Jonathan Nagel’s Eventually in Amsterdam

At the climaxes of eventually an eerie and ominous air ensued

eventually is an art performance by contra bass player and poet, Jonathan Nagel, that deals with “desires, hopes and dreams”. The performance aims to emulate our human craving for power and control. However, with greater ambition comes a higher risk of failure and inevitably, our gradual loss and surrender to our divine endeavors. 

Starting out in Nagel’s studio as small experiments on his double bass and effect pedals, these initial compositions have been cultivated three years later into a compelling art performance that include elements of music, dance, spoken word and lighting. 

Through these diverse elements, Nagel has effectively depicted this transition of power and control to loss and surrender. He additionally aims to give a relatable experience for all those present to observe this gradation; to “remind the audience of these [common] situations” and to entice them into re-experiencing these “moments of loss of control”. This discomforting and distressing sentiment that is often felt among us, within the nature of our human lives, was authentically and profoundly mirrored in Nagel’s performance. 

The two most recent performances of eventually, on the 17th and 18th February, both took place in a church – I am reporting on the latter which took place in the Bethlehemkerk, Amsterdam-Noord. Although not entirely intentional, the decision to locate eventually in the house of God somewhat permitted a more metaphorical essence to the portrayal of control to loss toward ambition. Just as we may feel little compared to God, we may feel little by the divinity of our own seemingly and often unreachable desires.

The performance commenced calmly with a spoken recitation of poems, the faint movements of the dancers and the deeply resonating tones of the contra-bass. However, gradually and noticeably, our senses were more firmly stimulated. Three dancers (Anna Heuer Hansen, Maria Mavridou & Susanna Ylikoski) lay in the centre of the stage. At first inanimate and unmoving, they slowly aroused themselves and produced increasingly drastic movements by the loudening and warped sounds of the assertive bass. It alluded suitably to Nagel’s idea of control and ‘losing grip’ of power. Here also initiated a dialogue between the dancers and the audience. Each performer approached the audience; two crawled toward us while contorting their bodies, another ran and abruptly stopped and transfixed their gaze into our eyes. 

As the audience members and myself encircled the performers, we had no choice but to be confronted and drawn into the formidable presence of the bass and the dancers. Their movements together with the echoed and perilous reverb of the mass instrument relinquished a distressing feeling. Concurrently, the diminishment and augmentation of LED lights framing the circumference of the stage also paralleled considerably with the intensity of the dancers’ motions and warped sounds of the bass. In our placement around the stage and in being close-proximity to the performers, there was no alternative but to feel the overwhelming immersion of all the sounds and visuals. 

Interestingly, each dancer had their own distinctive style and own interpretation for the gradation of control to loss. Although different, all three complimented each other well and offered the audience different perspectives on the theme. At particular moments, each conveyed an exhaustion in their countenance and stature. You could hear the deep and sometimes intentional heavy breathing induced by the dancer’s disfigured movements and physical exertion. It referenced the resentment we as humans may experience when working tirelessly toward our ambition. One audience member felt that, in its whole, it adequately “expressed their frustrations” of life. 

Nagel explains in further depth and perhaps on a lighter note that the performance is also an “ode to living in the moment and making the best out of whatever circumstances we face.” Despite the gradual, ominous music and atmosphere created, the performance is a reference to having a direction in life, or lack thereof, that will manifest, challenge us and change us for the better. “In the moment we might not see what something is good for. But eventually it will make sense, one way or the other…”

Formerly trained as a jazz double-bass player, Jonathan Nagel has completed several other engaging art performances that continuously strive “to convey emotions and tell stories” to his audience. His artistry also often includes elements of poetry, improvisation and occasionally dance such as in his other works, cleaning each other and touch sound.

Nagel has more upcoming events including one on the 19th March in Groningen with the band Moving Strings, a collective of mainly stringed-instrument musicians who aim to investigate the boundaries between music, movement and dance as well as incorporate a new interdisciplinary language. eventually no doubt is one that also explores this. Already previously performed in the past in Germany, Finland and Sweden and most recently in Amsterdam for the Vinyl release, eventually has undergone an evolution into what it is now.

Hopefully, should the performance come around again in the future, we may see new developments in the elements instrumentalized that continue to emulate the veritable transition of control to loss.  Anja Herrmann  19th February 2023