Bisamberg Vienna | Winter – Summer | Photos of the Day

December 29th, 2004 § 1

This is a series of pictures from one of my favorite places in near outside Vienna, on top of the Bisamberg Rise. It is called Magdalenhof. You can see across to Kahlenberg and all across eastern Vienna and enjoy a splendid meadow. These are pictures taken yesterday in winter with my closest summer equivalent. Although the subjects are the same, there are some small problems of angle. I will match winter and summer pictures more carefully in the future.

Summer tree.

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Winter tree.

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The transmission tower and the forest.



Summer.

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Winter.

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Kiteflying in summer.

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Walking in winter.

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And finally an unrelated picture. Someone flying a kite. Others enjoying the meadow. Ah summer. Soon again.

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In Memoriam Markus Fischer | Donainsel, a place in the sun

December 29th, 2004 § 0

Yesterday I learned that one of the guys I spent my summer with fell from a tower that he was climbing for sport and died from the fall. His name is Markus Fischer. Markus was an experienced climber, having climbed in Peru and Nepal in the past so he knew what he was doing. Just one of those strange accidents. Markus was just a few years older from me and a really easy going Austrian guy into enjoying life under the sun. Savouring life, the here and now, rather than pursuing materialist phantoms.

These pictures were taken beside our beloved Donauinsel, one of the most beautiful natural places near a big city in the world. We could just sit in the sun and swim all day.

Thanks for the companionship, Markus. We’ll miss you. Happiness in the next life.

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Vienna - Donau Insel Sunset-1

A difference of degree not kind

December 26th, 2004 § 0

Link: Photo du Jour: Demolished At 10 Minutes’ Notice (2).

Of the 17,600 acres of land that comprise East Jerusalem (including the Old City and the commercial downtown of East Jerusalem), Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem have today the right to use and develop less than 9% of it. According to the 1995 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem, 35% (6,250 acres) of the lands were expropriated for Israeli neighborhoods, roads and other facilities. While 80% of land expropriated since 1967 comes from Palestinians, the vast majority of that land has been designated for Jewish housing and other needs. Close to 0% of expropriated land has been designated for Arab use

It is increasingly hard to see the difference in kind between the Nazi regime and what is practiced in Israel today. Expropriation. Misuse of the laws and power organs of the state to oppress a group on racial and religious grounds.

What has to happen to end this persecution and our endorsement, both tacit and explicit of it?

The weblog from which this excerpt is taken is an incredibly detailed and informed look at the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The resource list alone is especially useful, as it is both comprehensive and well-annotated. The more you know, the worse it becomes:

No matter how terrible their actions, Israeli soldiers are essentially good people, “lovers of life”. Simply good people overwhelmed by the corrupting influence of the Occupation.

Well, fine. Perhaps they are. But how come the corrupting influence of occupation does not cut both ways? How come Palestinian suicide bombers are not “lovers of life” corrupted by the Occupation? Almost two-thirds of all Palestinians – and 100% of Palestinian suicide bombers – have lived their entire life under military occupation, but apparently it doesn’t corrupt or influence them. According to Yoel Marcus, they are simply people who “want to die”. It’s not that they would rather die than live a thirty-eighth year under a squalid military occupation. It’s not that they want to live in an independent Palestine, but have watched Israel use the peace process that was supposed to deliver that independence to accelerate, instead of reverse, the colonization of the land that was meant to become Palestine. It’s not that their homes are illegally destroyed and their economy strangled, so that they have no job and no prospect of getting one. It’s not that they are collectively punished, or tortured in prison, or risk becoming “collateral” victims of extra-judical executions or random fire, and it’s not because they’re being robbed of their land by violent, racist settlers who act under the protection of the IDF and with the connivance of the Israeli government. There is no context at all to what suicide attackers do. They just “want to die”.

