The Magical Allure of Cruelty

A premiere at the Folkwang Tanzstudio:
Düsseldorf choreographer Ben J. Riepe produces „shy-wild” – a piece that shows evil in unbearable perfection
NRZ Essen, 20/07/2009

When the diffuse light over the battlefield has faded completely, the audience stay put for a moment, some with their arms crossed and shaking their heads almost imperceptibly. But it should have been clear to everyone from the start: Ben J. Riepe's piece „shy-wild” is not for the tenderhearted.

The choreographer's goal is to aestheticize cruelty. There is indeed not one moment during the premiere of his latest production in the Neue Aula of the Folkwang Academy when one does not want to look away from the violence, the screams, the blood – and yet one sits through it, spellbound. That is the truly astonishing part of it all. How does Riepe do it?

Everything happens as if in slow motion, every movement of the ten dancers of the Folkwang Tanzstudio is precisely executed, in an almost unbearable and completely captivating perfection.

On a naked stage bathed in cold light that affords an uninhibited view of the lighting and technical equipment and the doors behind the scenes, they twist their bodies in ways that make you hurt just from watching them. A woman pushes her upper body between her own legs until she is lying on her back while still standing firmly on her feet – her limbs seem strangely distorted.

A young dancer exposes his ashen torso and points a gun at the audience, his eyes: aggressive, crazy. An armed woman in high heels walks sinuously across the stage – here, too: slowly, each of her movements reduced to a minimum and threatening, but at the same time curiously erotic.

Like it or not, the intense images will stay with you: faces distorted into screaming masks, limbs sticking out at impossible angles, blood poured from a silver pitcher, which a young dancer smears over his face and hair.

The scenes are accompanied by groaning and whimpering, the rumble of artillery, the noise of a starting helicopter. A woman retches into the microphone in the most disgusting manner, another sobs heartbreakingly.

At the end, the ten-strong formation stands in diffuse light like a freak show, twitching ghostly, eerie. With dark garments scattered across the stage the scene evokes a battlefield, while the precise use of twilight gives it a bizarre quality.

All the more so when a woman starts to hum a song in the silence, breaks into hysterical laughter that turns into screeching and then falls silent. Upstage a woman and two men parade their muscles while a dancer practises classical ballet poses downstage.

Cruelty has a magical allure and Riepe knows how to stage even the most disgusting violence in ways that force the audience to watch in equal horror and fascination. And so the opening night's audience unfroze after a moment and started to applaud, hushed at first, then more and more enthusiastic.

shy-wild: disturb, unsettle, destroy

Werdener Nachrichten, 24/7/2009

Groan, retch, scream, sob: „shy-wild”, the Folkwang Tanzstudio piece that opened last weekend seemed like a twisted comic strip. Choreographer Ben J. Riepe drove his ten dancers to verbal and kinetic extremes. Disturb, unsettle, destroy was the message, realised with in-your-face aesthetics and action somewhere between Manga and Pulp Fiction. Nothing for weak nerves: it was a frenzied roller coaster ride offering great images and powerful impressions, frequently going to the extremes of tolerability and beyond, especially in the downright silly moments scattered throughout the piece.