Border control: 'Good Passports, Bad Passports'

Perhaps because of the element of risk, the two groups naturally gravitated towards different sides of the room, a fact that is reflected in the piece.

October 11, 2017 16:55
4 minute read.
‘Good Passports, Bad Passports’ will be performed at the Tel Aviv Dance Festival

‘Good Passports, Bad Passports’ will be performed at the Tel Aviv Dance Festival.. (photo credit: WONGE BERGMANN)

 If you have what Helena Waldmann considers a “good passport,” you may not even realize it. But if you have a “bad passport,” you most certainly know it. Perhaps now more than ever, international travel is broken down into a caste-type experience where for some, entering and exiting dozens of countries is done in a blink of an eye, while others are constantly held up, questioned and detained.

“I travel a lot all around the world,” says the choreographer and theater director. “I have a German passport, which is one of the best in the world. I’m allowed to enter 178 countries without a visa on arrival. It’s so easy for me to pass each border in the world.”

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As Waldmann zips through passport control, many of her peers get held up.

“I work with a lot of people with ‘bad passports,’ such as Afghanis, Iranians and Bangladeshis. They can enter only 25 countries without a visa. We always have very bad experiences when we travel together. I go right through and get my passport handed back to me, while my colleagues spend 10, 15, 30 minutes, an hour waiting and sometimes can’t even go in. I wonder why is it so unequal. It’s very much an economic thing. The poorer the country is, the worse the passport,” she says.

These difficult moments spent in airports and train stations inspired Waldmann, already a pro at using the stage to explore political and social themes, to create Good Passports, Bad Passports – A Borderline Experience. This month, she will present the piece as part of the Suzanne Dellal Center’s Tel Aviv Dance Festival.

“It started with the concept,” she explains, “with how could I talk about such a subject in theater. My decision was to talk about different cultures and countries where one can do this and the other cannot. I decided to work with two different theater worlds – acrobats and contemporary dancers. I took each as a nation. The dancers represented high culture, and the acrobats the low brow.”

The two groups, both masters at working with the body, use entirely different vocabulary and technique. Waldmann quickly discovered that she did not need to direct or fabricate tension, it immediately existed.

“The conflict was immediately present,” she says. “When you come into the studio with these two different cultures, the bodies are totally different – the muscles and the way they move, the terms they use. If one says, ‘I’m going to do a roll now,’ the acrobat and the dancer will do something totally different. I saw that they can’t communicate, or at least not easily. There are mistakes and misunderstandings.”

As she worked day in and day out with these two groups of performers, Waldmann saw many parallels between their work and stories in the newspapers and on the streets.

“At first, they were willing to learn from each other. But after not very long, they understood it was a lot of work. You can’t learn a trick in two weeks; you must want it and be trained and interested. It’s exactly what happens in our world with people who are fleeing, coming from Syria or Afghanistan. They come here and don’t know everything from scratch. They must want to be part of the society, and we must want them and understand them to be part of it. It takes time. In our little world, if they wanted to make it work, they had to learn the language of the other and be very interested in the others’ body language. If a dancer’s body hits an acrobat’s body, it’s very dangerous. They had to really listen and pay attention to one another to make it work,” she explains.

Perhaps because of the element of risk, the two groups naturally gravitated towards different sides of the room, a fact that is reflected in the piece.

“The studio is a microcosm with me as the director. In our piece, one of the dancers takes tape and makes a line between the two halves of the stage. From then on, the dancers tell the acrobats, ‘You don’t cross that border.’” 

On one side, the dancers moved fluidly with each other. On the other side, the acrobats execute tricks using a variety of props such as the Chinese pole.

Waldmann is currently developing a new piece off the tails of the process of Good Passports, Bad Passports, whose title she says could be “We Love Horses.”

“It’s about dressage and the comparison between how to do dressage with horses and what it means to human beings. It’s very connected to what I was saying. Why do we love dressage? We love horses, but we also love to torture them, to do what we want and move how we want them to move. It’s what we do to people as well,” she says.

Helena Waldmann will present ‘Good Passports, Bad Passports – A Borderline Experience’ at the Suzanne Dellal Center on October 21 and 22. For more information, visit 

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