So when Yusuf Sweitat, who had no prior connection with Palestinian militants, drove to the Israeli town of Hadera on 28 October 2001, and shot dead four Israeli women at a bus stop before being gunned down himself by Israeli police, that was nothing to do with the fact that ten days earlier he had watched twelve-year-old Riham Ward bleed to death in his arms after being struck by an IDF tank shell as she sat at her school desk at the Ibrahimiya Elementary School in Jenin. Similarly, the IDF’s assassination of 21-year-old Fadi Hanani in Nablus on 15 December 2001 had no bearing at all on his cousin Saed Kamal Hanani’s decision to kill himself and four Israeli bystanders at Geha Junction, near Tel Aviv, just 10 days later. And it was entirely coincidental that seven days after the IDF shot dead 15-year-old stone-thrower Amjad Al-Masri, and six days after the IDF fired upon Amjad’s funeral procession, killing his cousin Mohammed, Amjad’s 17-year-old brother Iyad blew himself up in Ginsafut near Qalqilya. The fact that Iyad was spattered with his cousin’s brains when an IDF sniper shot Mohammed through the head, and later found pieces of Mohammed in his hat, had nothing to do with it. And when Hanadi Jaradat slipped through the Jenin checkpoint on 4 October 2003, headed for Haifa and blew up herself and 20 innocent Israelis at Maxim’s Restaurant, she did so just because she wanted to die. She was not influenced by the shooting deaths of her fiancé, brother and cousin at the hands of Israeli soldiers. And it is not at all relevant that just one week before the bombing she had been refused a permit to take her father through the Jenin checkpoint to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, for treatment that might have prevented his liver cancer becoming terminal. And just because Shin Bet interviews intensively every intercepted suicide bomber to find out their motives, and reports that the single most common motivator is having a relative or close friend killed by Israeli occupation forces, why would anyone think the Occupation has anything to do with Palestinian suicide attacks? They just “want to die” It’s that famous “culture of death” the Islams have.

So to sum up: Israelis are good people who commit terrible acts because of the overwhelming corrupting influence of the Occupation. The overwhelming corrupting influence of the Occupation does not however affect the Palestinians, who commit terrible acts because, well, that’s the kind of people they are. Is that clear?

Placebo – Ein Stuck von Andrea Stotter

December 23rd, 2004 § 1

Placebo-Radek-Hewelt

You enter the courtyard of the WUK. In the far back corner of the large courtyard. It leads you to a theater, surprisingly large. The stage is very bare. On each side of the stage hang six large transparent tube from the ceiling. The tubes on the left are red, the tubes on the right are green in Sylvia Auer’s spare set.

In each tube stands a person. All of the people are clad in sweat clothes, anonymously.

Immediately we are treated to some avant-garde pop. One by one, each of the grey clad figures leaves his or her tube and dances.

The movement is alienated, unharmonious, sudden. A lot of floor crawling. Somewhat frustrating as one sees more of the floor than the dancer. An effective expression of urban angst.

After about a quarter of an hour, the six grey sweatsuit clad dancers gather behind a huge pile of clothes laid out horizontally across the stage, a small multicoloured wall at their feet.

Placebo - Natalie Trs

The performers begin to root urgently through the pile of clothes in front of them, as if to choose something to put on. A piercing buzzer startles the audience and the dancers. The dancers stop what they are doing and begin to sort again. Every thirty seconds or so, the buzzer stops the dancers who must resume anew what they are doing. To the rhythm of the buzzer, they dress and undress three or four times, becoming another persona with each change of clothes.

We become curious to see who our grey moths become. Clothes mean more than we think. Clothes tell more than skin.

Placebo - Andrea Stoddard

All of them look much better out of their sweat clothes. A relief that the drab existentialism of the beginning is not the order of the day. There will be colour and personality.

Curiously the clothes the performers finally choose in most cases suit them.

