Le Monde moves to WordPress

November 28th, 2006 § 1

Who says the French don’t know what they’re doing? I wasn’t surprised to see Le Monde move to WordPress. In fact, I was surprised to see them on Typepad in the first place.

Le Monde just relaunched their blogging services. Their several thousand blogs are now powered by WordPress (they used to be on TypePad).

Why would a large French media organisation want to hamstring their operation with a cooperation with a closed-source American company which would like to become the Microsoft of weblogs?

Answer: they got out as soon as they got a chance. Good move.

For example Skipper had about the same negative experience of Typepad which I’ve had (and continue to have):

We cancelled our paid Typepad account about a week ago, after only 3 months of use. After using the typepad for only a few months, it became clear that we could not continue to run a professional people search and public record blog for our visitors using their unreliable service.

We installed WordPress directly on our site at http://www.skipease.com/blog and couldn’t be happier. We got out just in time to save our blog information, but now we are 3 months behind in building our traffic thanks to Typepad.

New and experienced bloggers would do well to take the time to register a domain name of their own and install WordPress or other blogging software directly on server space provided by a reliable service provider. We should have done that right from the beginning.

Absolutely right.

As I mentioned to Anil Dash recently, the only thing Typepad could have going for it over any other weblog system right now is support. And due to the shoddy support from Brenna and her crew, they don’t even have that.

As usual the rot starts from the head, the head of Typepad Doug Bryan being extraordinarily unhelpful. Instead of issuing instructions for someone to enable a couple of templates for me (five minutes work), Doug Bryan turned in into a three week correspondence course on how not to help customers.

Unbelievably shoddy service.

Homunculus: Wiener Küche

November 27th, 2006 § 0

The last years have not been easy ones in the dance world and Homunculus is going through the most difficult period in a creative institution’s life. For twenty-one years, they have been producing contemporary dance – indeed they are one of the originals in Austria.

Homunculus-Wiener-Kuche-1
Homunculus-Wiener-Kuche-1

At this point, all the crazy fire of beginning and triumphing against all odds are behind Nicolas Selimov and Manfred Aichinger. They have built an institution. They have been through three generations of dancers and are gradually going through another one. Where does one go from success?

To their surprise, it doesn’t get easier. Selimov’s essay in the program states:

The big challenge for we dance creators is to make certain that contemporary dance maintains its place in the spectrum of performing arts!

I am as astonished as Selimov at the long winter of dance throughout the world, with slowly dwindling audiences and mediocre institutional support. Like Selimov, after discovering dance for myself twenty years ago, I only expected dance to grow and grow in popularity.

The one real long term success story in contemporary dance of which I know is Anna-Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rosas. She continues to produce varied (but stylistically unified) work which fills theatres, year after year. Keersmaeker is brutal in her choice of performers. One fits a mould and one hits one’s marks every time if one wants to be a Rosas dancer. Keersmaeker has built a school and from the school both takes new dancers. She has managed to develop talented new choreographers from internal ranks like Salva Sanchis. Yet still Keersmaeker herself remains the undisputed center of this miraculous company. What will happen to Rosas in her absence?

Homunculus faces some of the same challenges. They have done many good things. Selimov and Aichinger have given a chance to some of their dancers (Karin Steinbrugger, Martina Haager, Andrea Stodder) to choreograph on the company – so far with mixed success – no clear replacement for themselves has emerged. They had the very good idea of grooming Staatsoper dancer Nicky Adler, as an alternative main stage choreographer for the company – until the new Staatsoper direction refused to allow Adler any free rehearsal time in the season for work outside the Staatsoper Ballet. A Staatsoper dancer is very well paid and eligible for a pension on retirement so losing one’s place there for freelance choreography would not be a wise move.

Last winter Homunculus was scheduled as the opening show of 2006 at Tanzquartier with a promising program of live basketball played in Hall G of Museumsquartier with nets and a court while the dance piece went on. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to this reviewer, that show was cancelled. That particular TQW season was much the worse for the absence of Homunculus. The last year has not been easy for Homunculus.

In many ways, Adler was much the best choice as a new main stage choreographer for Homunculus. His work is intellectual and inventive and very much in the Homunculus company tradition. For Adler, the fit is very good as well. A Vienna native, Adler grasps the Homunculus idiom intuitively. Rarely does Adler need the grace and the technical perfection of Staatsoper dancers – but in every show he asks for something strange and different.

