It’s a strange feeling, to forget you’re actually watching a performance. In Anne Imhof’s ‘Angst II’, the familiar divisions between audience and performers are blurred as soon as the crowd steps into the white fog, engulfing Hamburger Bahnhof’s Historic Hall. The dancers lead and immerse us in their arena. We unwaveringly follow, and it is imaginable that from above we look like iron filings to magnets, as we cling to the edges of their living, evolving images.
Imhof presents the second act of her operatic production ‘Angst’ during the night time. The performance space is vast and dream-like: a white assortment of spiral staircases and punching bags. Cigarettes, Pepsi and other commonplace objects wait for thoughtful interaction, treated with the same intrigue as the drones. ‘Angst II’ is neither awake nor dreaming, and this state is translated through the performers with a restlessness reminiscent of growing pains. Occasionally, it seems they are tending to sore muscles or broken bones, balancing choreography with attention to their own impulses.
The figures indulge us with gestures evocative of long-lost Renaissance paintings, but this almost-melodrama is obstructed by facial expressions of indifference, photographed by the front cameras of their iPhones. Eliza Douglas and Franziska Aigner lie across the top of a staircase, heads resting over the edge and their masses of long hair fall, tempting play. Mickey Mahar, Josh Johnson and Billy Bultheel collapse and extend their arms, giving nobody in particular their middle fingers. As the figures interact and disperse, a haze of foreground and background movement charms an intrigued audience, but a cautiousness is present, as if interference with their routines would hinder their development. We observe, like forgiving parents, their expression of teenage angst.
Unraveling over four hours, ‘Angst II’ is turbulently paced and completely immersive. The audience is carried around the space, with the peaceful recognition that the performance can never be viewed all at once. It is uncertain whether the movement is responding to or defiantly ignoring the sound composition, which fills the hall from numerous suspended speakers. Somewhere between music and rhythmical noise, it resonates like clouded bass heard from the smoking area of a club, interrupted by tragic love songs and dialogues of whistles or screams. Aigner sings into a microphone positioned like a drip on her upper arm and later, the drones buzz in flight, trying to stay on the tight rope’s path or hover over the performers like pets.
The figures dance rituals of heartbreak and frustration, and invite us to pause with them while they smoke cigarettes or pour cans of Pepsi down the wall. They shave themselves and each other with double ended razors, leaving the smell of Gillette foam in the air. It becomes apparent that the walls full of scratches and scorched with spray cans are stained from previous performances: the space accumulates forgivable little trails of mess. We are provoked to imagine how ‘Angst II’ existed during earlier nights, and their marks could be said to haunt the hall if the piece wasn’t so completely enchanting. Through ‘Angst’, Imhof continues to extend her already remarkable impression on contemporary performance, and it will be interesting to discover how the production will conclude in its third and final act at this year’s Biennale de Montréal.