May I hug you?

When Australian Juan Mann began his Free Hugs Campaign in 2004, and when it subsequently went viral globally, he could not have foreseen that his generous, friendly invitation would border on the boundaries of physical integrity and autonomy 15 years later. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian Carolyn Elis developed the so-called hugging or hug gloves – an enormous plastic entity that aided her in gifting her mother a hug without endangering her. A hug needs consent and trust, means happiness, affection, and well-being, bestows closeness and empathy and (unfortunately) now carries a certain risk within it. But the pandemic also productively put traditional physical rituals into question; unsolicited physical contact that may be perceived as encroaching, insecure, or even dangerous.

After two years of coping with the pandemic, we find ourselves in a “new normal” in which we search for connections to our own bodies while we need to find out how we encounter people and how to form relationships, differently, and in new ways. Crises and wars accompany our everyday lives, shaping paradoxical and frightening images of the future. This present is part of the collective responsibility we permanently hold in our actions: in the smallest details of our everyday lives, in emotions and experiences that emerge in our image of reality. Through action and reaction, we shape our identity, immediately influencing our surroundings, forming a community with others and our habitat. “For me, it is about the power that is created when we stand together. How much stronger we are when we are part of a community.” – says Sami choreographer Elle Sofe Sara about her piece Vástádus eana/The answer is land, therein, painfully and crystally clear, describing a transformative practice and vision.

The 2022/2023 season is a phase of (newly) encountering, of meeting, of building artistic and urban community relations in the context of socio-political and economical challenges, both for tanzhaus nrw and myself. With the program series May I hug you?, we ask ourselves and you, dear audience, how trusting relationships between human and human, human and environment, between institution and the city can grow again, and what role the body can and must play in it.

Three sections – intimate physicalness, communal physicalness, and, finally, the expansive physicalness – mark the breadth of our focus within which tanzhaus nrw wishes to shape and form the new normal. We ponder the frailness of the body, explore the adaptability of human communities and design future images in relation to the body and ecosystems. Those three focal points do not constitute topical series with a beginning and an end, they rather expand over the whole season and are meant to be perceived as artistic hugs. We want to convey social discourses, break distances, make complex themes more personal – all this and much more, as an institution with the many and for the many.

And when we meet, will you allow me to hug you?

Ingrida Gerbutavičiūtė
Artistic and Managing Director

Ingrida Gerbutavičiūtė