Adler’s rien ne va plus garnerred several prizes for Homunculus and very good critical notices.

A second recent experiment with an outside choreographer Bernd Bienert was less successful. His show Alzburg: Eutopa at Semper Depot garnered little critical praise while privately the Homunculus dancers were furious to see their talents wasted, complaining both about the action which involved a lot of standing around and lying on the floor and Bienter’s imperious manner (quite frankly standard practice in the ballet rehearsal rooms) and his refusal or inability to take advantage of their own invention and fantasy. The same Bernd Bienert works very well with classically trained dancers. His Unruhiges Wohnen at ImPulsTanz two years ago was an absorbing if depressing tour-de-force of modern dance. I have reservations about the score and the dramaturgy based on Elfried Jelinek’s story about the abuse of a little girl – but Bienert never ran out of movement, nor was his neo-classical choreography ever self-conscious or stilted.

In the meantime, that leaves Homunculus without a new choreographer. But necessity remains the mother of invention: Nicolas Selimov who for the last seven years has been more intendant than creator stepped back in with company founder Manfred Aichinger for this year’s main autumn piece Wiener Küche. Selimov’s Oh it’s Vienna is the best piece of work I’ve seen from Homunculus – and while I only saw it in a rehearsal performance, I believe time will show Oh it’s Vienna to be one of the lasting works of contemporary Austrian dance. But Oh it’s Vienna is not so much dance as cabaret.

And so is it with Wiener Küche.

The show is held in an empty warehouse space on Neustiftgasse. How or where homunculus found such desolate space empty right in the middle of Vienna is something of a miracle, but the setting is superb. An artificial foyer is created by wrapping orange tape around the columns. The audience is required to wait as a group in the lobby which is lit by soft and warm lighting. As usual, Homunculus set and light design was the work of Silvia Auer.

At eight o’clock sharp a team of black shirted security guards come to the foyer check the audience’s tickets and let them into the theatre one by one. This is just the first of four checkpoints on a winding path to the actual main stage space. Our bags and persons are checked later. The dancers are poker-faced and severe throughout the process, showing no hint of humanity.

In a final humiliation the audience members are gathered into a tight space as a group where the tallest of the male dancers in a headset (Julian Timmings) selects people to enter, one by one. Yes, it’s a nightclub queue. Consciously we know that eventually we will all be let in but the feeling of absurd helplessness of waiting on some idiot twenty year old to select or not select us remains.

Once inside the tables are turned, just as in a nightclub. We are served drinks in our seats for one euro each by a lovely waitress (Natalie Trs).

Throughout there is a woman’s voice speaking softly but severely to the audience as a group and a collective. What we should and should not do. Just as in an airport or train station. The voice is quite incredible, like the official voice of modern authority, from airports to television. Curiously the voice is that of former Homunculus dancer Susi Wisiak.

If you don’t do what the voice of authority says in Austria, the consequences can be severe. Austrian organisational systems works very well and are not to be lightly bucked. We all know this here and are appropriately intimidated.

Once the audience is settled, the voice starts addresses itself more often to the performers. There is a long speech at the beginning about what the show will be about – “no dance, whether you paid your place as a spectator for the performance or not”.

There was a great deal of t-shirt work in the show. For the main show all the shirts were white. The first set of shirts included work designations like “Contract Worker”, “Part time worker”, “Independent Contractor”, “Full time worker”. These shirts made an overtly political point about the precariousness of modern existence. There are very few sure jobs in this day and age. But the relationship of economic structure to the roles is not quite clear. The labelled characters feel like something of a regression to Medieval allegorical theatre.

Julian-Timmings-Amadeus-Berauer-2
Julian-Timmings-Amadeus-Berauer-2

Through most of the evening a group of people in business clothes sitting behind a table was projected on the ceiling – a hypothetical committee of those above. In addition to the voice and committee projection, the artist Eva Flatscher practiced light painting with a Wacom tablet which was projected behind most of the dance sequences. Personally I found this light painting too digital but I am no great amateur of electronic art.

