Working Girls, 1988.
During the Olympics in Calgary 1988, two athletes competed for the gold medal in figure skating: Katarina Witt from the GDR and Debra Thomas from the U.S.A.
This competition is remembered today as the “Battle of the Carmens” (BBC), because Witt and Thomas both skate Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Looking at this “battle” one sees:
– Witt and Thomas are sent onto the ice like gladiators by their coaches (Jutta Müller and Alex McGowan).
– both present not only their countries, but also embody their competing political systems. Every gesture, every pirouette, every jump carries a political representative function.
– for both athletes, this day marks a turning point in their work biographies:
For Witt, it is the beginning of a new “career in the West”, for Thomas it is the end of her career and her return to poverty.
We are interested in the physical theatre that the two women are inscribed into just shortly before the end of the Cold War. We ask:
1. Why is the Carmen character a common expression of both systems?
2. According to which performative and gestural repertoires do Witt and Thomas assemble their freestyles?
3. How can the choreographies be theatrically reenacted and reworked?
To explore these questions, we analyse the video recordings of the Carmen choreographies in close readings and evaluate them theatrically.
The focus will be on body and movement repertoires in both choreographies. We are interested in:
– the Carmen references
– the underlying body images
– the contextualization of gestures and postures
– the interconnection of the Carmen-performances according to the body politics of the respective political systems
– the theatrical re-enactment of both Carmen interpretations with the instruments of classical and post-dramatic theater.
“She dies, and I don’t,” Thomas said. (Randy Harvey, Los Angeles Times 1988)
“Quite frankly, right now Debi doesn’t feel like dying,” De la Pena (Thomas’ choreographer) said. “What we’ve been trying to do with Debi is to get her true emotions out. Without someone there on the ice to kill you, it’s a little artificial.” (Randy Harvey, Los Angeles Times 1988)
“Anyone who has seen the look with which Katharina Witt began her free skate at the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary cannot forget it. It went through marrow and leg. Katarina Witt as Carmen, in a bright red dress, with a strict, dark topknot, blood-red lips and deep black rimmed eyes. Slightly lowered was her gaze, as if she was trying to hide something unspeakable” (Evi Simeoni, FAZ 2020).
The project is funded by Fonds für Darstellende Künste, a research scholarship.