April 27th, 2006 §
Choreolab 06 opened with a piece from András Lukács, who regular readers might remember from the evening of Nicht nur Mozart where he offered Tabula Rasa, a group piece with a touching duet for men.
Connection was exactly the opposite. A duet for a man and a woman. András Lukács chose his lead dancer Rebecca Gladstone of the Volksoper who was outstanding in Tabula Rasa to dance the duet together with himself.
This time I didn’t care for the black velvet jumpsuits the pair were wearing. The square cut on their legs and bare armholes made me think more of boxers workout clothes or half-made bunny costumes.
Rebecca Gladstone and András Lukás
The costumes didn’t work with the habitual elegance of András Lukács’s choreography.
While both danced well enough, I didn’t feel the connection of the title between the two lead performers. Much of the time I kept finding myself looking for the large group movements of Tabula Rasa. It seemed as if the corps-de-ballet just didn’t show up and the two leads were left on their own to rehearse.
András Lukás dancing
And a lot of the bravura moves and lifts ended up looking more like pair figure skating rather than ballet. This problem probably had a lot to do with the music selection – typical overblown Lukács film score stuff: Astor Piazzolla, this time.
A quick search in Google for Piazzolla and figure skating instantly reveals the problem: Piazzolla is one of the favorite all-time composers of pairs figure skaters.
Connection might have come off better if Lukács had just called it Skaters and treated it all with a huge dose of irony.
András Lukács was more successful in his second piece of the evening which came much later, a group composition called A Letter to Marth Graham.
The piece of itself was quite lovely. It is seven female dancers in floor length violet gowns under quite dim lights, who dance patterns of movement as seven, as three, as two, as seven again.
Letter to Martha Graham – whole cast – Romina Kotodjiez front right
Due to Michael Nyman’s overbearing music, what could have been subtle and sensitive became one of those cliché ballet moments – what someone who doesn’t know dance would expect ballet to be like. Sweeping artificial orchestral sounds and gaunt misses pretentiously posing.
If one could ignore the music, the piece might have been a delight.
For the first year, the ballet school (Ballettschule der Wiener Staatsoper) took part in Choreolab. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. These young dancers looked inadequate beside the company. I’m sure the level was much higher at the Bolshoi Ballet School and Opéra de Paris school recitals I’ve seen. I’m not sure what is going on with the Vienna ballet school – the professors seem very good – but the overall level is ho-hum. The vast majority of the girls graduating do not go on to any kind of a career in dance.
Emma Harrington leads the ensemble
In any case, these young ladies should not be dancing as a group in company evenings, as they are just not ready. It takes the whole level of the proceedings down to the level of a recital, rather than a serious presentation of young choreographers’ work.
I would like to single three of them out for special mention however. The one who danced best was Romina Kotodziej. She was smooth, coherent and accurate. The one who performed best, always dancing as if she really meant it was Agnes Schmetterer. Miss Schmetterer brought great focus and intensity to her performance at all times, although she needs to continue work on her accuracy. She is a tall girl so she is probably still just catching up with her body. Finally, Emma Harrington, who was one of the two leads, has such a beautiful cameo appearance that she could just come and sit for a painting and it would be a pleasure to the eyes to rest upon her timeless features. Emma Harrington is Australian – another instance of my theory that whenever one finds a girl or a woman of breathtaking beauty here in Vienna she is inevitably from somewhere else.
Agnes Schmetterer | Emma Harrington
Great beauty is both a blessing and a curse. May it bring Miss Harrington much more of the former. But she’ll have to keep working on her dancing and her acting if she is to make use of it as a performer.
Mr. Lukács is astonishingly prolific as both a dancer and a choreographer, performing in two other choreographer’s pieces tonight as well as creating these two of his own. If only his taste in music would improve.
April 27th, 2006 §
Nikolaus Adler is the only Austrian among the Choreo.lab dancemakers.
He is also the only one of the lot to work regularly with modern dancers. He has put on several mainstage shows for the Vienna modern dance company Homonculus, as well as working X.ida, Tiroler Landestheater and many others. He was already awarded promising young choreographer of the year in 2003.
