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© Nisa Ojalvo 2016
© Nisa Ojalvo 2016

A Dance, A Chat And A Hug... With A Gorilla

Picture of Sophie Fenella
Updated: 21 December 2016
Theater maker Lauren Hart has devised a performance which is unlike anything that you would expect to see in a theater. Originally from the UK, Lauren Hart has not been in Berlin for that long but is already earning a reputation as an innovative theater maker who is not afraid to take risks in the Berlin art scene. Berlin is known for accommodating artists who are looking for a place to make experimental art; some are admittedly more successful than others, but Lauren Hart’s performance will not disappoint, although it is catered for art lovers who are a little braver than the average audience member.

© Nisa Ojalvo 2016.

© Nisa Ojalvo 2016

Her performance This is Mine, What’s Yours? at Theaterhaus Berlin Mitte has been attracting thespians and performance art fanatics from all over the city who are interested in taking half an hour out of their everyday lives to do something a little different. Theaterhaus Mitte is located in the center of Berlin, tucked away down a back street near Heinrich Heine Straße, an area best known for being the home of some of Berlin’s most famous clubs such as Tresor. The theater hosts an excellent program of dance, performance and comedy as well as workshops and classes open to anyone. There is also a small but cozy bar on the ground floor, where you can enjoy a pre- or post-show snack or drink.

Hart’s performance is one of the most experimental events on the theater’s program, showing that this is a venue that is not afraid to embrace creative experimentation. This performance is a one-on-one performance, meaning only one audience member at a time can experience it. Part dance session, part intimate conversation, Hart invites the audience to explore and overcome their biggest fears, all in less than half an hour.

© Nisa Ojalvo 2016

© Nisa Ojalvo 2016

As you enter the space, the image of Hart sitting in an empty room dressed in a gorilla costume is surreal and almost unnerving; she greets you with a big friendly wave and beckons for you to sit next to her. The gorilla doesn’t speak, communication takes place in writing, messages are passed between performer and audience member on a whiteboard, in the way children pass secret messages to each other in class. The beauty of this device is that it allows you to let your guard down; after all, some things are easier said in writing. Hart writes down her biggest fear: that her father will die. The tone immediately switches from friendly and playful to somber, and suddenly, Hart seems very vulnerable as she sits, dressed in her gorilla costume, asking the audience to help her forget her fears.

Next, you will be given a choice of songs to sing and dance to (badly) to help Hart overcome her fears. This moment is surprisingly enjoyable, although it might sound horribly awkward; there is something therapeutic about dancing without a care in a room alone with a stranger dressed in a gorilla costume. The performance ends with a big, furry hug that highlights the way boundaries between strangers are broken down in performance. Upon leaving the space, it is hard not to have a smile on your face; the performance creates a safe space for the cathartic release of fearful emotions, and the whole thing feels like some bizarre encounter, an interruption to everyday life that provokes a feeling of relief and serene calm.

This is Mine Whats Yours Lauren Hart Photograph by Nisa Ojalvo2016_Number_2

© Nisa Ojalvo 2016

The form of a one-on-one performance is by no means new. In the 1960s, performance artists like Carolee Schneeman and Marina Abramović began challenging the relationship between performer and spectator in performance, creating performances that ask the audience to do more than watch by inviting the audience to participate so that the performance becomes as much about them as it does the performer. When there is only one audience member watching the performance, the dynamic changes – it becomes a much more intimate experience.

The one-on-one form has also been explored by visual artists in Berlin. Back in 2012, curator Susanne Pfeffer created a one-on-one exhibition at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art as a way of avoiding the crowds of people circling an artwork ultimately infringing on each audience member’s experience of the artwork. Susanne Pfeffer’s exhibition pushed the viewer into a confrontational experience with art in a similar way to Hart’s performance, giving the viewer the space to form a personal connection with the artwork, in their own time, and without interruption or distraction by other viewers. The audience is given an opportunity to let their guard down, to be brave, and allow themselves to experience art in a new and exciting way. What is different about Hart’s work is the playful nature of the encounter; there is no obligation to be a certain way – one has the feeling that saying or doing anything is allowed. But, the truth is that it’s hard to say no to a gorilla, so you may end up revealing more than you intended.