At the beginning of the show, each of the Homunculus dancers had to do a dance for the others, for the so-called committee. They were given performance notes and sometimes numerical evaluation. The performances were not especially interesting – Amadeus Berauer began the festivities by puking on the floor, the lovely Karin Steinbrugger shrieked wildly, looking like a Nicole Kidman gone mad. Natalie Trs has the most astonishing section of all, wherein she strips down to nothing and sings Janis Joplin ditties.

Natalie-Trs
Natalie-Trs

All of this sounds like more fun than it was. But frankly I missed the underlying gag here, until a fellow spectator pointed it out to me. Much of Wiener Küche is based on reality tv. I’ve seen people I know well sit at home and watch other people eat buckets of raw worms for a $100 prize on North American wide television. One does of reality tv was enough for me but most people are fascinated by it. Astonishingly, those who fail to eat the worms or lie down with rats or whatever absurd challenge was put in front of them face verbal abuse from the moderator for their lack of courage. What could persuade someone to put up with that and not dip the moderator’s head into the bucket, I cannot tell you. Apparently the Nicolas Selimov and Manfred Aichinger wonder about this too.

Natalie-Trs-Kun-Chen-Shih-Julian-Timmings-Amadeus-Berauer
Natalie-Trs-Kun-Chen-Shih-Julian-Timmings-Amadeus-Berauer

At some point the reality tv panel takes a back seat to the Homunculus dancers cooking dinner. To follow the television metaphor, we move from reality tv to cooking show. I wondered how earnest the cooking was. The cooking was in deadly seriousness. Every night after the show, that is the artists’ dinner.

The pun on Wiener Küche and the idea of a night at home with Homunculus entertaining one another with skits while they cook is entirely engaging. It is a great idea for a film and in fact is most of the framework on which Denys Arcand’s masterwork Le déclin de l’Empire Américain is hung.

In addition to the cooking and the skits, the show was broken up by about four tangos from Betka Fislova and Germano Milite. While they danced competently enough, there was no real passion in their steps. This was probably intentional – ballroom dancing shows are currently very popular on Austrian television – and the dancing can be very desultory and proforma there as well. Still it added numerous extended sections without much passion. I know television is boring, fake and lifeless. I don’t need to come to the theatre to hear about it.

Betak-Fislova-Tango
Betak-Fislova-Tango

It’s a pity not to see more dancing from Karin Steinbrugger, Andrea Stotter, Martina Haager and Eva Maria-Kraft who are all wonderful movers. Eva Maria-Kraft’s dance sequence at the end was deliberately programmed for constant interruption by the other dancers. But Wiener Küche is unabashedly cabaret and not dance.

Somehow, in the end, the parts were greater than the sum of the whole. After about 90 minutes the pace started to drag very badly. Curiously enough just after this the female voice came back with a ten minute countdown.

What is especially difficult is that the first half hour was so unexpected and so strong – who expects to be frisked for weapons and have one’s ticket checked three times on the way in to a modern dance performance in Vienna?

The negation is much stronger than the statement. I don’t know what Aichinger and Selimov are proposing as an alternate world. Does an alternate world still exist in the din of senseless media and information overload?

But that is material for another show.

Overall Wiener Küche is recommended. As much of Wiener Küche is partially improvised, the overall tone of the performance can vary significantly. My friends who had seen it on an another evening and come back for a second showing thought that Wiener Küche has been much stronger the first time they’d seen it.

Alll Photographs – Max Moser. A short video excerpt of homunculus Wiener Küche available at kulturvision.at.

Dance and the Worldly World

November 26th, 2006 § 0

Where are my dance projects?

I make three times as much money but previously – in my opinion – I contributed far more to the world. Truth, beauty, justice, compassion.

How upside down society’s values. Like my lead charachter in Lapinthrope, I am broken, the joyful madness and the natural spontaneity gone from my eyes. I sit at a desk and move the wheels of commerce. What is the alternative?

To end up face down in a city part somewhere in France or Canada, my spine broken by a police boot but my soul intact, the light extinguishing altogether.

Some would argue that there are successful directors who live from their art. To be honsest, for most well off directors make their money and spend their energy on television commercials, banal television or empty commercial film.

Most of the best filmmakers I’ve met live very poorly.

My pledge is to reinvest myself in society and art when the occasion returns.

In the meantime, dance reviews and the occasional dance photo shoot will have to stand for me.

I’m delighted to announce four dance articles (three reviews and a theory article) over the weekend.