As with most modern dance choreographers, Mr. Adler has second employment. Nikolaus Adler’s day job happens to be as a dancer at the Vienna Staatsoper. To his and the Vienna dance world’s astonishment, the new director forbid Mr. Adler from doing any choreography outside the Staatsoper this season.
This resulted in the cancelling of a fall show again with the dance company Homunculus and got Gyula Harangozó a reputation for petty tyranny before his first season even began.
All this introduction by way of saying with Nikolaus Adler we are entering another world. We are no longer in the neoclassical, nor in story ballet but in post-modern very deconstructed and self-aware creation.
Torte für Alle (Cake for Everyone) is the third part of a trilogy, the second part of which I have seen called Die Nacht des Jägers (Night of the Hunters). It was presented as part of Choreo.lab 04 and included much of the same cast, notably in the two leads Alena Vaskova and Wolfgang Grascher.
Night of the Hunters involved a great deal of speaking. Alena Vaskova spoke at length in German and Wolfgang Grascher spoke in English as if he were a preacher in the far west of the United States. I didn’t quite follow the American references, but we were in some kind of strange exploration of the Far West Mentality.
Torte für Alle plunges us into a different world. A world of clowns in black T-shirts which read Bernard Henri Levy, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Luc Godard, Jennifer Jolly, Bill Gates, Hilmar Kabas.
They trade a funny red nose among themselves, they dance they strut, they throw pies in one another’s faces. Torte für Alle is an extremely fast moving show, slowing down only for the occasional sad moment when Alena Vaskova (sporting a Marguerite Duras t-shirt) stands at the graveside of her dead comrade and weeps, only a bright blue statuette of the Virgin Mary to keep her company.
At the end of all the fun and games and tart-throwing, a single little girl – also wearing a Marguerite Duras t-shirt – comes out and sings an Eric Satie melody quite beautifully.
And the audience is left to wonder what it all means. What Bill Gates has to do with Jean Luc-Godard.
Apparently as well as being 20th century icons of one sort or another each has all fallen victim to the entartistes at one time or another. Fox reporter Jennifer Jolly only made the cut, as there are very few female victims of pieing (who wants to get caught throwing pie in a woman’s face – not many men).
One of the things which is different about Torte für Alle is the music. It is challenging and very funny. It is mainly a series of lewd Tiger Lillies songs from the album Circus Songs. Here is a sample:
Albino dwarfs & dancing bears & midgets with full body hair
A girl who has a fishes tail, a boy the body of a snail
A man with the head of a bird, a girl who shits bricks as turds
Siamese twins joined at the head, a girl who though alive is dead
A man who bleeds through hands and eyes, a girl who has a donkeys thighs
This Freakshow is the best in town this Freakshow is the worst around.
A man who has no head or arms, a girl a dog sexually charms
They’re animal eroticists, the sailors leer at them half pissed
A fire eater burns his throat, a jealous lover at him gloats
A contortionist tells a joke while a Gorilla him does poke
A girl who bites off chickens heads, they run around till they are dead
At first the dance goes with the music and against the grain of the words – funny and absurd. But then the dance shifts and follows the words. Caustic and brutal.
There was loud applause for Torte für Alle from the very conservative Choreo.lab audience (tickets: 40 euros). The choreographer is convinced it’s because the audience didn’t understand a thing. Particularly the Tiger Lilies lyrics.
I understood the lyrics, but let’s leave it at that.
There’s something in Torte für Alle even for Jerome Bel fans. Perhaps particularly for Jerome Bel fans. Torte für Alle is aesthetically consistent, steadily surprising and challenging fare. Uniquely this evening, in Torte für Alle music was used in an original way.
What is particularly rewarding about Nikolaus Adler’s work is that he doesn’t sink into the static as a means of self-defence. While questioning dance, his dancers keep moving. That puts him miles ahead of his fellows.
A strange end to a bizarre but wonderful evening. That’s what Choreo.lab is like.
April 27th, 2006 §
Choreographer Karina Sarkissova of Moscow is just twenty three years old and is the youngest of the choreographers presenting work at Choreo.lab 06 by nine years. She started life quickly, engaged at the Vienna State Opera, already in 2000 after the Bolshoi Ballet School and has been a first soloist since 2004.
