War Dance: Costa Compagnie’s After Afghanistan

Costa Compagnie

A scene from Costa Compagnie’s Conversion_2: After Afghanistan.

Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Felix Meyer-Christian, the artistic director for Costa Compagnie, a German performance art collective. Costa Compagnie productions combine images, video, music, dance, spoken word, and audience interactivity in what their website calls an “Archeology of the Present” that investigates “global transformative processes.” The highly conceptual self-descriptions belied a much easier-to-describe task that brought Meyer-Christian and me together: I helped him interview US Army service members who had served at the American military base in Heidelberg for a project exploring the base’s 50+ year history as a locus of German-American relations organized around joint military endeavor. The kaserne closed in 2013, but in its time its presence focalized intense social and political processes and personal emotional responses, especially for Germans, whose shared military history with the USA since the end of World War II has not been unproblematic. Costa Compagnie sought to capture this intensity and complexity through mixed-media art–an audacious project. Just one complicated aspect, for instance, was reconciling the fondness with which most American soldiers remember their time in Heidelberg, as well as the fondness, as I understand it, held by many Heidelberg residents who perhaps worked at the kaserne or did not view its existence with any particular animosity, with the militaristic and global-political considerations that underwrote its existence.

The project, titled Conversion_1: A German-American Choreography, was staged in the Heidelberg kaserne gymnasium in 2014. A trailer for Conversion_1 illustrates how Costa Compagnie generates artistic analogies for not just representing but recreating the experience of living within such a highly complicated admixture of historical and social currents:

Even as Meyer-Christian was conducting interviews for Conversion_1, he was also preparing for a second production, titled Conversion_2: After Afghanistan. Conversion_2’s intent was to extend Conversion_1’s interest in militarized shared histories as reflected at the level of community to German and American FOBs in Afghanistan as the NATO and ISAF involvement there wound down. From the Costa Compagnie website comes this description:

The Costa Compagnie does not try to explain the world to the audience. Instead they very effectively and powerfully document the kaleidoscope of an heterogeneous Afghan present on the way to an uncertain future by artistic means.

In the trailer for Conversion_2, the opening shots of a pneumatic drill-equipped crane breaking down a US Army FOB are particularly stunning. Some of the music is ambient military base noise—generators, aircraft engines, and other machinery—turned into pulsing electronica, which is also very cool. Costa Compagnie premiered Conversion_2 in Germany in 2015 and will stage a reduced-scale all-English version  at Vassar College in the fall of 2016. They are also negotiating to perform in New York City as well. I’ll be there if they do, and I hope you will be, too.

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