TQW – Rose Breuss: Nicht im Traum – Kleistsche Bewegungsbilder

November 26th, 2006 § 0

No matter how many times you’ve been to Hall G, as you descent into the set of Nicht im Traum – Kleistsche Bewegungsbilder, you would not have recognised the space.

Rose Breuss created four sets of seats in each corner of the hall, with a huge alley between them. The orchestra lined all one side between two facing sets of audience. The rest of the space was huge and open.

Barbara Kraus’s huge build for Johnny was equally ambitious but the audience was all on one side of the auditorium. She She Pop’s Warum Tanzt Ihr Nicht ingeniously divided the Hall G space into different rooms with simultaneous action. Various shows have left us sitting on the floor surrounded by curtains. But sitting us facing one another like in a sports arena was new.

Nicht im Traum – Kleistsche Bewegungsbilder began with lowered lights and the entrance of an immaculately clad string orchestra of about twelve. The strings were accompanied by a single synthesiser. Hannes Löschel’s score was strange and haunting, throughout the piece, unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.

From the beginning the music was accompanied by whispered text, taken from the original 1810 play on which the Rose Breuss’s dance production was based. Most of the time the voices seemed to be recorded but to good effect the voices came live. Again most of the text was in German – I wasn’t certain if one should understand it all – but when Magdalena Chowaniec delivered a beautiful reading of a section in English on a microphone just two metres from me, it was clear that we are not supposed to try to catch every word and decipher every phrase. It’s impressionistic texture, part of the musical score. Individual words should register and trigger associations.

This is the second time I’ve heard whispers as an integral part of a dance score. The first time was in Laurie Anderson’s composition for Trisha Brown and the Opèra de Paris O zlozony / O composite, where the voice was Polish. In both cases, the treatment of voice as instrument was highly effective, triggering deep associations as one hears the words one needs to hear in the whisper.

Rose-Breuss-Original
Credit: Fliederbusch.
This is photo is one of two that TQW and Rose Breuss provided for this wonderful show.
They should both be ashamed. Dance audiences deserve better.
See previous entry on dance publicity photographs.

The dance began with tortured movements, contorting the whole body of Anna Nowak and some of the men. The movement was strong and disturbing, a clear statement that this group came out to dance and not to pose around the stage.

Afterwards we went into some quieter cycles of movement. Individual dancers came out of the shadows to join the others and then would disappear seamlessly back into the audience. The movement was almost continuous for the first half hour.

There was some very strange business with clothes, sometimes strewn across the stage, sometimes given to individual dancers to put on. Most of the clothing sections were led by Agata Maskiewicz who showed outstanding concentration and gravity in what seemed like a nonsensical activity.

This may be the first modern dance performance I’ve seen where the clothes went on instead of coming off. It wouldn’t have been a catastrophe if things had gone the other direction as Rosa Breuss assembled a gorgeous troup. All are strong dancers, with great individuality.

Agata Maskiewicz is tall and dark and elegant. She danced mainly with Julia Mach who is tall and blonde and equally elegant. Anna Nowak in the lead role of Käthchen von Heilbronn was outstanding throughout, most so delivering a ten minute floor routine towards the end. In the floor routine as in most of the piece, Nowak was very competently shadowed by Magdalena Chowaniec. Apparently, Chowaniec represented Käthchen’s dream.

While their roles were less memorable, Aldexander Deutinger, Sebastian Zgorzali, Vladyslav Benito Soltys, Robert Przbyl and Sabile Rasiti all put in solid performances. Rosa Breuss seemed less interest in the movement of the men than that of the women – which was understandable given the focus of the piece on the soul of a single woman.

I felt given the inventiveness of what she did with the female solos and duets she could have done more with duets between men and women.

Other strange things to note were the quality of the personal grooming of the dancers. They all came with their hair properly cut and set, their makeup was natural and attractive, and for the most part they even smelled fresh. A wonderful change from the grotty and ugly look so popular in Tanzquartier shows of the last year. How many uncombed dancers in black tshirts and black jeans do we need to see in a year?

In the first half of the show there was hardly a t-shirt of a pair of jeans to be seen. The sense of costume lifted the whole piece. Unfortunately in part two and particularly on the men, we faced many more t-shirts and the general aesthetic tone of the piece fell.