A very poised young woman, usually glamorously dressed she approaches choreography in the same structured way as she approaches life. In Choreo.lab 04 she presented her first choreography Libertango which was a very stark and direct tango performance. Very well danced, there wasn’t much to it choreographically.
This year Ms. Sarkissova presented Sisters, a more ambitious piece on the music of Antonio Vivaldi. Due to an injury to Elisabeth Golibina, Sisters was only danced on Saturday night.
The other two dancers were Dagmar Kronberger and Nina Poláková.
The choreography was traditional neoclassical dancing albeit with some interesting partnering between the women.
But Sisters didn’t work for a number of reasons. The passage of Vivaldi chosen was something worn out and brought nothing new to the party. The three dancers were all wearing wigs with long black hair to make them all look alike. Unfortunately they looked more like they were in silly wigs than they looked alike. The costumes included long white skirts which draped badly (each skirt had to yield a little piece of cloth to use as a flag in the hands later on). Worse, the dancers wore transparent flesh colored tops.
They were supposed to look natural and naked to the waist. The program shows a photograph of the three dancers from the back naked to the waist. That’s how they should have been on stage. Flesh colored jerseys look anything but natural. They look fake and artificial.
Better to put them into some kind of skimpy draped top or string bikini than flesh coloured jerseys.
I spoke with the choreographer about the costumes after the performance. She readily agreed that her goal had been to have three dancers perform naked to the waist. She had found there were few or no takers among the Staatsoper dancers. In modern dance circles, Ms. Sarkissova would not have had these troubles. To be honest, none of the dancers had much to hide so I really don’t see the issue. Episodes like this make the ballet world look hopelessly out of date. In fairness, many dancers won’t go without clothes unless it’s a paid gig – which Choreo.lab is not (except that they are already employed at the Staatsoper and Volksoper).
In any case, in their silly wigs and their flesh colored jerseys and badly draped skirts, the three sisters looked like anything but children of nature. They looked more like petite drag queens if anything. The artifice was overwhelming and disappointing. Either Ms. Sarkissova has to succeed in her intentions or alter them.
Best would have been three dancers with similar hair and build. Good would have been high quality convincing wigs. Alternative tops or no tops.
For that matter, Ms. Sarkissova could have put each of them in the fantastic black dress she was wearing herself on opening night, left their hair alone and it would have been far more convincing aesthetically.
As this was only Karina Sarkissova’s second outing as a choreographer, I have no doubt that Sisters was an eye opener for her in terms of the distance between intentions and result and she will be more far sighted in the future.
There are no photographs for the moment for Sisters as there wsa no performance on Sunday night when I took pictures.
April 27th, 2006 §
Patricia Sollak’s piece Different Creatures was easily the most entertaining work of the evening. It is a delightful fantasy romp into the lives of eleven characters.
They include a pop star (Franziska Hollinek), her bodyguard (Mikel Jauregui), a cleaning lady (Rafaella Sant’anna), two angels (Igor Milos and Veronika Ikriannikova), a bank robber (Vladimir Tristan), a call girl (Virginie Chevalier), an impassioned young lover (Kirill Kourlaev), his inconstant beloved (Elisabeth Golubina), a shaman (Emmanuel Gazquez) and a tree (Ian Whalen Lindemann).
The story begins when the green haired pop star runs out and performs a concert as her bodyguard protects her from the audience (us) and artificial smoke fills the hall. The song is sang with a silly little girl voice something like Bow Wow Wow but with far more helium. Franziska Hollinek bops around very convincingly, until suddenly someone sneaks out of the side of the stage and shoots her dead.
We are then on a crime scene, as characters gather around the prostate body, including the cleaning lady. The characters slip away as more smoke fills the hall. A gorgeous male angel enters (Igor Milos looking as radiant and exquisite as a man every could) and begins a pas on his own. The pop star rises amazed to find herself alive. Another angel enters, this time a quite lovely female one and begins a duet with Igor Milos. The pop star gradually realises she’s not in Kansas anymore and that she’s dead.
After a delightful six or seven minutes in heaven, we return to the scene of the crime where the cleaning lady laments the death of the pop star in a very dramatic dance convincingly performed by the beautiful Brazilian Rafaella Sant’anna (a very interesting choice for the role, going against the grain – why shouldn’t a cleaning woman be glamorous under her industrial blue workcoat), until a shaman comes dancing in and brings the pop star back to life.
