Aspiration and reality

Circles, circles, circles: The Ludwig Forum Aachen becomes the venue for „Us Swerve“ by Alex Baczyński-Jenkins. The result is fatigue.

By Harff-Peter Schönherr


Rollerblade riders love large, smooth surfaces. The Ludwig Forum for International Art in Aachen can serve with one, in the centre of its exhibition, a few seat cushion steps set deep into the floor. Ideal conditions for „Us Swerve“ by artist and choreographer Alex Baczyński-Jenkins.

Three riders are on the move here. Making circles, circles, circles. Sometimes a little faster, sometimes a little slower. Sometimes a little closer, sometimes a little further. Sometimes a little closer together, sometimes a little further apart. They mumble, shout, shout fragments of sentences that are often barely understandable, sometimes accompanied by this casual gesture, sometimes by that. The circles repeat themselves. The fragments of sentences repeat themselves. The gestures repeat themselves. This goes on for two hours.

The text fragments revolve around the theme of „desire“. Their recitation, in multiple variations and repetitions, sets „the rollerbladers in motion“, the forum’s website cryptically whispers to us, and creates „a tableau through which they move“. The Forum also has a fancy-sounding genre term for it: „polyphonic choreographic score“.

How exactly the texts influence the movements of the three performers, or vice versa, and if at all, remains a mystery. Even Baczyński-Jenkins, who is ready for a discussion at the end of the performance, can’t think of anything concrete.

So circles, circles, circles. It’s a pleasure to watch for a while. After all, the whole thing is a bit meditative. What’s more, in a room of heavyweight visual art, playfulness is good from time to time. But 120 minutes of more or less the same thing is a heavy load. Sometimes, says Baczyński-Jenkins, it’s even 180.

Quite a few of the rather small audience leave in between. Or check their smartphones in detail – after all, you don’t miss anything. An elderly lady who has organised a chair from somewhere seems to be sleeping for a quarter of an hour – or maybe she’s just meditating. Many people just walk past it. But that’s what the forum emphasises: coming and going is „possible at any time“. Thank goodness.



We’d love to know what Nancy Graves‘ two camels, who have a perfect view of the circlers from their stand, think of the whole thing. „Nothing!“ echoes from the stage riders to them. And: „Wasted!“ You can also often hear: „No end in sight!“ Involuntarily, that sums it up quite well. „Marvellous!“ is also often heard. But that’s not quite right.

Performers circle into fragments of thought that don’t connect to anything? As celebrated as Baczyński-Jenkins‘ evasive manoeuvres are worldwide: For a dance festival like „schrit_tmacher“, the highly reverent production is too lightweight.

It’s about queerness, they say. Even after a quarter of an hour of listening, however, this is not clearly communicated. What does become clear: Rollerblade riders need a break in between. So mineral water is provided, and there is plenty of room to sit down. 

There’s not much to be gained here in terms of acting, dancing, staging or content. The concept, the assertion of meaning, seems to be more important here than the result. Even the fact that someone occasionally leaves the stage area and, in an implied manner, curves a little through the exhibition is not captivating.

One secretly wishes that a screen would descend into the amphitheatre with scenes from Norman Jewison’s 1975 sci-fi corporate critique „Rollerball“ or the sex warriors from Donald Jackson’s cult „Roller Blade“ splatter trash from 1986, but of course that doesn’t happen. After all, this is „high culture“ (Hochkultur).