Do objects have a soul? Do they speak to us? How do objects establish connections with human histories and when does our respect for them become so great that we no longer dare to change them? Nico and the Navigators allow objects to expand through a dramatic retelling into a cosmos of their own.
…In a lawfully rhythmic sequence bordering on perfection, things are presented after they have been stripped of their inscribed meaning and alienated from their purpose. Man’s power of definition over things is invalidated by the naïve, unprejudiced gaze, and without the given purpose, these things become enigmas….
Part 3 of the cycle ‘Human Images’
Do objects have a soul? Do they emit a sort of magic? Do they talk to us? Do we handle them or do they handle us?
Beyond that: what happens when 10 Navigators meet up one morning with cameras, video cameras, sound recorders and drawing material in order to make unannounced visits to each other’s apartments; visiting each domicile for exactly 15 minutes, letting their eyes wander around the still life left there in the morning as if they were in a museum and securing special picture sequences?
How does our view of our own material world change when we commemorate these pictures time and again over the course of several weeks, let them tell us stories, expand them through a dramatic work into a cosmos of their own? Is there a favourite object in your life? When and how do objects relate to human stories, and when does my respect for some objects become so big that I don’t dare to change them? Which objects accompany me throughout my whole life?
“It was a big disappointment, especially hard to accept for our children, that the material world cannot be understood, but only explained” E. Sprenger (Die Magie der Seele)
“It is not easy to know the things” V. Flusser (Dinge und Undinge)
THE DANCING SOULS OF THINGS
With “Lilli in Putgarden,” not only is the “Menschenbilder” trilogy brought to a grand conclusion, but justice is finally served to those things that have always played a pivotal role in the work of Nico and the Navigators. Although in the past they had assumed a subservient role, now they are placed at the center: The company’s most dance-oriented piece to date, which also incorporates video, delves deep into the essence of these things, pushing them to their limits, offering them space, and fully realizing their potential. Anyone who witnesses this playfully light production in its simple, cream-colored elegance might truly believe that pneumatic devices possess the soul their name suggests. They would understand how obscenely a hairdryer and a handbag can interact or how a handheld vacuum can lead to an erotically charged dance — and how a jacket can provoke a valet stand as if it were a red flag. “Lilli in Putgarden” addresses the devaluation of objects in the age of mass production, exposes the promises of the vibrant world of goods, the recklessness of the throwaway society, and the old adage “clothes make the man.” At the same time, the ensemble searches for favorite objects, those to which we attach our hearts and pile up with memories. And in line with the “World Cup Day” proclaimed in the play, these vessels serve as a leitmotif of the production, where one can also learn that identical-looking mittens can reveal their origin from very different eras to a true connoisseur – or that a dress on a line doesn’t need a body to dance. “Lilli in Putgarden” showcases the ensemble in its original core lineup at the pinnacle of their artistry, as a cohesive group of individualists.
Two years after its premiere, Nico and the Navigators present the piece again in the Sophiensælen, this time as a triptych alongside the first two “Menschenbilder” productions, “Lucky days, Fremder!” and “Eggs on Earth.” This unique retrospective also causes a sensation in France.
…Nico’s navigators are clearly in the bones of the crisis into which our modern times repeatedly plunge the individual: the superiority of objects on the one hand, which in class-struggle times might still have been called “commodities”. But also the virtual counter-worlds have led to a clear loss of substance in body and soul of the beautiful young people… And so Nico and the Navigators fight a strange battle for stage presence with things for almost two hours. Books that appear on stage as if by magic. Cups that move and suddenly disappear from the face of the earth…
Nico and the Navigators pose existential questions about the consciousness of things in their new piece The Dessau Bauhaus stands for the magic of objects like hardly any other design school. By stripping things of all disguise in the 1920s and 1930s, they were reduced to their pure form, which gave them an almost mythical significance. It was here that the architect Nicola Hümpel, born in Lübeck in 1967, founded an ensemble five years ago that she called "Nico and the Navigators". A name that also extends associatively in the direction of the disembodied world of the Internet. In recent years, the troupe, which oscillates between dance, movement and image theater, has played its way into the upper league of the independent scene. The new piece was now even announced in the Stern: "Lilli in putgarden". Some critics began to suspect that something might be wrong here. One read "designer theater." And that is a bad word. But it is not that simple. For Nico and the Navigators thematize precisely the existential insecurity of the individual, who loses consciousness of himself at the interface between being and design. Nico's Navigators is clearly affected by the crisis into which our modern times repeatedly plunge the individual: the superiority of objects on the one hand, which in class-struggle times might still have been called "commodities". But the virtual counter-worlds have also led to a clear loss of substance in the bodies and souls of the beautiful young people. Slowly the figures float like fragments of themselves through a styled ambience (stage design Oliver Proske). Always smiling, sometimes with the expression of infinite astonishment on their faces. Every now and then a sentence comes out of their mouths that sounds as if left over from former contexts of meaning: "Are memories unhealthy?", for example, is asked. Or whether things have a soul. The Navigators' last production, "Eggs on Earth," dealt with the absurdities of the working world. Now it was about the objects that have become so important in our lives that they have long since disputed man's first place in the hierarchy of creation. So seven young people come on stage, carefully styled and wrapped in cream-colored dresses. It could also be the presentation of designer wardrobe. But the elegance is severely disturbed: by suddenly protruding hair, a distracted facial expression or strange behavior. Suddenly, everyone tears off their clothes. From the resulting tangle of clothes, the lost chic can no longer be reconstructed. The many collector's cups, which show their silent presence at the edge of the stage throughout the evening, have an easier time of it. "The silent return of domineering souvenirs," is how one navigator sums it up during the evening. Someone else proclaims "World Cup Day." Because of course it is easier to be for something. Being in itself is much more complicated. And so, for almost two hours, Nico and the Navigators fence with things in a strange battle for stage presence. Books that appear on stage as if by magic. Cups that move and suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. In the background, a dress suddenly flutters in the wind on a screen. A woman appears and pulls a vacuum cleaner behind her like a dog. Nicola Hümpel has underlaid the evening with a densely woven tapestry of classical and popular music, which charges the absurd slapstick humor with melancholy sentiment. Man and vacuum cleaner dance a dramatic pas de deux to it. Like dense fog, the music also settles on the viewer's mind. One forgave some of the length, absorbed images and moods, and rejoiced in the bodies that told so wonderfully melancholy of the longing to be able to take oneself as seriously as things, to be as meaningful as a vacuum cleaner for once in one's life.