Much to the delight of the cleaning lady and her bodyguard.
Alas the shaman role was one of the least convincing. While the costume was quite amusing, the whole episode drew the production over the edge and into silly kitch. While occasionally Different Creatures swerved well back into the bounds of the convincing and the moving, it never again quite acquired the transfixing quality of the first twelve minutes.
There were episodes of bank robbery played out with paper maché walls with BANK written across the top in big letters in quite an amusing cartoon way. Very reminiscent of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. The bank robber blows his suitcase full of dollars on an extremely luscious call girl. As well as a bright pink wig, the dancer’s costume included a red leather bra, a white fur boa, garters and tall black boots. For some reason the dancer just wouldn’t get out of her costume after both performances, the last to change both nights. She looked great. Why not?
Kirill Kourlaev showed as much warmth as I’ve seen from him as the spurned lover. He was especially touching the first night with Elisabeth Golobina but put on good showing with stand-in Dagmar Kronberger who had to step into a major part with just a single afternoon of rehearsal. Ms. Kronberger managed to look as though she had been rehearsing the part all along and showed considerable emotional vulnerability. The injured Golobina was extremely touching and infuriating in her role as the girl who cannot make up her mind.
The highlight of different creatures is a final ensemble dance with everyone in character, the bank robber led around by his tie by the call girl, the lovers still arguing, the pop star singing, the bodyguard seducing the inconstant lover when not protecting the pop star, the shaman hopping madly, the cleaning lady pushing her broom between lively dances, the tree half stepping around the stage.
It is a veritable chorus line, a musical revue. The dancers look like they’ve never had this much fun in their lives.
And that is the strength and the weakness of Different Creatures. We are well into the territory of the musical here, rather than dance – classical or modern. There is an absence of either aesthetic or emotional rigour throughout the piece which pushes it hard into the territory of musical or Hollywood.
Music was again an issue. The use of pop anthems like Lay Your Hands from Simon Webbe for the closing scene is blatantly exploitative of the audience’s emotions.
(Oh baby, when I'm calling out)
Give me love and affection,
Keep telling me, show me the way.
(Oh, if you see me falling down)
Lift me up from the shadows
Will you take me away to a better place?
(And when I'm in my darkest hour)
You're by my side, to turn the tide.
It’s just too easy to evoke emotions on the back of the pop sound. It’s like a too thick coating of sugar on top of fruit – you can’t taste the fruit anymore.
Whether dance – neo-classical and modern – should be more open to this kind of crazy feel good work is a grander question than we can decide here and now. Perhaps it would bring larger audiences in than the current morbid minimalism. But if Ms. Sollak would like to start a career as a choreographer or a director of musicals, Different Creatures is certainly a good start.
Still one could argue that there is an undercurrent of seriousness here. Different Creatures is dedicated to a friend of the choreographer, Edeltrude Schnitzler who left this world young and suddenly. Patricia Sollak includes a philosophical introduction to the work in the program including an enigmatic definition of time: the perpetual movement of life, the wonder of the world.
I would like to flash back to Choreolab 03 – I’d just arrived in Vienna. Patricia Sollak – on one leg at the time as she’d broken her foot – put on a similarly strong show – the enigmatically named <ver.redperfekt_7.liebt>. Ms. Sollak has a strong history of showmanship.
Choreolab 03 in Halle 1030 in the third district of Vienna. Normally Hall 1030 is some kind of sport or riding hall and may not even exist anymore from what I’ve head. In any case, it is an enormous space and we were sitting basically on bleachers.
ver.redperfekt_7.liebt – photo Philipp Kreidl
In Choreolab 03, the young lovers actually drove right into the show in a beautiful antique car. They danced their pas-de-deux in the light of the headlights. It is good to see someone willing to challenge the conventions of bare modern dance staging.
April 27th, 2006 §
The second piece of the evening was a clear dramatic story by first time Serbian choreographer Vesna Orlic. Ms. Orlic has been with the Volksopera since 1987 where she has been a first soloist since since 1995.
