Premiere at Théâtre Contemporain de la Danse, Paris, Feb, 4, 1999
Performers: 21 (or more) local dancers
Music: Ulrike Haage & Christian Meyer Mal/ Co-Repetition: Liz Young/ Choreography, Light and Stage: Felix Ruckert/ Production& Management: Isabelle Fuchs
Ring is an experience between participating audience members sitting on a circle of chairs, and the equivalent number of performers/dancers who interact verbally and by gestures with them. A third circle of passive spectators surrounds them.
Ring is a collaboration with musicians Ulrike Haage and Christian Meyer. The idea behind Haage&Meyer’s compositions is to create an audio lounge of various electronic and acoustic sound samples designed to interact constantly with the actions of the Ring dancers.
During the whole piece, the music generates a series of different moods, creating another space that surrounds the choreography and enhancing the ‘ritual’ character of the piece.
Ring offers a double glance, at the intimacy progressively developing between dancers and spectators and at the esthetics of a group choreography, moving as a living organism.
Ring premiered in February 1999 at the Centre National de la Danse, Maison des compagnies et des spectacles, ex Théatre Contemporain de la Danse in Paris and was performed next at the Judson Church in New York City in November of the same year, within the New Europe Festival. Further tours led to Chateauvallon, Strasbourg, Essen, Munich, Berlin, Nancy, Dieppe, Dijon, Forbach, Rome, Milano, Naples, Venice, London, Leeds, Nottingham, Ajaccio, Amsterdam, Delft, Brussels, Bratislava, Bukarest, Limassol, Lima, Caracas and La Paz. Ring is also part of the repertory of the Ballet de Lorraine, Nancy.
At Judson Memorial Church, New York 10/1999 / Review by Julia Holland
In New York City, physical contact with strangers is loathsome. Even being in close proximity with the masses of humanity is painful, causing commuters to wince on packed trains while avoiding eye contact with everyone around. It was here in New York City, however, that Berlin choreographer Felix Ruckert transformed the daily repulsion of physical contact into a warm and compassionate, even coveted experience in Ring.
The event is as much about the audience as it is about Mr. Ruckert’s cast of 25 dancers, most of whom are from the New York dance community. Members of the audience fill the large circle of chairs facing out towards the scattered observers at Judson Memorial Church. Standing behind each chair, the dancers begin whispering in ears. The seated participants cock their heads, listening very carefully to the gentle words uttered in native tongues, feeling the warm breath of the dancers on their necks. The dancers move to the next person and the next, noiselessly, in a very serene, unhurried manner.
The dancers shift, this time making physical contact with their participants. They take them by the wrists and stroke from their hand to their elbow; they bury themselves in laps, wrapping arms around them. As the dancers place their heads on unfamiliar chests, listening to heartbeats, it looks like dancers and participants have intimate relationships?as children, lovers, or close friends. Moving again, dancers examine the new hands before them and then hug them tightly. They get closer, placing the hands over their eyes, kissing the nape of a neck and then the tip of an elbow very tenderly. Some of the dancers look their partners directly in the eye with a very earnest and kind expression, others are more seductive and sit in laps. For 40 minutes, dancers stroke, manipulate and cherish their partners, as the experimental music of Christian Meyer and Sean Meehan creeps in and rises. Then, in an exciting change from their passive state, participants have a few minutes to improvise with their now-passive dancers. The floor explodes with movement of all types, from the very minimal back rub to the large partner turns, contrasting with the uniform nature of Ring’s sequence.
The entire experience is calming and intriguing. Each shift of the circle, each new chair holds a new person to get to know, in a sense, physically and emotionally in a very short period of time. It is a bizarre combination of fascination and emotional closeness that develops at each shift, driving these dancers to continue for two more rounds of the sequence and forcing audience members to rush for empty chairs in the ring. Indeed the steady, subdued pace of the piece can drone on a bit if you don’t manage to sit in a chair for a round of caresses. Watch carefully, however, and the individuality of the dancers shines through. The response of the participants, both physical and emotional, is fascinating as well. One gentleman just chuckled each time he was hugged or stroked. Imagine that ? a New Yorker bubbling over with glee at the touch of a stranger!
“Intimacy with strangers”
Andrew Brown on ‘Ring’ at NOTT Dance, Nottingham / 2001-Dance Theatre Journal 5/2001
There was more of a buzz around the Felix Ruckert piece than around any I can remember. There also seemed to be a lot of people among the audience who I had never seen before, a sign that people travelled some distance to witness this work. The mechanics of ‘Ring’ are straightforward enough. Twenty-one performers, one for each memeber of the ‘inner’ audience. A ring of twenty-one seats on which the inner audience sit, facing the ‘outer’ audience who observe the proceedings from the edges of the space. Once all seats were occupied the performers each approached an audience member and spoke softly into their ear, flattering them, making them feel good. A clap from somewhere in the room and the performers move onto the next person, thus bringing each audience member and performer together at least once. After further sweet talk, the contact becomes physical and increasingly intimate, with our hands being held, moved across the performer’s body, and deep and lingering eye contact made and held. The performers hold us closely and the feel of the unfamiliar bodies trembling, hearts beating fast, sweating, is truly compelling. The contact grew yet more intimate and reached its climax with the kissing of necks and arms. Stranger than contact with complete strangers was the contact with the people I already knew among the performers, as students, colleagues and friends.
Susan Sontag wrote that ‘art is seduction, not rape, and art cannot seduce without the complicity of the experiencing subject’. I was very much seduced, complied utterly and loved every minute of it. To conclude, we were informed that we had one minute to do whatever we wanted with ‘our’ performer. What ensued was a riotous display of couples skipping around the room, reciprocal massage and even, allegedly, some toe sucking.
It was over all to quickly and another audience’s turn. The feelings we had experienced were powerful, more so than in practically any other art context. This was ‘real’. I knew of groups who interacted with the audience in order to ‘smash the art barrier’ but this was far more subtle. People’s expressions showed their acceptance and pleasure at the experience. For the observing audience the sight of forty-two performers carrying out unusual choreography was impressive and stirred echoes for me of Pina Bausch’s TanzTheater Wuppertal of which Ruckert was a member before setting up his own company.
There was no opportunity for me to applaud in order, as Richard Schechner describes ‘to conclude the performance and wipe away the reality of the show, re-establishing in its place the reality of everyday life’. I felt opened up and desperate to tell people about it, although when I tried the words were inadequate. You just had to be there.