Simultaneously quiet and electrifying, Bolero Variations opens the Walker’s 2009–2010 performing arts season and introduces a singular European artist to American audiences. Raimund Hoghe began creating and performing his own work 20 years ago, after serving throughout the 1980s as dramaturge for Pina Bausch. While Bausch’s visceral choreography and often elaborate sets defined German tanztheater, Hoghe’s own ritualized form is slow, sparse, and methodical by nature. The delicacy of his performances makes them virtually impossible to capture using pictures or words (more to the point, there are no video clips online). While they certainly eschew showy theatrics and athleticism, neither are they minimalistic.
Instead, the artist builds drama incrementally, through the layering and interplay of slow, subtle movements and a finely honed sense for stillness and absence, light and shadow. In Bolero Variations, Hoghe explores the mystery of how certain moments from the past become lodged in the mind. Cycling through numerous variations on the bolero—the melancholic, romantic, and hugely popular musical genre that originated in Spain and Cuba—Hoghe aims to provoke stories and memories in the minds of his audience. It grew out of his own embedded memory of watching Great Britain’s Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skate at the 1984 Olympics, and includes a recording of Ravel’s Bolero played during that historic ice-dancing performance as well as several other renditions.
Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts, was struck by the way Hoghe relates movement to music in the piece. “He and his performers physically interpret and reinterpret musical language, but Hoghe creates the movement to play off musical structures rather than illustrate them,” he says. What comes through are subtle actions emanating from the interior of the performers. Viewers who look beyond the obvious and tune in to Hoghe’s frequency won’t come to know so much as feel in their own bodies the power of memory, seduced by one that is perhaps not even their own.
Part of the intensity of Bolero Variations and other Hoghe works revolves around the artist’s diminutive frame and his back, which scoliosis has molded into a unique shape. But despite their creator’s physical limitations, this is by no means “disability art.” To the contrary, Hoghe’s presence reinvigorates the notion of the artist “taking center stage,” upending the power dynamic between performers and the audiences who train their gaze on them. In making his body the center of attention—throwing it into battle, to paraphrase the words from Pier Paolo Pasolini that inspired him—Hoghe serves as a stand-in for the host of other imperfect bodies seldom seen in dance.
“His freshness of vision and his approach to blurring the lines among disciplines are extraordinary,” says Bither of Hoghe. “I felt that this aspect of his work made it the perfect statement as the opening program for our season.” Whether Bolero Variations is experimental theater or performance art or dance theater isn’t the issue—it’s the undefinable but mesmerizing experience of the work that matters. The fact that it can’t be categorized only confirms the Walker, a multidisciplinary arts center, as the ideal site for Hoghe to take the stage in the United States.