In Buenos Aires Hora Cero, Ms. Orlic presents a man caught between two women. One appears to be his loving if angry wife (danced by Vesna Orlic herself) and the other is his passionate if sometimes emotionally indifferent mistress (Ekaterina Davydova).
The wife’s part is more interesting choreographically and Ms. Orlic dances with considerable character and fire.
The male dancer caught between these two women was thirty-seven year old Harald Baluch who was a soloist at the Volksoper until this year when he was let go rather abruptly during the merging of the two companies. If Harald Baluch wanted to show that director Harangozó had made a mistake, he got his chance and took it.
Mr. Baluch was strong and handsome and accomplished and athletic in his role as the divided man. We see him ignoring his wife, supplicating his mistress and we believe his every move. Such a role could end up being extremely antipathic – lousy husband, abused lover – but in Mr. Baluch’s capable hands that never happens. He holds the piece together.
That Ms. Orlic chose to showcase a man in her first work was interesting. So much work is done on the danseuse and her feelings it is nice to see a man’s feelings center stage for once.
While Ekaterina Davydova is quite lovely and a good physical casting for the mistress, she was a little too cool in her presentation for my taste. A more electifying presence would have been better. But Mr. Barluch pushes her hard and we are convinced.
Once more a weak spot of the piece was music. Once again we are in the overripe hands of Astor Piazzolla. The well-worn music took what could have been a quite excellent if slightly dated piece down a couple of notches. But at least the subject and the music were matched this time.
For some reason, Buenos Aires Hora Cero made me think of Dmitry Brantsev’s work with Ekaterina Maksimova and Vladimir Vasilyev – Galatea (Pygmalion). Or vaguely reminiscent of what Maya Plissetskaya might have once been dancing with Maurice Béjart. In any case, it seems to belong to another epoch, less deconstructed than this one.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
April 26th, 2006 §
Choreolab is one of the brightest and most joyful of the annual dance occasions in Vienna. Normally Choreolab comes once a year most often in November.
The first two Choreolabs took place in 2003 and 2004. I’ve been lucky enough to see all of them. 2005 was dark for reasons to be revealed later.
What is Choreolab? It is the main annual event of the Balletclub of the Wiener Staatsoper (now with the heavy name Ballettclub der Wiener Staatsoper und Volksoper on account of the official renaming of the company).
Choreolab allows a selection of dancers in the company to stage fifteen minute to hour long works on their fellows from the Staatsoper (and now the Volksoper). This is really a privilege for these young choreographers as they don’t need to worry about organising a venue nor trying to hire dancers. They get a first rate cast in a top calibre venue with full lighting and excellent possibilities for staging the work as they see it. In Choreolab 2003 Patricia Sollak had the dancers drive an antique car around the stage; in Choreolab 2004 Vanessa Tamburi put on a massive show with multiple costume and make up changes and video projection with at least a dozen dancers.
Who is the Balletclub? The Ballettclub is Ingeborg and Manfred Tichy-Luger.
Alfons Haider with Ingeborg Tichy-Luger
In 1999 they started the club while Renato Zanella was the Artistic Director of the Ballet of the Vienna State Opera. In the end, the Tichy-Lugers and Mr. Zanella became quite good friends and Mr. Zanella was a regular feature at their events.
The events include artistic talks, backstage tours, special trips, prize ceremonies for dancers and a bimonthly glossy magazine called dancer’s which is culture and lifestyle magazine.
As dance and ballet need all the support and publicity they can get, I have to say it is awfully kind of the Tichy-Lugers to put so much energy into supporting Vienna State Opera Ballet and dance in general. In the beginning, it was a lot to organise and perhaps the quality of the events may have been uneven.
Public speaking seemed somehow new to Ingeborg Tichy-Luger. She was more enthusiastic than coherent – and she often spoke to excessive length with multiple effusions of gratitude. This year her speech was succinct and complete with clearly expressed thanks to the necessary parties.
The venue was wonderful – the Odeon Theatre in the second district in Vienna on Taborstrasse – an expansive space with wonderful antique columns on the back brick wall as the photograph below reveals.