The buzzer blasts again. Three of the dancers present themselves at the front of the stage. First Natalie Trs tells us that she is 27 years old and born in Wien. Then the beautiful Eva Müller speaks about herself and her childhood in Tyrol. The third dancers is Kun Chen Si. He is clearly of oriental origin. And he speaks about himself in Chinese very quickly. A quick and facile laugh around the house. Point being, language is as arbitrary as clothes, just another kind of dress, another human code to decipher.

All the dancers leave and return to their transparent tubes. Silence. Silence. Silence. A small yellow duck, the kind one finds in bathtubs is tossed from offstage into the center of the stage. A deep chord sounds. Oh, no. Yes, it’s true. Silence is sexy from Einsturden Neubauten.

The dancers return and measure themselves with carpenters tape measures, calling out their measurements in English. The stage lights drop suddenly and are replaced by for overhead flourescents. Unflattering. A morning after effect. Music now: “You are so beautiful…”. The dancers partner one another. Measurements don’t matter, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Karin Steinbrunner - Placebo

At this point, I should mention the programme booklet, very cunningly put together with a personal ad for each of the performers and the choreographer including information on their age, their measurements, their interests.

The buzzer has become a kind of alarm bell informing us of the scheduled nature of modern life. We are none of us our own masters, but rather servants to an assigned regime.

The theme for Liquid Sky. Constantly changing pairs, constructionist movement, ritual of life. First one dancer and then another featured. They make partnerships and then exchange partners. These dances reflect the progress of acquaintance and exchange of partners, some more meaningful, never entirely settled.

Stoddard's Placebo - Couples

Finally a single couple are left. They are sleepy and fall on top of one another.

Bliss in each pose of Eva Müller. Snuggling, moulds to another body perfectly. Fits another body like a glove. Lets stress out of her muscles completely. Transfixing, mesmerizing. No one could know how beautiful stillness is until they have seen Eva Müller dance this role. Radek Hewelt supports her competently in this role.

Each dances a solo which reveals much about him or herself. The dance highlight is Karin Steinbrunner’s rhapsody on James Brown’s anthem “I feel good”. She is dressed in a red catsuit of sorts which complements her natural beauty. Her auburn hair is down and flying as she explodes across the stage in a flame of movement, a more animated Nicole Kidman.

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Towards the end, the second male dancer, Radek Hewelt (of Gervasi company fame) came to the front of the stage and spoke in Polish for everyone. A virtual identical sight gag to the first one with the Chinese dancer, it was not so interesting to see this a second time.

Finally Betka Fislová sings “Take my breath away”. Her voice is very beautiful. Unfortunately when she is singing Ms. Fislová is in one of the tubes with her back turned towards us. Moreover there is no dancing or any action on stage at all. Really this lovely moment of song should be combined with a visual episode. The extended vacancy struck me as a bit of self-indulgence of the debutante choreographer to make us wait on her own rehearsal epiphany.

There seems to be a system to the Viennese school of contemporary dance. Usually it involves nudity – in this piece, not. It also often brings in bits of pop music as references. Choice pop in apposition to the choreography. The music is part of the joke. I tire of this trope and wish that the focus would be more clearly on the dance than on some aural joke.

Radek Hewelt- Natalie Trs

But despite these caveats, in Ms. Stotter’s first piece there were at least two very good episodes. The first is the dressing dance of the six dancers. While the dressing dance cannot help but be a riff on Jerome Bel’s T-Shirt (one dancer changes constantly his t-shirt and his movement as the music changes – a t-shirt can reflect a whole personality), I liked it much better in Stotter’s version. The effect is clearer and stronger and more interesting with six dancers undergoing the transformation.

The second is the love-making duet on the floor between Eva Müller and Rawek Tomascz. A lot of the credit is in Eva’s astonishing performance of stillness. Speaking with the choreographer after the show, Ms. Stotter revealed part of the secret of the magical and harmonious duet. She told Eva to treat Radek like a pillow and not like a lover.

