Impulstanz: Un moto di gioia – Mozart/Roses –

December 18th, 2006 § 0

As Mozart Year comes to a close, a final great paean to the Austrian composer is taking place this week at Theater an Der Wien. World renowned choreographer Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and her Rosas troupe have brought to Vienna a restaging of her Un moto di gioia, based on the arias of Mozart.

Un-Moto-Di-Gioia
Un-Moto-Di-Gioia

First and foremost, Un moto di gioia is about the music. We face gorgeous and tragic aria after gorgeous and tragic aria. Love, jealousy, fury, passion are all the text to these short lyrics. Fourteen of them.

The way Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker has assembled all these disparate pieces of Mozart is very modern, much like a rock or pop album. Of course the quality of the text and the music is exceptional – this is Mozart – but Un moto di gioia really is a greatest hits album. Think Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits. A greatest hits of arias accompanied by dance is a splendid conceit.

Rather than articulating the development of love, Keersmaeker chose to focus on the desire for love, in its unrealised form.

Taka-Shamato
Taka-Shamato

As a musical evening, the Vienna performance are irreproachable and likely the best performances of Un moto di gioia ever. The Vienna Symphoniker was faultless – at least to these ears. They were led by guest conductor Alessandro de Marchi, flamboyant in a blue velvet coat. The orchestra was supported by Claire Chevallier on the piano. Chevallier’s playing was measured and light – a perfect reflection of Mozart’s spirit. The singing was wonderful, it would be difficult to pick a favorite among Patrizia Bicciré, Olga Pasichnyk and Iwona Sobotka. Each was perfectly in tone and resonant, totally at home among the dancers.

As a whole Un moto di gioia ends up a curious hybrid, with the singers so much time on center stage. At various times the dancers threaten to interact with the singers and bring them right into the action. But in the end the dancers leave the singers to their own devices and return to the other dancers, before a real crossover happens and the singer becomes an integral part of the movement.

As a ballet one should say Un moto di gioia is an unqualified success. It is pretty much exactly what Louis XIV had in mind when he developed the ballet in the 18th century: a musical evening with steps, arranged in sequential diversions, supported by costume and decoration.

Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s work has always been extraordinarily detailed and aesthetically consistent. Music, dance, costums and stagecraft are all given adequate attention. Here the special circular parquet floor as well as the varied costumes show her attention to detail.

Yet as a dance evening, Un moto di gioia is very complicated, in spite of the fabulous musical assembly. The underlying problem with Un moto di gioia is its unique fixation on unrealised love. Coming fourteen times to the same theme of frustrated and unrealised love is an arduous emotional journey. The human spirit cries out for development in its story telling and there is little change to be had here. Two and a quarter hours of emotional repetition is a long time.

When she created Un moto di gioia, Keersmaeker stated her first concern is with music and movement: “For me, the key question is always the same: ‘Which movements for which music?’ And the hardest part of my task is to find, and then cultivate, the right body language for the work I am tackling.”

On the level of movement and action, Un moto di gioiai never slows down. We see many different scenes, each aria getting its own distinct sketch. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, the stageplay never ends.

We begin with women in ballgowns and men in frock coats, Mozartian period pieces. Keersmaeker allows us to slip into a costumed evening of courtly dance before repeatedly subverting the notions of civilisation courtly love. Later a woman comes on stage in leopard skin crawling like a dog. Behind the refinement of clothes, humankind’s animal nature is not far off. This single image demolishes the differences between man and the animal kingdom. In another sequence, the dancers become birds in a mating ritual, the cock preening himself for the hen. Again and again, Keersmaeker suggests we are still part of the animal kingdom, despite the pretty words and fine clothes we wear over our instincts. Love and desire are instinctual attitudes rather than something metaphysical or ethereal.

Taka-Shamato-Nordine-Benchorf
Taka-Shamato-Nordine-Benchorf

Sometime later we get a chorus line of men in semitransparent nightshirts in what appears to be a celebration of lovemaking. Each male dancer finishes the next sketch carrying a grotesque set of Baroque slippers each seeking a woman’s foot to slip fit his slippers. Every man a prince, every woman a Cinderella, implies Keersmaeker very archly.

Full-Cast-Un-Moto-Di-Gioia
Full-Cast-Un-Moto-Di-Gioia

This was the first Rosas piece with an extensive male cast. One wonders if Keersmaeker knew what to do with them then. For some reason when the men dance mainly they look at the floor rarely at audience. This has the unsettling effect of building a barrier between the audience and the men and leaves our sympathies strongly with the women.

