically, that fascinating and shame-free representational space of the theater is entered, where one can pretend to be someone else. In a short time, all that which “Stations” has until now pushed to the edges comes flashing out. For although the discussion round may resemble a talk show, it does not adapt the communicative rules of confessional or promotional speech, of empathetic or provocative questions. We viewers experience the round from the second and third rows around the table without a clear communicative role. This undefined, voluntary and optional quality is reflected in the behavior of the viewers: some listen attentively the entire time; others stand up during the talk, go to the bar and drink a beer; some take part and pose questions.

The following scene places us at individual tables spread throughout the room in an ensemble that resembles a variety show. Written on the blackboard in a circular order are the words “Space – Image – Relationship – Quality – Movement” - those processes that the dancers subsequently go through to create. They whisper instructions in each other’s ears and follow the structural guidelines of the choreographic system in short sequences of movements. Movement motifs are varied in space, imaginative gesture, quality, and relationship to others, while the instructions themselves remain incomprehensible. What is comprehensible is the performative moment of choreographic work, whose products shape the situation as if arbitrarily. Later the events shift to individual table discussions that take individual topics as their object in phases. The speakers this time are the dancers and they tell the audiences at the tables about potatoes, door handles, plastic bags, being-together, water, migration, laundry, hygiene, the mafia, family. Each decides for herself when this evening comes to an end. During the entire evening there are no applause, for who applauds oneself?