In fact the intensity of the choreography fell off altogether. There were points between 30 minutes and 60 minutes where one wondered where we were going with this and the movement took on a sort of dull sameness. The pace fell of altogether.

After the show, I learned that Rosa Breuss and the dancers had only six weeks to rehearse this whole complicated work of art.

While the music, the concept and the casting were perfect, the difficult subject matter required more rehearsal time. Many of the sections felt like rough sketches – precise emotional moments were lacking. But it’s difficult to get the space for long enough to rehearse properly. Breuss and her dancers had only two days rehearsal in Hall G. Budgets don’t allow for extended off-site rehearsal either – not unless the dancers are prepared to work for a few weeks for free, which isn’t something that one can count on.

I faced a similar dilemma with Lapinthrope where we scheduled to shoot (had begun shooting) while the performance wasn’t really set. I cancelled the shoot and took the dancers and Kathleen Rea back into rehearsal for two months, more or less at my own expense (it wasn’t in the budget) with a help from Kathleen and Anna (lots of extra work at minimal extra cost). The difference was art and nuance as opposed to rough idea. But one can’t count on being able to do that. That decision to finish the work in the end put Decadence Films so far behind economically that it took years to recover.

I hope Breuss gets some more funding to restage or tour Nicht im Traum – Kleistsche Bewegungsbilder as it will only get better with more rehearsal and more performance.

Overall, highly recommended. Exceptional staging, excellent dance, innovative score, superb cast.

Volksoper: Boris Eifman’s Anna Karenina

November 25th, 2006 § 2

Today was first real premiere of the Staatsoper/Volksoper Ballet season.

Let’s begin with the good. The audience went mad for the performance after tonight’s premiere of Anna Karenina. Round of curtain call, after curtain call. Choreography Boris Eifman himself was in Vienna from St Petersburg to take the stage, along with Olga Esina (Anna) Kirill Kourlaev (Ivan Karenin) and Vladimir Shishov (Vronsky).

Olga Esina As Anna Karenina With Kirill Kourlaev
Olga Esina As Anna Karenina With Kirill Kourlaev

What a difference a year can make! A year ago we were in the middle of November fleeing the Volksoper shaking our heads in wonder at a travesty performed on the life of one of the Russian greats (Tschaikowski Impressions), here we witnessed a triumph based on one of the Russian classics. Gyula Harangozo substituted out an unknown Italian-Hungarian choreographer for Russia’s sole modern choreographer of substance since Juri Grigorovich.

The performance opened with a bright spotlight on a little boy surrounded by a toy train that went round and round. A woman in a ballgown comes to wish him goodnight before she goes out for the evening with her husband. Ah, the irony – Anna’s son Seriozha is playing with the same toy train which will take his mother’s life.

Fortunately this too clever image was the nadir of the evening. Things only got better.

The stage was immediately filled with dozens of dancing couples, which Karenin and Anna joined.

Olga Esina as Anna was a wonderful casting choice. Ms. Esina has a good part of the charm of the Tolstoi’s heroine – which is an amazing feat. Fortunately Ms. Esina has some curves though not enough to represent the almost voluptuous Anna. A great danger with Boris Eifman’s Anna Karenina would be to cast a rack thin anorexic grand danseuse in the lead. The piece would make no sense.

At this ball Anna and Vronsky meet for the first time. Their meeting somehow was subsumed in the general movement of the ball but that makes a certain amount of sense. When a married woman meets a man who sweeps her out of her life, normally habit prevents her from losing her head immediately.

Soon however we are in dreamland. Anna dreams of Vronsky on her bed. Another weak moment. Ms. Esina hangs over a besotted Mr. Shishov his head thrown into her crotch behind a high wrough iron head of the bed. We can’t see much and it is hardly erotic.

We are amply recompensed by the meeting of Anna and Vronsky in the Karenin’s garden. This first intimate meeting is the choreographic highlight of the evening. Shishov picks Esina up and pushes her over his head and carries her the full width of the stage with her in attitude – unbelievably the pair succeed in making her look light as a feather and like this is a perfectly natural consequence of their feeling. There are many more spectacular lifts some leaving Esina upside down, some sending her flying through the air. Eifman’s free flowing break from the strict Petersburg classicism and his choreographic fantasy are at their best here.