…Almost the performers in their white, cream and beige tinted art uniforms, alienated everyday clothes, seem to merge with the white stage set – they do not want to push themselves into the foreground, neither by color nor by exaggerated drama. They remain charming pretenders and quirky victims of things and also like to disappear into the flaps, cracks and tents that open up in the stage construction…
An old red jacket and a mute servant perform a bullfight, a hairdryer and a handbag are involved in smuggling and dark business like in an agent movie, an orange rubber apron alternately turns into a pregnancy belly or a rubber pillow with astonishing momentum... The performers in their white, cream and beige tinted art uniforms, alienated everyday clothes, almost seem to merge with the white stage set - they do not want to push themselves into the foreground, neither by color nor by exaggerated drama. They remain charming pretenders and quirky victims of things, and also like to disappear into the flaps, cracks and tents that open up in the stage construction.... The lightness of the play, the whimsical moments of surprise and the intricate mix of friendly naivety and sophistication with which an artistic universe is asserted here ensure a gentle slipping away and not unpleasant states of regression. Apart from that, one can no longer enter one's kitchen without outlandish trains of thought after a visit to the theater.
…the timing is always perfect, the absurd-comic accents are precisely set, the direction and actors hit the line between recognizability and exaggeration with pinpoint accuracy, which has to be hit if one wants to drift neither into mere satire nor into mere nonsense. Lilli in Puttgarden is clever, unpretentious and funny, in a word: pure joy…
From the very first second, this performance has a form: somnambulistic already the performers enter the stage, somnambulistic they remain, even when they pass through the most diverse stages of hysteria and rapture. The faces are made up into masks, the hairstyles locked into a state of stormy dishevelment. There are types but no characters, recurring behaviors but no characters, texts but no dialogue, and interactions but no plot. The elegantly designed stage set in simple cream is itself once again a duplication of a stage, but also and above all a surprise bag that opens, from which the actors climb, but also those objects are taken out that are unquestionably at the center of this performance. What is presented, lovingly, enthusiastically and inventively, is a world of disenchanted everyday things, which, in an ironic way, of course, are to be enchanted again. They are, that comes to the aid of such an intention, things not from our present, but from the seventies, as one could already admire them in the retro-regressively tuned installations of the last two Berlin Biennials. Hideous appliances that one loves precisely because they are so unpretentiously ugly: Vacuum cleaners, plastic glass carrying baskets, an inflatable pillow, bags, sweaters, carpet cleaners, tea cups, and more. All this is released for adoration on the one hand, on the other hand and at the same time for creative play, torn out of all household practical context, put into highly comical new contexts. All use is quotation: falsifying, grotesque, ironizing, leaning on the original context. Sometimes softer, sometimes louder, sometimes more transparent, sometimes absurdly commented, this continuous quotation, cut into individual numbers, this running band of consumer articles, is accompanied by a seamless musical carpet. This, however, consciously sets a counter-accent to the world of goods, just like the performers, whose somnambulistic acting, whose masklike quality still counteracts each of their behaviors to the merely citational. What Nico and the Navigators conjure up on the stage on the basis of this principle, however, is first and foremost one thing: splendid, grotesquely infatuated, dazzling comedy. Be it the loud and eloquent praise of a coat hanger, be it the mini-dramolet about a stolen bicycle with an air cushion fight or a tea bag sales demonstration that ends in chaos and destruction: the timing is always perfect, the absurd-comic accents are precisely set, the direction and actors hit the line between recognizability and exaggeration with pinpoint accuracy, which must be hit if one wants to drift neither into mere satire nor into mere nonsense. Lilli in Puttgarden is clever, unpretentious and funny, in a word: pure joy.
A production by NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS and Sophiensæle, supported by the Berliner Senatsverwaltung für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kultur and the Kulturfonds Foundation, in co-production with the FFT Düsseldorf, Grand Theatre Groningen and the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.
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