Berlin ballet woos new crowd with a dark show in a techno club

In this photo taken Thursday, May 2, 2013, dancers of he Staatsballett Berlin (State Ballet Berlin) perform during a rehearsal of the production "Masse" (Mass) at the Halle am Berghain in Berlin, Germany. The world premier of the ballet, which is a cooperation between Staatsballett Berlin and the electronic music Club Berghain will be held at a former boiler house near the techno club Berghain on Saturday May 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BERLIN: Berlin’s state ballet has teamed up with a leading techno night club to produce a dark, avant-garde show with bondage masks and a bus wreck set in a former power plant that showcases the city’s vibrant alternative cultural scene.

“Masse” (mass) features three performances by choreographers scored by DJs who regularly play at the Berghain – in a wasteland in the city’s ex-communist east which grew out of a gay, fetish joint and is known for its booming sound and hedonistic parties.

Staged in the hitherto derelict main hall of the power plant behind the club, “Masse” epitomizes the city’s experimental spirit, which many fear is under threat from gentrification and rising rents and costs.

“The menacing atmosphere of the Berghain was an inspiration,” said choreographer Tim Plegge, whose piece features ballerinas wearing bondage masks and one dancer smothering the rest with smoke.

Electronic music resonates around the 17-meter-high brick-and-cement walls of a hall that has been transformed into a techno temple and opened to the public for the first time.

The barren set, featuring a bus wreck and twisted steel, is also the debut stage design of German artist Norbert Bisky.

“I wanted to create a contrast with the beauty of the dancers’ movements,” said Bisky, whose works feature in a variety of collections including at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “Firstly, the world is not just perfection and beauty. Secondly the hall is a very raw, forbidding place.”

Bisky said he wanted to draw on the “catastrophic mood of recent years” and growing skepticism about unbridled urban growth.

Berghain is one of the many clubs or alternative culture venues in Berlin located in industrial buildings, long derelict during the city’s tortuous 20th-century history – destroyed by World War II, then divided by the Berlin Wall.

“It’s a very special place, an unrestored industrial building with morbid architecture typical of Berlin,” said spectator Fritz Stahlberg, 57, after the premiere of the show.

Berghain and ballet fans who failed to get tickets have tried to sneak into the plant in the day and wait for the show.

“You couldn’t have a classical ballet here,” said Stahlberg.

“Just as a contemporary ballet like this wouldn’t necessarily fit into your usual opera house.”

The Berlin state ballet company, one of the largest in Europe, said the show was also a chance to reach out to a new public.

“It’s a possibility to both reach a new public that wouldn’t usually be interested in ballet and to bring opera-goers to a techno club they would otherwise never step foot in,” said ballet company spokeswoman Nadine Jaeger.

In its wild heyday following reunification in 1990, Berlin attracted hoards of artists and became known for its graffiti-covered squats and wild parties and cultural happenings in warehouses, swimming pools and factories.

In the last few years, property prices have soared in the city that its mayor once branded “poor but sexy” and investors have reclaimed real estate once left to squatters, forcing many alternative culture venues to close or move on.

On top of gentrification, clubs are facing a higher tax rate as well as a new system of royalty payments squeezing profit margins, forcing many clubs to shut – a phenomenon locals call “Clubsterben” or “club death.”

Berghain is pushing ahead with its experimental edge and becoming more ambitious in scope. The club’s publicity-shy owners in 2010 bought the plant built in neoclassical style as part of East Germany’s post-war reconstruction program.

While the club attracts techno enthusiasts from all over the world, it has also branched out into high-brow culture, displaying artworks by famous artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans and hosting small classical concerts and shows.

The club said its original plans to fully convert the plant’s main hall into a venue for major productions have been thwarted by the higher taxes and royalties. “Masse” takes place in one corner and risks being a one-off show.

“Masse” runs at the Berghain until May 25. All performances are sold out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2013, on page 16.




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