Vladimir Shishov As Vronsky With Olga Esina As Anna Karenina
Vladimir Shishov As Vronsky With Olga Esina As Anna Karenina

Karenin interrupts the meeting of Anna and Vronsky and shows an entirely different language of movement, stiff and formal. Karenin will maintain this very different gesticulation throughout the ballet, giving a palpable visual of the staid and formal world which he represents.

The duel of the two men over Anna will continue throughout the ballet to enormous success each time the three take the stage. Kirill Kourlaev was outstanding as Karenin.

Olga Esina - Kirill Kourlaev
Olga Esina – Kirill Kourlaev

While neither Mr. Kourlaev’s too harsh good looks nor his dark energy suit a prince, as Karenin he is in his element. It is a very interesting choice of casting to choose the young and quite virile Karenin as Vronsky’s counterpoint. It is too easy to make Karenin a dodderer, a mistake film and theatre versions of Anna Karenina often fall into.

Mr. Kourlaev’s dancing was stern and vigorous throughout the ballet, a real revelation. The Volksoper/Staatsoper have found the exceptional male character soloist every substantial ballet company so desperately needs (witness the catastrophic effect on Bolshoi Ballet performances following the loss of Marius Liepa or even Gedaminus Taranda).

At several points Mr. Kourlaev led a full corps-de-ballet also clad in black with the same stiff and formalistic language of movement. These were very imposing scenes, effectively demonstrating the solidarity of the social sphere of which Anna and Vronsky were about to fall foul. The corps-de-ballet showed wonderful unity and preparation throughout the whole ballet.

Kirill Kourlaev As Karenin With Ensemble
Kirill Kourlaev As Karenin With Ensemble

Ms. Esina while charming and a treat to watch could not match the depth or focus of Kourlaev. Anna Karenina is a very big role to take on psychologically and she will still grow into it over the next few years.

The music was up and down, a veritable smorgasbord of Tschaikowsky. Too often it was if we were watching Gone with the Wind with overblown orchestral standards long worn into the grave – trying to play on our emotions so directly with the music is so tawdry. On the other hand some of the pieces were exceptionally well chosen.

As usual in Vienna, the orchestra was very good. I thought Tschaikowsky amateurs could have closed their eyes and enjoyed a wonderful concert. On the other hand, a certain well-known musical producer told me he was holding his ears throughout but he is an over sensitive chap who doesn’t care for the Bratislava Philharmonic either.

At the curtain call the conductor was in extraordinarily good spirts, blowing kisses to the audience, to the musicians, veritably dancing around the stage himself. Ms. Esina looked like she didn’t quite know what to make of the prancing conductor.

The second half of the ballet was not as strong as the first half, once the struggle over Anna’s person and soul came to an inevitable end. A set piece of Venice carnival was a good representation of the Italian context. Anna posing for a painting for Vronsky the artist didn’t go very far, degenerating into pantomime as she packed and closed an open suitcase to represent her desire to return to Russia.

There was a great deal more pantomime in the arguments between Vronsky and Anna and Karenin and Anna. None of it did very much for me.

Olga Esina And Vladimir Shishov (Anna And Vronsky)
Olga Esina And Vladimir Shishov (Anna And Vronsky)

In terms of content, Eifman in his program notes states that the "destiny of women today is just as tragic as the fate of Anna and Vronsky." I don’t think I can agree.

Eifman’s program notes might explain the strange orgies in Anna’s second act dream sequences. Very powerful visual images, the writhing bodies Eifman presents. But why must an emancipated woman invevitably dream of and fantasise about group sex. Surely it’s possible for a woman to love sex and life and not suddenly want to be full of rooms full of naked people, being penetrated in every orifice. This is a question which I’ll have to run by my close girlfriends with good sex lives – how big a role do group sex visions play in their sexual fantasies?

Female sexual liberation surely can take a more romantic form – an ideal and adventurous couple – rather than a purely quantitative quest for more partners. As powerful as they were choreographically, those dream sequences seemed more homeerotic than anything else, rather than anything out in Tolstoi’s heroine’s imagination.

Overall Eifman’s Anna Karenina was far too streamlined, a gross simplification of Leo Tolstoi’s novel. Tolstoi’s novel rests on a dual (and indeed triple storyline). Levin and Kitty’s chaste romance ending in a marriage and rural bliss is contrasted against Anna and Vronski’s impetuous passion. There is a third parallel story of Anna’s brother Stepan Oblonksy’s infidelity at home with the nanny.

