pulling down walls

sophie travers introduces thomas lehmen

Thomas Lehmen

Thomas Lehmen

Thomas Lehmen

Thomas Lehmen

This list of accomplishments and intentions serves as introduction to the contemporary dance solo, Lehmen Lernt, with which Berlin based choreographer, Thomas Lehmen, will make his Australian debut. Hosted by Critical Path and Performance Space in Sydney and by Strut in Perth, Lehmen is part of the Goethe Institut’s GerMANY FACES Australia cultural festival.

Lehmen’s provocative solo marked a pause in the rapid creation of conceptual, rules-driven group pieces, such as Schreibstueck from 2002 and FUNKTIONEN and It’s better to… from 2004. Still in repertoire, these productions have been performed widely around the world and have led to Lehmen’s inclusion in a wave of programming which probes the conceptual underpinnings of dance. In 2005 Lehmen began a protracted exercise in learning which he continues to develop.

In tackling a list of tasks, ranging from the mundane to the poetic, with a single approach, Lehmen seeks to show “that we all shape the world together, that everyone has their own part to play, and that the desire to learn, seen in even the smallest action, is a creative contribution. Learning is universal to all people. A function everybody uses in life. That’s how I came to the collection of ‘things’ one can learn. People connect with it in many ways. Everybody seems to pick out what interests them personally.”

Tackled with wit and showmanship, the solo is an absorbing experience, as Lehmen in his blue overalls demonstrates his achievements to date. Unlike much of his other work, there is no manual or tool-box for this show to be recreated on other artists. Instead, this piece will continue to be extended by its creator. Lehmen says, “Each piece is a development. This one was important to me because I could put in lots of the experience which I gained from the previous pieces. The ideas of systems, functions, lists. Though I think there is still so much to work out, which I hope I can do for the next 50 years.”

In Sydney and Perth, Lehmen will use the set of rules he created for the Funktionen project to work with local choreographers on a week-long research project. Lehmen describes Funktionen as a “rotating system” in which the functions of Observation, Material, Interpretation, Mediation and Manipulation are used by the artists as tools for the expression of ideas. Lehmen says, “It is just a guideline for the participants to make their decisions. It is a system of communication which contextualises any relevant context the participants work with. I work with the idea of complexity and context by myself in a similar way. Knowing that everything is possible to connect to everything else, and each element has a potential influence on all the others, I need a system which allows me to keep an overview. Within this system chosen elements may nevertheless still have an independent function within the choreography (and in my mind).”

This materialising of context is a theme in all Lehmen’s work. He writes, “It’s obvious you can’t pull down the walls of theatre buildings and rebuild them. But that doesn’t keep me from imagining it. The solution of a problem cannot go any further than structures and rules allow. After all, structures and rules can only offer inherent solutions. But, in dance, we’re constantly working at more or less consciously applying, classifying, and naming structures, systems, focuses, styles, and world views. We generally reconstruct existing things to confirm their existence, although we might vary certain factors without changing the foundation for those structures. In choreography, more than anything else, it’s the shape and quality of the body that we want to change. And thankfully, it’s more and more the idea, perception, reference, and context.”

In 2007, Lehmen Lernt has toured to Vienna, Brussels, Rome, Montevideo, Utrecht, Prague, Uzes, Talinn and Tuzla. Lehmen has started the creation of a new piece, in which he hopes, “to put my systematic thinking on my movements and body more.” He is reluctant to expand further upon this new work, stating, “I try to work with ideas of freedom.” Thomas Lehmen is looking forward to his Australian visit with a similar lack of expectations.

Thomas Lehmen, Lehmen Lernt, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, Oct 6, 8.00pm; workshops at Critical Path, Sydney, and Strut, Perth, in October.

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 11

© Sophie Travers; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2007