Antonia Baehr: ‘I need to be able to say something when the taxi driver asks me what I do’
The German artist’s aesthetic probably lies most easily in choreography, albeit in drag
Antonia Baehr: extinct species fascinate her because they are largely imagined, with some acquiring mythical status
Antonia Baehr: her work could be seen through any number of prisms, such as live art or performance art
Antonia Baehr is a performer, curator, producer, and writer. But is she a choreographer? “Hmm, good question,” she says. “For many years I didn’t put a label on my work. But I need to be able to say something when the taxi driver asks me what I do. So these days I do consider myself a choreographer – but in drag. Not gender drag, but professional drag.”
The German artist’s work could be seen through any number of prisms, such as live art or performance art, but her physical aesthetic probably lies most easily in choreography. Albeit in drag.
Abecedarium Bestiarium, her latest work, which is showing at Project Arts Centre tonight and tomorrow, is a good example of a performance dressed up as choreography. Sometimes Baehr moves, sometimes she utters gibberish, sometimes she presents slides on a projector, but movement always takes precedence over concept. The show is subtitled “Portraits of affinities in animal metaphors”, and each section was created by a friend, invited by Baehr to choose an extinct animal as a metaphor of their friendship. The short sections create an animal alphabet – D for dodo, T for Tasmanian tiger and so on – and are varied in form and execution.
“The idea was not to represent the animals, just to use them as a metaphor,” she says. Extinct species fascinate her because they are largely imagined, with some acquiring mythical status. But they can also have political undertones, since the reason for extinction is often linked to colonialism. Human intervention is almost always a contributory factor, as in the case of the baiji, or Yangtze river dolphin, whose demise has come from a combination of damming and overfishing.
Animals have appeared throughout her work since the 1990s and, having grown up in the countryside, she is keenly aware of the relationship between animal and human, and of the animal that resides in the human spirit.
In creating Abecedarium Bestiarium she eschewed the more traditional method of dance collaboration, where a choreographer sets movement in a dance studio. Instead, Baehr invited a number of friends to create dance scores. First, she sent a letter of invitation describing the details of the project. Some people started to work straight away, while others met and talked with her some more, but Baehr wanted to limit hands-on collaboration.
“It’s like a musician who commissions a composer to write a score. And I really prefer to work in this way, maybe because I like to think a lot. In the typical studio set-up the performer has to react on the spot to the choreographer’s ideas. With a score, you can think and reflect on the ideas before constructing the material.”