There are strong comic moments in Un moto di gioia. At one point the full female cast lies down in a diagonal line across the stage, each feigning to asleep. Vincent Dunoyer goes from the back of the stage to the front seeking solace in each of their arms. One after another, each of the sleepers push him away and leave the stage. Dunoyer acts first the part of a rejected man but quickly becomes a bawling toddler. Elizaveta Penkóva does his childlike crying voice allowing Dunoyer to unreservedly pantomime without worrying about control of voice. Yet our laughter here is in support of a serious point. It is highly discomfiting to see the border between romantic love and childish egoism erased before one’s eyes.

There is a another fine moment later in the evening when the lights are brought down to an artificial candlight with a ring of small bulbs at stage height. We witness a long slow and repetitive dance which seems to mimic sleeping but in motion.

Un moto di gioia was the first Rosas piece to feature male dancers so prominently. Until this pieces, Rosas was primarily a woman’s company. One can see Keersmaeker’s struggle to integrate the male dancers into her work. The roles are not so outstanding, the movement not so powerful, as what the women have. The characterisation of the male roles is not so subtle.

Of the men, Bostjan Antoncic’s diffident charm and Nordine Benchorf’s earthy intensity leave the strongest impression.

Bruce Campbell-Clinton-Stringer-Vincent-Dunoyer-Igor -Hyshko
Bruce Campbell-Clinton-Stringer-Vincent-Dunoyer-Igor -Hyshko

As ever with Rosas, all of the women are very good. Both Marta Coronada Ayarra and Elizaveta Penkóva are particularly compelling artists, lighting up the stage with their presence whenever they appeared, quintessential Rosas.

Unidentified-Samantha-Van-Wissen-Marta-Coronado-Ayarra-Fumiyo Ikeda
Unidentified-Samantha-Van-Wissen-Marta-Coronado-Ayarra-Fumiyo Ikeda

According to the dancers who performed in one or both of the previous stagings of Un moto di gioia, apparently the ostensible emotional texture has intensified in this latest version. Keersmaeker has encouraged each of them to push further in their expression of emotion and leave irony behind. But irony remains the underlying idiom of Un moto di gioia.

In the program, we are warned that Un morto di gioia is two and one quarter hours without intermission. Yet at one and a half hours the lights went up. This is the first Un morto di gioia was performed with intermission, in a special concession to Vienna audiences. Strange this intermission, for while in the the first hour and a quarter there is some heavy going, in the last twenty minutes before the pause the pace picks up. One is finally just losing oneself in the piece when the intermission comes. The last fifty minutes after the intermission race by like nothing.

Frankly the intermission ends up like some kind of coitus interruptus. Of course it’s fine to start over again and one does (with any luck) reach a satisfactory end, but it’s not quite the same thing. Vienna audiences won’t be denied their sekt and socialising – part of the theatre tradition here. and I hardly feel inclined to fight it – Vienna audiences do come to the theatre, they do talk about theatre, they do care.* And if they want their theatre with intermissions let them have them. But I would have preferred to have gone without.

Un moto di gioia was the first piece Keersmaeker put on the la Monnaie stage – which subsequently became her own to this date. As it was her first opera house piece, perhaps Keersmaeker was excessive in putting her singers in the middle of the stage, building a special floor, endlessly recostuming her dancers. But when a creator hasn’t had those opportunities before and does not know when he or she will get the chance again to enjoy those resources, there is a hunger to take one’s chance, to use everything. One feels that when Keersmaeker staged Un moto di gioia, she did not yet have full control of the large scale opera house medium. Keersmaeker’s later works like Raga for the Rainy Season have much more coherent and stronger dance lines and a far tighter aesthetic. Keersmaeker now takes her time choreographically coming to a single point. Her themes develop slowly and powerfully, the staging does not seem so contrived.

Rosas-Un-Moto-Di-Gioia
Rosas-Un-Moto-Di-Gioia

Some will find the above too harsh a criticism of a master choreographer. But a surfeit of technique in early work is not unusual for great artists. The dialogue of Shakespeare’s early comedy Love’s Labours Lost is too brilliant – so scintillating that it is difficult for an audience to follow. In his later plays, Shakespeare learned to tame his language to move audiences rather than outwit them. And so it is with Un moto di gioia. Keersmaeker outwits the audience but in the end leaves us holding a bouquet of exquisitely dried roses.