Choreolab Wien Final Curtain Call – Full Cast
Moreover, the Tichy-Lugers managed to land Austrian actor and television celebrity Alfons Haider, moderator of Dancing Stars and the Vienna Opera Ball. Unfortunately on opening night, Alfons Haider was unable to attend as he was the host of the Golden Romy Austrian television awards.
Alfons Haider with Choreolab Performers and Choreographer Patricia Sollak
On Saturday night, his place as guest of honor was filled by the Hungarian Ambassador Dr. István Horváth whose Embassy organised a very good buffet with Hungarian wines and home made sweets after the opening. It was encouraging to see such official patronage of new dance.
But on Sunday night, Mr. Haider was there in pink shirt and with plenty of enthusiasm. He both introduced the evening speaking of his love of ballet with evident sincerity and conducted a short post-mortem with the choreographers, interviewing each of them about their work.
In the small media world of Austria, Mr. Haider’s patronage and participation means that Choreolab has officially arrived and the Balletclub of the Vienna State Opera and Volksoper has become something of an institution.
But what happened to Choreolab 2005? In late 2004, the Vienna State Opera ballet was shaken with the dismissal of then director Renato Zanella. In the fall of 2005 Gyula Harangozó took over the reigns of power. The Tichy-Lugers were caught as it were between regimes, given the bonds of friendship between themselves and director Zanella.
Evidently the Balletclub has managed to cross the divide and is now no longer dependent on its relationship with any single company director.
One strange and slightly unpleasant condition that director Harangozo imposed on Choreolab 2006 was his personal approval for content and presentation of each of the works presented. A sort of censorship as it were. Fortunately, as far as I know, his right of censure was not exercised but formally a last minute approval by the company director of unpaid volunteer choreography and dancing seems out of place.
What makes the dancers do it? They love to dance and this is a chance for those still in the corps-de-ballet to shine and a chance for the soloists to do something outside of the classic repertoire and push themselves a little bit.
The general level of choreography has been very good. Some of the Choreolab choreographers have gone onto professional careers as choreographers (Vanessa Tamburi) or come into Choreolab already as established choreographers ( Nikolaus Adler, András Lukács).
For the audience, it is a chance to see something complete new and to see the Staatsoper dancers outside of their traditional repertoire. And often what one sees is amazingly good.
So in the end, Choreo.lab is the gift of the Tichy-Luger’s to the world of ballet.
April 24th, 2006 §
My friends in Austria wonder why I don’t much like to speak English anymore. Not in its current bastardised and crude form.
Here’s the missing link..
I’ve rarely heard such awful readings of fine poetry in my life. Of all the female voices only Laura’s reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall would have got you out of high school in Canada in the late eighties.
After suffering through the female readings, I had no stomach left for the men at all.
It makes me laugh that a certain Google Adwords expert is praised as a fine speaker in English – he sent me an audio CD to promote his products (the guide is not bad) – it’s like listening to a bad radio commercial promoting AmWay. Hey, that’s his other life.
His speaking was dire enough, I almost didn’t buy the book.
It seems that nobody in America has any idea what good speaking public or private – sounds like anymore.
Anyway, that’s why I don’t like speaking English much anymore, apart with literarily inclined Brits. It used to be that Aussies sounded rough around the edges, but next to the Americans commercial whinings – even an Australian voice is beginning to take on the characteristics of a nightingale.
Does anybody have a list of some very fine free readings of poetry in English online?
French, Russian and German would be fine too.
April 15th, 2006 §
The weather really picked up last week and we had some glorious days. Happily enough my office is very close to Schönbrunn and I can go out there for a nice long walk even on a busy day.
I took the camera one day. Schönbrunn is supposed to be the Austrian Versailles. It doesn’t quite manage that but with its Tiergarten (Zoo), (made famous in the English speaking world by John Irving’s Setting Free the Bears), it quite a park.
I often tell people that Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I get some raised eyebrows. I don’t see why.
This is what I see.
This is also the second round of pictures processed since calibrating my monitors with basiCColor display. Nothing more tedious than a bunch of theory with no practical application. Certainly beats screenshots.
The first round is here.
Click for larger versions of these and some more pictures of Schönbrunn.
Gloriette roof shots
North to the Schönbrunn Palace and then to Kahlenberg
West to Wienerwald and the hills
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