Another of the mysteries which bears investigation is the strange buzzer that kept cutting into the action. It turns out that the buzzer was manned and not recorded into the soundtrack. And the person manning the buzzer was choreographer Stotter herself. The timing was not definitive but arbitrary on her whim: a means for the choreographer to control the action and participate in the show. What Ms. Stotter will do for her next show, I don’t know. I expect we may be privileged to see her among the participants as clearly she still enjoys direct involvement with the performance and she can not have a buzzer for every show, unless it becomes some kind of perverse trademark.

A good show but too long. As a whole the show ended up being a bit random and incoherent and episodic. The random quality may itself be the point, as a mirror of single life, modern life. The show was easily too long by half for the amount of content. Despite its excessive length, the charming performers carry the piece. Presently it sometimes seemed like the twenty ideas Ms. Stotter had had for a show all pushed together in one great blast of self-expression. Placebo should be half of a double-bill rather than a full-length evening work. Or Placebo should be reinvented if it is to be a full evening work.

I would like to see Ms. Stotter try to really choreograph movement on more rigorous music, relying on the movement and not the emotional connotations of the music to carry the piece.

In any case, this first piece reveals much promise for a new Austrian choreographer. Despite her frequent participation in Dance.Kias’s projects as dancer and choreographic assistant, Ms. Stotter does not seem to have taken on too many of their bad habits, apart perhaps from a tendency to choreographic prolixity.

Placebo is a Tanztheater Homunculus Production.
All photographs Alec Kinnear

A Christmas Poem for Anna

December 21st, 2004 § 0

The taste of Anna and red wine.
So lovely to drink and drink.
Somehow without her sweet nectar
the wine is not so fine.

Also ohne Anna und ohne Wein
Muss Mann manchmal leben.

Jan Fabre and Lisbeth Gruwez: Quand l’uomo principale è una Donna

December 21st, 2004 § 1

A woman poised on a stool. She’s dressed in a man’s suite. Darkness covers the stage heavy. In the darkness hang twenty pieces of metal. On the ground beneath each of the pieces of metal stands a tall green bottle of olive oil.

The dancer rises and steps over the bottles, she begins to hang them up. One by one. Four of the bottles drip slowly.

The dancer walks back and forth speaking and singing. Eventually she takes off her jacket. Her small breasts are taped across the nipple. She dances gently.

She smokes a cigarette, which we taste acrid in the otherwise smoke free hall. She makes violent thrusts with her hips, impressive in scope and range. As a tigress in her cage she paces. Her presence and her physical strength impress.

She makes herself a drink, tall martini all encased in solver. A real drink. Now the smell of alcohol permeates the hall. The dancer takes a deep draught.

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She lightens up, smiles, carries on her smoking. She takes off her jacket, her breasts are taped across the front. Her physique is svelete and powerful but without obvious curves.

Her masculinity she enhances by feeling her loins like a man. A metallic clink. She coyly reveals to us a silver ball that she sticks in her mouth and back in her pants.

Now some real dancing. The dancer is very fast and very agile. She rolls and tumble and falls and prances.

The music lets us down, now a pastiche of 70’s and 80’s synthetic music à la Tangerine Dream.

After ten minutes most of us have had enough. Our dancer – understandably – seems to tire.

A cute juggling act with the silver balls. First two balls easily she juggles and a third and a fourth before they fall. Her breasts are still taped down.

But wait she returns to the olive oil botles and opens them all and finally the stage is covered in oil now.

She strips off her pants and plays with the silver balls that hang in her briefs like a man’s cock and balls. Deranging now this woman with her breasts taped and a man’s groin.

Off come the pants. Off comes the tape from her breasts. Now she dances among the olive oil. The same solo but rolling now on the floor, sliding, writhing.

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She glistens green under the lights, the smell of martinis downed now in a pungent aroma of olive oil. She twists, she turns, she rolls. Her nipples are enormous like small stiff corks. She does a half splits and touches herself provocatively.

She shocks even this audience, as she massages her labia in front of us. She dances and spins and slides and turns. Her bush is well-trimmed and her pussy an exciting red gash between her legs. The oil gleams off of her.