By stripping Anna Karenina down to the eponymous heroine’s sole tale, much of the depth and complexity goes out of Tolstoi’s tale.

The final scene with a bunch of railway workers in black Russian chapki prancing around the stage held none of the terror of the massive society dances led by Mr. Kourlaev in the first act. When they all take off their hats together under slowly beginning snow, we are taken back to the trite cliché of the beginning. Fortunately there are so many better points in between, we can easily forgive Mr. Eifman his bout of bad taste and his weakness for kitsch.

Inevitably Eifman’s work has a certain simplistic Disney-like quality. But it is diverting, vigorous and presses ever on. One is rarely bored. And often that is enough.

In spite of my reservations about the dramaturgy of the second act, Mr. Kourlaev and Ms. Esina’s great performances made for a fabulous evening.

Gyula Harangozo seems to have understood his company and has at last achieved the tribute to Tschaikowski which so misfired last year. It was a great idea to bring in a prize-winning ballet (Benois de la Danse 2006).

Dancing Eifman, the Staatsoper/Volksoper look as good or better than Eifman’s own company. There are so many Russian and Russian school dancers that they are ideally suited to the Russian classics (Eugene Onegin was also very, very good).

I don’t understand why we have the fourth best Russian ballet company (The Bolshoi, The Marinsky, Teatre Stanislavsky-Nemirovich-Danchenko are the first three) in Vienna. But I’m not one to complain. Anna Karenina is not to miss.

Sleeping with the Enemy: Dr. Nicole Haitzinger

November 24th, 2006 § 0

This fall I inscribed myself for the Tanzquartier Wien’s Augen für Tanz program.

There were two historical lectures, a theoretical section, a dance workshop and today began the journey into the true heart of darkness – two seminars on dance analysis.

I was able to arrive early and meet the previously unknown to me Dr. Nicole Haitzinger before the seminar. Upstairs on one of the enormous red couches of the TQW videothéque, Dr. Haitzinger was sorting through her notes a final time. Beside her one of the enormous TQW televisions rested on blue screen, while a half dozen video cassettes were scattered across the coffee table in front of her.

Judging by the amount of support materials on hand, we were preparing for a full day of discussion. Somehow these dance lecturers seem to think an hour and a half is a lot longer period of time than it really is.

An hour and a half is just enough time to develop and expand a single thought.

Dr. Haitzinger is a young woman of about thirty, with long dark hair. Her face is round with enormous dark eyes and a full and very red mouth. When not speaking she looks like a sad little girl, full of bewonderment. On this day, her slender legs were clad in black knee boots and she wore a long knit dress of beige and grey tones with a dipping neckline.

I had seen Dr. Haitzinger many times before in private life but hadn’t the slightest idea who she was. I was always thought she was one of the dancers in one of the TQW regular companies but I often wondered how I’d never managed to catch her on stage. It turns out that she is a sometime curator at TQW and one of the leaders of a new dance theory program at the University in Salzburg.

So with such a beguiling guide to dance analysis why do I say “heart of darkness”?

The program that Dr. Haitzinger curated at TQW was one of the those which took us far away from movement and into Vienna conceptualism.

For me Vienna conceptualism is the end of dance. Movement is made secondary to the idea. Indeed, for the most part movement is considered to distract from the idea. Normally in Vienna conceptualism one uses a minimum of props or staging. We face a black room and dancers dressed as casually as if they wandered in from the Vienna U-bahn.

The leading institutional proponent of this experimental theatre movement masquerading as dance is the Tanzquartier Wien, who have been programming more and more works of this kind, most notably those of Philipp Gehmacher but also including the old bird.

To get a quick idea of the theatric nihilism these folks are working towards, here is Dr. Haitzinger’s collaborator Claudia Jeschke’s laudatory evaluation of Jerome Bel’s work (from the homework).

He searches for the smallest possible significant in the complex semiotic filed of performance, as he cannot show what he would like to show: ‘nothing’.

As far as I’m concerned, if Bel or Gehmacher don’t want to show us anything, they’d do well to stay out of the theatre and don’t waste my time or that of the other audience members. ‘Nothing’ is available at home every day at the hour which suits us and at no cost.

