Come Together, #2-2022

With “Come Together”, HELLERAU refers to an artistic research process that tests new ways of artistic collaboration, networking and encounter with the audience. The focus is on the common search for values of our coexistence and the dialogue on questions of community, care and empathy. How can art and culture contribute to well-being, mental and physical health? How can empathy skills be developed and resilience strengthened? 

As part of “Come Together”, the choreographers Dada Masilo and Lia Rodrigues and their companies were already guests at HELLERAU in spring 2022. In September 2022, HELLERAU will present different international positions of contemporary female choreographers on the themes of community and empathy at the festival “Come Together”. The celebrated Scottish artist Claire Cunningham, together with her US-American colleague Jess Curtis, invites the audience to a moving dance dialogue, Yasmeen Godder from Israel presents three interwoven pieces that explore empathy in different forms.  Hungarian choreographer Boglarka Börcsök explores the physical effects of ageing in “Figuring Age”, while Gizem Aksu from Istanbul has her dancers relive the entire “Archive of Feelings: Instanbul”.

There is a reunion with Reut Shemesh, who presents a cryptic parable about the abysses of human communities, and with Lotte Mueller from Leipzig, who presents her brilliant circus piece “Im/Mobility”. Magdalena Weniger and Agata Siniarska take us into the Kulturgarten and the rooms of the Festspielhaus with their performative actions. In addition, a film by Gizem Aksu about Rukeli Trollmann and the Roma community in Istanbul will be shown.  We also invite you to several conversations around the themes of community, empathy and care.

What might a choreography of caring look like?

By Claire Cunningham

As a disabled person, it is not easy for me to make friends with the word care because it has a lot of connotations, a lot of very problematic baggage.However, over the past ten years as a performance artist, via my desire to truly welcome disabled, deaf, visually impaired, chronically ill and neurodi-verse people into my shows, I have also begun to pay as much attention to the world of my work as I do to putting down my own crutch.

I share here some of the many questions I have been working on and thinking about with fellow artists and dramaturgs Luke Pell, choreographer and director Jess Curtis, and researcher Julia Watts Belser, among others. My practice and the performances we make grew out of this inquiry and were informed by crip, queer and ally theories. We set the following key points that would constitute a choreography of care for us:

Design as care

How might the choice of where a performance takes place or its form be an act of care? How might socio-political implications and traumas associated with dress and body image be an act of care in relation to costume? How might the distribution of the audience, the choice of seating and the ability to leave an event be an act of care?

Time as care

How can the planning of an art project be an act of care by considering people’s needs?  How can choreography be an act of care by taking into account how bodies change? How can we acknowledge and respect the time our audience invests?

Communication as care

How can we use different ways of communicating to different people as an act of care (in the rehearsal process and in performance)?  How can we respect that sharing in-information is an act of care and acknowledge its relationship to self-empowerment? How can we create a space for sharing needs and concerns in a way that encourages creative processes but does not take over people’s experiences?

Performance as care

To what extent is the act of performing itself an act of care? How can we take real responsibility for the safety of our audiences before, during and after they experience our work?  How can we be cautiously (more) aware of audiences’ potentially traumatic histories, recognise power dynamics and still take risks together?

The complexity of care

What happens when the needs and wants of one interfere with the needs of the other? When a need cannot be met, how can we address this lack and our need to address it, rather than simply keeping it quiet? Can we also care too much?Translation: André Schallenberg, the original English version appeared in 2022 in the publication “Choreographing the Present”, published by tanzhaus nrw and Alexander Verlag Berlin.

Claire Cunningham is a performer and choreographer of multidisciplinary performances based in Glasgow, Scotland. She was Factory Artist at tanzhaus nrw Düsseldorf from 2017 to 2019. She is also an Affiliate Artist at The Place, London. She is considered one of the most internationally renowned disabled artists. Her work is often based on the study and use/abuse of her crutches and the exploration of the potential of her own specific physicality. From this she develops her own dance technique that transcends traditional dance forms (developed for non-disabled bodies). In 2018 she was invited to Tanzplattform Deutschland together with Jess Curtis. In 2019 she received the CATS award for the ensemble piece “Thank You Very Much”. In 2021 Claire Cunningham was awarded the German Dance Prize for her outstanding artistic development in dance.

Practicing Empathy

By Yasmeen Godder

[…] In many ways, dance is empathic per se: the audience can see themselves in the bodies of the performers, identify with them, relate to them and connect with them emotionally. Studies on mirror neurons and their role in viewing support this view of dance. They also operate with the concept of empathy. So in Practicing Empathy, I tried to use and draw out what was already present in different dance practices, in rehearsals, in performance and in more experimental formats. I wanted to find out how empathy could find resonance outside of theatre.

At the beginning of my research, I looked inwards:  How can we as a dance company focus on acting empathically in our daily rehearsals? And how can this influence the creation of a piece? We have developed rituals with which the performers get physically and emotionally close to each other, and with which they reveal their needs and vulnerability to each other. This led to the first piece, Practicing Empathy #1, which premiered at the Susanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv in November 2019. It is composed of repetitive physical and vocal rituals through which the dancers’ emotional world and their ability to share these complex emotions are exposed. The audience was able to witness this very intimate process within the group:  A physical experience was conveyed through the score of voices, tones and rhythms that were constantly changing.

