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Five questions for… Christoph Winkler

INTERVIEW! From December 6-9, Christoph Winkler presents Speak Boldly – The Julius Eastman Dance Project – a choreography dedicated to the singer, composer and performer at Sophiensaele.

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Photo by Jermain T. Raffington

The Berlin music and dance scene is no stranger to the work of Julius Eastman (1940-1990) and following spotlights on him two years running at Maerzmusik, now Sophiensaele celebrates the American’s influence. From December 6-9, Christoph Winkler presents Speak Boldly – The Julius Eastman Dance Project – a choreography dedicated to the singer, composer and performer. Despite achieving international success during his life time, Eastman, an openly gay black man, was shunned by the white, conservative art establishment of New York in the 1970s and 1980s. Winkler pays tribute to Eastman with three of the late composer’s minimalist pieces set to dance.

Can you give us a little background on your show…

In the 1970s and 1980s, Eastman was a prominent figure in the New York experimental scene. But as an openly gay black man working in a predominantly straight and white environment, he felt less and less comfortable. As a result of this struggle, he lost himself to alcohol and died homeless. When he passed away it looked like his music had died with him but some friends and researchers started to collect his compositions and, a few years ago, the music and theatre scene rediscovered his music. My project is a part of this rediscovery – I want to celebrate his legacy and introduce his work to a new generation.

How did you come up with the idea?

I’ve known Eastman’s music for quite a while but when Femenine was re-issued, I started to think about making a project. I’ve worked with Zen Jefferson, a dancer and DJ based in Berlin, before and we had a bit of a music nerd conversation during the rehearsals for a Black Cyborg, a solo I created for Zen. Suddenly, he mentioned Femenine and I was like, ah you know him too! We talked about the piece which is a 70-minute spiritual trip full of beauty and we realised how much it meant to both of us. Common interests are always a good starting point, so we decided to do a project on Eastman.

Who wouldn’t you invite to see your show?

Such a list would be too long for your website. No, just kidding, everybody is welcome. You don’t need to have a masters in musicology to understand Eastman’s music. It’s very emotional. The evening is a celebration of music and dance, so everybody can enjoy it.  

How are people reacting to Speak Boldly?

Quite enthusiastically so far. All the music is played live – we have four grand pianos on stage. It’s a fantastic sound. We did a couple of open rehearsals and got a lot of good feedback.

Is there a connection between the show and Berlin?

Berlin has been my base for more than 20 years but the cast comes from all corners of the globe. I’m an East German boy and after reunification, I thought maybe I should leave the city and go somewhere else but Berlin treated me well. I got a lot of support from the dance scene and the various funding bodies here, so I stayed. After five years, people from all over the world started to come to Berlin and the city changed. Berlin became more open and international and I had no reason to leave because all the interesting performers would come here anyway.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened during rehearsals so far?

There’s been no weirdness – only beautiful things happen during rehearsal. Although we’ve worked a lot on twerking and did a few twerking endurance sessions. You wouldn’t believe how a 30-minute session can change your body and mind. So now it’s in the piece.

Speak Boldly – The Julius Eastman Dance Project, Dec 6-9, 20:00 | Sophiensaele, Mitte