Confronting Happiness in ‘newyou’

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

“Today is John’s Birthday and John is very happy.”

How happy John really is will be the premise of “newyou,” the Johannes Wieland company performance tonight at 8 on LPAC Mainstage. The performance, in the tanztheater tradition, fuses dance and theater and directly challenges the audience to participate with questions about how happiness and lies are entangled.

The critically acclaimed Johannes Wieland company of New York is named for its founding artistic director, who serves as resident choreographer for the state theater in Germany. Dubbed one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch,” the company has met with positive attention since its sold-out premier in 2002.

Through what the company refers to as “architecturally driven understanding of bodies, movement and space,” the group’s multidisciplinary and highly interactive approach pushes the audience to ask questions about issues related to home, family, and in this particular performance, happiness.

The performance, a Cooper Event, preceded by a lecture and master class (both given on Thursday, February 26) marks the first performance of the Johannes Wieland company on campus. However, as Kathy Watts, who wrote the proposal to bring the group here, notes, Wieland is not unconnected to the Dance Department at Swarthmore.

“The department is familiar with Johannes,” she explains. “He attends the international dance conference in Poland that many of our students and teachers have been to… Sharon Freidler, Sally Hess, Jon Sherman, have all been aware of his presence and when I told them I’d like to bring him, they were all on board.” In addition, Watts points out that the performance’s lighting designer, James Clotfelter, has worked in Philadelphia with ‘Pig Iron Theatre Company.’

Watts particularly wanted to bring Johannes Wieland to Swarthmore to expose the campus to “his innovative approach to performance art,” having seen the company’s “progressive coma” in 2006 as well as the state theater perform in Kassel, Germany the following year.

In contrasting the two companies, a primary difference Wieland noted was scale. The New York company is a smaller, not-for-profit group of “dedicated… artists who want to work and perform,” and the German state theater is a larger (seventeen to twenty people) international company. In either case, Watts notes how important collaboration is to Wieland’s choreography.

“He’s very interested in how to interpret what [the dancers] want to express… I know on one of the movement studies in Germany they needed to think of very important life memories and had to create their own stories about these and then these memories get incorporated in the performance.”

Watts was particularly struck by the combination of challenging subjects and range of physicality, “It’s not a ‘sit down and feel good about nice movements’ performance but I can tell you that these dancers are amazing. You have these highly skilled dancers moving in and out of pedestrian movements, walking and dancing…”

“newyou” in particular Watts notes, “is a mind game, but it’s done very well and the movement and the acting are very exciting.”

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