Raimund Hoghe

The German choreographer lands in New York with two dances.

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This past June, as a prelude to Crossing the Line 2009, Raimund Hoghe appeared at the Goethe-Institut New York Wyoming Building, where he spoke, showed video and danced—as much as the tiny stage would accommodate. More than an academic introduction to this mesmerizing artist, it was a transformative evening; Hoghe is a rare sort of dancer, not simply because of a spinal deformity that has left him a hunchback; rather, his presence—indelibly gentle and profoundly graceful—casts a strange spell. He changes the way a room breathes.

But first things first. “Maybe you can come closer?” he suggested to those sitting too far away. “I am not very tall, so you don’t see me from the back. Come more to the front.” Hoghe, who looks a bit like Johnny Cash, is small but formidable. Everyone obeyed.

That night he screened a short excerpt from Lettere amorose, set to Peggy Lee’s “Everything Must Change.” Though brief, it was an entry point into his work, which addresses time and rhythm in a particular way. His artistic doctrine, based on an Indian saying, is “Look when there is nothing to see, and listen when there is nothing to hear.” Hoghe’s austere choreography, which doesn’t ignore the space around the dancers, allows room for details—to discover, or rediscover, simplicity. The Peggy Lee song wasn’t a random act; Hoghe begins each of his works with a carefully chosen piece of music. “It changes the atmosphere,” he explains. “At the beginning, it is always very slow because I am aware that people run to the subway to come last minute to the theater—my performances start so that people can relax in the first five or ten minutes. I want to share with the audience the beauty of music also-—the power of classical music, but also singers and composers like Peggy Lee.”

Next week, in honor of Crossing the Line, Hoghe presents two works: Bolro Variations at Dance Theater Workshop and L’Aprs-midi in a one-off performance at Danspace Project (it is a solo for Emmanuel Eggermont, though Hoghe makes a couple of poignant appearances). In Bolro Variations, he enhances Ravel’s Bolro with fados and folk songs by Marguerite Long, Benny Goodman, Maria Callas, Pedro Infante, Doris Day and Tino Rossi. The work also includes the music and audio commentary from Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s gold-medal-winning long program from the 1984 Olympics (Hogue reveres Callas, perhaps above all, but a close second is figure skating).

“Some people think that figure skating is not serious, but I love it very much,” he says. “For me, very often in dance people don’t reach this temple.” After a pause, he adds, with a giggle, “Every year, I have to say, I watch the world championships, and I get very nervous.”

In his choreography, Hoghe, who started presenting his own dances after working as a critic and writer—he also served as Pina Bausch’s dramaturg during the early part of her career—works from a place of contrasts, confronting the beauty of music with his body, which would not normally be considered beautiful. “I take my shirt off, and it’s such a big thing,” he says. “People are naked or there is violence onstage, and I just take off my shirt and show a different body. I don’t have any pain with my body. I don’t suffer physically. And dancers say, 'It is incredible what you can do.’ The last bolero is so hard, but it is harder for the dancers than for me. And I do the longest bolero. People think, He is suffering and he is not able, and this is not true. They think I suffer, and I don’t.”

Hoghe, who lives in Dsseldorf, Germany, grew up in Wuppertal with his mother and older sister. “My mother was not rich,” he says. “She made clothes for people at home. It was not so usual for a woman in her social situation, but she was a regular going to the theater. And I had a grandfather who was a simple worker, and he was 80 years old in 1975, and every day he would go to the cinema. When I was six, I could go with him—not every day, but very often—and I grew up with popular movies, not with art films.”

That background gives his work the feel of an outsider peering in. Like many artists, Hoghe has said that it is important for him to present his work, with or without success; with him, however, you believe it. “I do what I feel, and I feel what I feel through the music and the dance,” he says. “Like Maria Callas said, the music will tell you how to move. I know if I can’t develop anymore, then I will die, and I don’t want to die. For me, life is a development, and if I repeat myself or if I have the feeling that I can’t grow anymore or discover new things, then I will stop.”

Bolro Variations is at Dance Theater Workshop Wed 23--Sept 25; L’Aprs-midi is at Danspace Project Sept 26.

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