Wallstories by Nejla Y. Yatkin | Fringe Fest 2011 review
Created for a 20th-anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and seen here near the 50th anniversary of its construction, multimedia dance-theater work Wallstories is both felt and danced large by its eight-member cast from NY2Dance, with raw passion and strong technique kept in good balance.
Beginning with their backs to us and clad in trench coats, the dancers advance slowly toward black-and-white video cropped to resemble the view through the slit window of a tank. Two men break away for a duet danced with their lips locked together, in reference to Dmitri Vrubel’s famous 1990 mural of Brezhnev and Honecker kissing. From there, we go backward in time, into the details of lives lived during three dark decades of urban division, into the events that brought about that division, told through voiced-over monologues, sometimes cleverly looped to underline a sense of blocked progress. (Lousy acoustics in the Meridian Stage space blur some of these words although, to me, muddy sound only enhanced the work’s atmosphere.)
Most effective is the sheer effort required to dance Wallstories, choreographed by Nejla Y. Yatkin—this is no milquetoast interpretation of events through easy gesture. Supported by their partners, dancers run across the theater’s rear wall as if it’s horizontal; others traverse the space without touching the floor, their feet held by a row of bodies that create another kind of wall. Throughout, men often volley between explosive power and collapse, while the women stand on the periphery as witnesses, or comfort the men after their trials, no matter what side they’re on. Women faced their own barriers during the ’60s, the ’70s and the ’80s.
The show’s 11 sections are mostly danced to Bach and Pink Floyd, the inclusion of the latter explained in text spoken by Yatkin, who attended the band’s 1990 performance of The Wall between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate, long a “no-man’s land” between the East and the West.
“I found this thing normal,” says a woman too young to remember an undivided Berlin. Although history and humanity are forever in flux, Wallstories reminds us that, even inside the span of a single generation, imbalances and injustices can feel dangerously permanent.