“I don’t know what it is to be alive, or whether this is dance or theatre,” says the cryptically charming Rainer Behr, dancer and choreographer of the noted Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch dance company.
“I don’t know what it is to be a teacher. Maybe it is just ‘to be on’.” Behr is instructing 24 local students as part of a six-hour masterclass organised by the Helpmann Academy and hosted by the Adelaide College of the Arts. To learn from a choreographer such as Behr might be a once in a lifetime opportunity for these students. “Is this home?,” he asks, arms outstretched, back hunched. “No. This is home,” he replies, straightening his back and raising his arms. “I have the key for home. This is home. Find your home.” Behr is humble in his conversation and approach to the students, and evidently not guided by any sort of classical dogma about the dance. Asked what the students should expect from the masterclass, Behr remains coy, and says he is there to be inspired by them just as they surely will be by him. “I’m not so much here to teach, but to listen and to be present. I want to listen to these students, these humans and I hope they can listen to me.” This philosophy reflects the work of his inimitable company. The class is set for relative spontaneity from this master of dance. “I have some things in my pocket that we can do, but we will see how things are travelling. I don’t know the students, and they don’t know me. We’re all different, and everything can take place here. The workshop is about discovering.” Behr’s class is unconventional, and strays far from the strictures of traditional dance classes. “Whatever happens here is right. Nothing is wrong,” he says, then breaks into German to convey his point and thankfully translates his speech to English, “In German we say ‘Let the normal be normal’.” His speech to the students as they warm up is peppered with his native tongue as he seeks to impart ideas and emotion unto the students, rather than precise dance steps. The dancers writhe and bob as their joints roll in the liquid smooth motions that Behr conveys. “Yum, dum, dum, da. Yum, dum, dum, da,” Behr calls, eschewing a count to four for onomatopoeic rhythm. While Behr will not be performing in the company’s rendition of Nelken (Carnations) at the Adelaide Festival. He is in Adelaide to watch the performance and visit with his family. His wife, Julie Shanahan, is also a dancer with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch and originally from Adelaide (read our interview with Shanahan here). Behr will be taking part in the ongoing tour, in particular Rites of Spring to be performed in New Zealand. “It’s a truly wonderful show,” he says. Bec Fletcher, one of the students taking part in the masterclass, tells The Adelaide Review, “I’ve always been interested in Pina Bausch’s work”. “When I heard that the company was coming to the Adelaide Festival, I bought tickets to the show, but then when I heard about the workshop, I thought ‘Yep! Done.’” Fletcher is a trained dancer and currently working on her own solo-piece thanks to a grant from AusDance. For her, the opportunity to learn from a dancer like Behr is a chance to augment her own creative passions and influences. “It’s a new way of moving, a new way of presenting work.” Nelken (Carnations) Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre Wednesday, March 9 until Saturday, March 12 adelaidefestival.com.au Photos: Jonathan van der Knaap