I like to think of myself as somebody with an open mind. I try to see everything and appreciate everything for what it is. What better way to try to come to terms with Vienna conceptualism than by participating in seminars from one of its leading proponents…

The seminar itself was less tightly organised than the quantity of support materials would suggest. We saw excerpts from Merce Cunningham and Sasha Waltz.

The Sasha Wilde excerpt was everything that one might expect. Dancers standing around delivering text rather than moving. The Merce Cunningam piece Rain Forest was far more interesting, a combination of Warhol’s helium balloons and very tightly danced modern choreography.

For Dr. Haitzinger, Sasha Wilde’s piece was more interesting. It represents a development of Pina Bausch’s tanztheatre but without narrative or structured emotional arc. It is in Dr. Haitzinger’s words, “a pure collage” of different motifs. An evening length piece without narrative or emotional structure in my view would be better called a mess than a collage.

But Dr. Haitzinger’s approach to dance is very different than my own.

According to her, dance analysis rests on three supports. But before even beginning there is an overriding precept: to not respond to the work at an emotional or aesthetic level. One must only try to analyse it. A piece is as interesting as what it offers analysis.

The three parts of dance analysis:

  1. Movement analysis. What kind of movement. Choreographic strategies, body concept.
  2. Staging. Concept and dramatic strategies.
  3. Material. Did the you see this on stage? Did you read about it and see photos? Did you see it on video? Did you see a proper film of the production? Who wrote the texts you read about the piece?

The three reference points above sound quite useful as a critical checklist and I may start to use them more consciously in my own critical work. But by excluding aesthetic and emotional response from the process one cannot accomplish anything as a dance critic, apart from mislead people. Often the best ideas offer the worst pieces. Dance is about execution and movement, not about abstract conceptualism. To do dance justice, one must respond emotionally. Whether one does this through narrative, text or movement is all the same to me. But engaging the audience is task number one. Without engagement, one has failed at the underlying tenet of theatre – just as if in organising a dinner one failed to provide food or refreshment. It could be called a meeting but it could not be called a dinner.

For me this is why all movements like Vienna conceptualism are doomed to fail. I only hope they don’t take the dance audience out for good while they are at it.

Empty conceptualism all the more dangerous is when it comes in such attractive wrapping paper. Better that the effort were spent making the performances engaging, rather than the analytic lectures.

Part two of dance analysis comes later in December.

In the meantime we have our homework: a recent long article Body and Archive (Körper und Archive) by Dr. Haitzinger herself in collaboration with Claudia Jeschke, another recent essay from Claudia Jeschke, “Techniques of Contemporary Choreography in Germany”, Merce Cunningham’s essay “Space, Time and Dance” (1952) and George Balanchines’ “Note on Choreography” (1945).

My final thought was to wish that the Vienna conceptualists would take as much care with the stage presentation as Dr. Haitzinger does in her personal presentation.

iSync with Multiple Telephones – Mastering Apple’s Address Book

November 18th, 2006 § 1

After three months with two telephones and two weeks with three telephones, I couldn’t take it any more. My Apple Address Book was a mess. Lots of numbers without names. Lots of names which didn’t make any sense to me. Some names on one phone but not another.

I have clients and a circle of friends and colleagues in five countries – five locations – so the disorganisation was getting to be very confusing.

Steps to clean up:

iSync with Multiple Telephones - Mastering Apple's Address Book Continues »

Printing PDF Documents to Read in Hard Copy

November 18th, 2006 § 1

Often when printing out PDF books, I find that there are often graphics in the margin which would go through ink cartridges very quickly.

Preview-Crop

If you are using Mac OS X, you can just use the select tool – command-3 – and then choose to crop. Crop is command-K.

Nasty black/red border gone. If the PDF is encrypted you won’t be able to save it, but you will be able to print it once on your printer. Buckets of ink saved.

This little hint is important to me as I almost never read long works on the computer screen anymore. I print them out to be read offline and where I can easily make notes on the pages.

There are probably similar techniques which would work with Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Reader.

The next thing I do is set up my printer to print fast (which uses less ink and is much faster) and to put two vertical pages side by side on a single A4 or 8 1/2 x 11 page. This saves time, ink, paper and storage space. Most ebooks and reports use large enough type that one ends up with material which looks more like a book and is easier to read.