After undergoing this inward research, it was clear that this practice now had to be questioned and developed with people from outside the company. With people from different cultures and contexts whose empathy we wanted to hear and feel. We were interested in sharing the components of Practicing Empathy #1 with the audience, but without really explaining them.  Based on these encounters, we developed a second participatory practice that could be used as an interactive warm-up exercise and confidence builder.

First, the Company held a long workshop from January to March 2020, together with mothers from the Arab community in Jaffa. By sharing our insights with these wonderful women, whom I knew through my daughter’s school, it was possible to share personal stories in a mutually empowering way, developing shared dances of empathy

After that, Monika Gillette, the dramaturge Anais Rödel and I started to design a residency week at tanzhaus nrw with the intention of involving different communities connected to the house and inviting them to participate in a workshop with the company. Each day we met with a different group: migrants, people living with Parkinson’s, a youth group, senior citizens, and also professional dancers. We tailored each of these meetings to the specific group and took the opportunity to present our participatory practice, which has evolved and changed with each passing day. In all these meetings we shared experiences of great openness, of joy, song, dance and also tears, and accordingly the interpersonal bonds that developed were strong.

The meetings also offered the opportunity to exchange on topics such as German-Jewish relations, illnesses, trust, ageing, and the impact and existence of different cultural dance backgrounds. “Practicing Empathy #2” never made it to the premiere. Many of the impulses of the piece would have required touching, breathing and physical proximity between strangers in a way that became unacceptable due to the proliferation of COVID-19.  After the end of the first lockdown in Israel in the spring of 2020, when the company was finally allowed to meet again, we decided to use the accumulated research material to develop another version of the work for the Hatira Le’Maga (Striving for Vocation) festival at the Habeit Theatre in Jaffa. This festival commissioned works for two to five audience members each.

“Practicing Empathy #2by2” responded to the required two-metre distance in terms of social distancing by inviting an audience of two to join two performers in a non-verbal journey of mutual movement, interaction and trust.  The two by two metre square in which the choreography took place was marked on the floor. In this way, we created a sense of safety that allowed for the practice of closeness and empathy, especially after the trauma of the pandemic that has had such an impact on all of our lives. Although this work was very different from the original draft of “Practicing Empathy #2”, the insight and approach was very much based on the knowledge and experience we had gained during the residency week at tanzhaus nrw.

The original plan was for Practicing Empathy #3 to be created and performed as a collaborative work between my company and various communities, while we toured with the other two works. After so many years of travelling, I wanted to extend the exchange we had as a company with local people beyond the performances and learn even more about empathy.

The core of the Practicing Empathy project was to take the approach of mutual exchange, in different forms.  The original idea of Practicing Empathy #3 was a week-long workshop and rehearsals with local people, including an informal performance as a series with the other two works. However, I quickly realised that a tour under pandemic conditions was not feasible, so I started working alone in the studio.

To this day, I am inspired by the complexity of the theme of empathy and the fact that it cannot be shown in just one way, but can express itself artistically, interpersonally or socially. The moment I commit to dance as an art form, I also commit to meeting and engaging with other people. I want to use the precious time together in a performance to gently move people towards openness, curiosity and sensitivity, even if this sometimes causes confusion and brings challenges. This can have an impact on a personal level, but also on issues of hierarchy, conflict and prejudice.  I hope to continue to find connections between these different forms of empathy and use them as a kind of sensor to navigate my own path.

Abridged version, the full text version appeared in 2022 in the publication “Gegenwart choreografieren”, published by tanzhaus nrw and Alexander Verlag Berlin.

Yasmeen Godder was born in Jerusalem and grew up in New York City, where she also studied dance. She has lived and worked in Israel again since 1999. As a choreographer, she tours worldwide with her company. In her studio in Jaffa, which is a place of research and production, she teaches and organises numerous projects, among others with the Arab-Jewish community. In recent years, she has also developed intensive work together with the dramaturg and dancer Monica Gilette, working with people with Parkinson’s disease, which has had a great influence on her artistic practice. In 2001 Godder won the prestigious Bessie Award, followed by a host of other international awards. In 2018, she received the Valeska Geert Visiting Professorship at the Institute for Theatre Studies at the FU Berlin.


16. – 24.09.2022

Come Together



The Way You Look (at  me)  Tonight

Claire Cunningham & Jess Curtis


Figuring Age

Boglárka Börcsök



GOLA 4th  Movement

Reut Shemesh 


Practicing  Empathy #1/#2by2/#3

Yasmeen Godder


Ein kollektiver Zauberspruch für die Erde

Agata Siniarska



Compost  Composing

KOMA&Ko/Magdalena Weniger



Lotte Mueller 


Archive of  Feelings:  Instanbul

Gizem Aksu 

+ Workshops, talks, film screenings

In addition, three other choreographers are in residence at HELLERAU: Wen Hui, Pawel Sakowicz, Katia Manjate and Amilton Neves.

Supported by the Federal Cultural Foundation and the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony. This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget passed by the Saxon State Parliament.