Fifteen minutes of this climax.

The dancer stands. Walks to the front of the stage. A smirk on her face. She puts a hand between her thighs and opens her legs. She holds the hand aloft and reveals the steel ball with which she has been dancing all the while.

She pops the ball in her mouth and the lights go down.

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This solo for Lisbeth Gruwez reveals her talents beautifully. Reveals herself beautifully. Speed, agility, humour, singing voice, comfort with her sexuality, her amazing body.

On the other hand, I am hard-pressed, besides a personal appreciation for Lisbeth Gruwez to understand what it is I am to take away from the show. There is not a club in Vienna which has a more exciting burlesque stage show.

This is more like a visit to an extraordinary burlesque cabaret, a live sex-show as it were.

Perhaps there is value in the falling away of shame from the female body. That there is no need or reason to hid or mask the cunny. This is not a small thing in the prohibitions of our culture. Even the most daring of artists avoided showing us the rosebud. A woman celebrating her perfect physical triumph?

Or is it just provocation for effect, art porn for effetes? Perhaps Fabre is attacking dance itself – almost all dance serves as the revelation of the human body. All dance is, as it were, porn. This one is just stripped of the lofty pretensions of emotion and tantalizing discretion of costume.

I like dance for celebrating the body and for the beauty of the daughters of Terpsichore. To me the show seemed like straight provocation, exploitation of Lisbeth Gruwez and the audience, taking us to another level of dance – back to its earliest origins in earthy sexuality.

But perhaps we need to be stripped of our pretensions, to have the ballet shown for what at some level it is – striptease in tutus.

We are a long way from the aesthetic realm dance often takes us to, of archetypes of love and sacrifice and beauty.

Fabre’s provocation is more impressive in a collective piece. A single dancer can hardly carry the load. A solo runs out of itself. The layers of meaning and symbol not as rich. Having seen two solo pieces since his masterwork of last year Je suis sang, I have to say I am disappointed. Not to have seen the show – for if you are not offended by the naked and sexual female human body, you will rarely see a more pure display – but that at the end of the path, Fabre leads us holding nothing but those wild impressions.

ADDENDUM: Feminist interpretation of Quand l’uomo principale è una Donna.

I was very curious about the reaction of the two young women with whom I saw Quand l’uomo principale è una Donna, as I had my own reservations about the pornographic aspect. Their reaction shocked and disappointed me. They loved the show. But on a single condition – that the olive oil was Lisbeth Gruwez’s idea.

In this case it was celebration of the female body and liberating. If the dance were Jan Fabre’s idea, the show would be exploitation, disturbing and vile.

As a man, I find this double standard atrocious. To a female artist, all is permitted. To a male creator, strict boundaries. Some strange mirror image of the Taliban.

Photos © Wonge Bergmann

No Jane Austen Heroines…

December 20th, 2004 § 1

No Jane Austen heroines for me
all prose and no poetry,
reason and norm insistent
in every dawn and
a faultless sense of society,
infallible propriety.
I’ll dally to ventilate
the tight sphincter which cramps
her every breath
in hope to release the emotions
stifled so long below.
Hopeless though, these women –
function of their most intimate organs
governed so strongly from the head
and not the heart. One pure breath
of unfiltered emotion, more, sadly
than six months of stifling devotion.

Labyrinth | Saskia Hölbling and Katia Plaschka at the Semper Depot

December 13th, 2004 § 0

A darkened section of Vienna. Just off the ring but nothing but blackness and the massive wood and iron doors of old warehouses. A voice rises tormented and beautiful into the night. A futuristic baroque. It must be here.

You push the heavy wood door, peer inside. An almost black space. People wander randomly in the distance. It doesn’t look like a dance show at all. You enter and pass a small table where you give your credentials.

The voice sings insistently, beautifully fragmented.

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Labyrinth | Saskia Hölbling and Katia Plaschka at the Semper Depot Continues »