In spite of the emotional limitations of Un moto di gioia, one should not miss the opportunity to see this seminal work live and in such good musical circumstances. We owe a debt of gratitude to Karl Regensburger and Theater an der Wien for arranging this coproduction.** Un moto di gioia is one of the high points of Mozart year in Vienna and a splendid way to send off it off. Many of the other productions in honour of the Mozart celebration seemed contrived or forced. Un moto di gioia is intrinsically Mozartian. No doubt he would take less issue with the irony and detachment of Keersmaeker’s play on his works than does this reviewer.

* I’ll never forget Jan Ritsema’s remarks two years ago at ImPulsTanz about the disgusting bourgeois Vienna audiences for whom it is a shame to perform. What a foolish notion. Ritsema should just be glad that in Vienna people still come to the theater at all after everything he and his ilk done to empty the theatres or force audiences to the cinema instead.

** Thanks to ImPulsTanz (the great summer dance festival founded by Mr. Regensburger’s creation) we’ve seen at least one and sometims as many as three Rosas productions every year for the last ten years. Raga for the Rainy Season is one of the greatest pieces of dance I’ve ever seen, the work of a master at the peak of her powers. It’s wonderful to have the chance to see the historic work. Rosas will be back again this summer in Vienna.

Nu Dance Fest – Bratislava

December 3rd, 2006 § 0

Now that I’m living in Bratislava, I thought I should go out to see the contemporary dance scene here.

Alas to do so, I missed the brilliant and beautiful Katarina Weinhuber’s evening at WUK with Am Lande und Ganz die Ihre. I’d seen both pieces but would very much have liked to have seen them again.

It was a mistake. Through the first three pieces of Nu Dance Fest, I thought I’d stumbled on perfect aesthetic catastrophe.

The evening began with a male solo from Yuri Korec about a young man in hip hop gear listening to really awful pop music and leaping around the room. I believe the musical choice was ironic and meant to be reflective of the dreadful Bratislava nightclubs (only Elam in the student section of town so far has offered anything outside the worst radio music). Korec is a good dancer but twenty odd minutes of dreadful blaring pop is a bit much no matter how energetic Korec’s steps. In the end “New Bit_New Beat” does not do his talents justice.

Monik-Caunerova-Katarina-Vlnieskova
Monik Caunerová and Katarína Vlniesková

From there things went rapidly downhill with an unspeakably dreadful duet from Monik Caunerová and Katarína Vlniesková called “Casove Pásmo”.

The two were roped together by some ugly enormous cord. Hideous brown and black costumes. The pair flap around like loutish enormous birds on point half the time. The rest of the time they roll on the floor and play games with a huge hat. Clearly I missed the point so I won’t say anything more about it.

The third piece was not fit for public performance. It was an ongoing trainwreck involving Magadaléna Caprdová, Yuri Korec again, Andrej Petrovic and Zdenka Svitekova.

Magdalena-Caprdova-Yuri-Korec-Zdenka-Svitekova
Magdalena-Caprdova-Yuri-Korec-Zdenka-Svitekova

I couldn’t understand why the choreography consistently ended up in a lump of bodies on the floor. It looked like contact improvisation of some kind. Later I was told that’s what it was.

Vylet-Bez-Mapy
Vylet-Bez-Mapy

On the plus side, the two men had a good short set together.

But unrehearsed contact improvisation is something to be experienced, not watched.

I had abandoned hope at that point.

Next, a woman walked out onto the stage stark naked. The lighting suddenly was dark, mysterious and atmospheric. Most of the time we only saw her outline.

Petra-Fornayeva-Nude
Petra-Fornayeva solo dance

After a ten minute solo, the dancer left the auditorium. I thought ho-hum a nude solo, well-enough danced and well-lit. A pleasant respite but nothing extraordinary.

But then the most amazing thing happened.

The dancer returned, this time in underwear. In the center of the stage stood a table with a cosmetics kit and some clothes piled up.

Petra-Fornayova-Shaving-Body
Petra-Fornayova-Shaving-Body

And here Petra Fornayová began her monologue about natural beauty.

After the au natur solo which preceded her monologue it was unsurprising to see her talking about natural products.

But she managed to apply about fifteen different products and take seven different vitamins. Finally the audience began to clue in – we were being sold the same bill of goods which we as a society are sold – expensive nature in tubes and pill bottles.

In the end, Fornayová’s character coats herself up in make-up, puts on a miniskirt and high heels before pacing the room nervously and unhappily.

The final words of Fornayová while sitting on her table come from the beginning of Snow White:

Once upon a time there lived a king and a queen. One day the queen gave birth to a princess, but sadly on the same day she died. The king grieved night and day for a year but finally decided for the sake of the princess he must marry again. He married the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. But the new queen was very vain. She had a magical mirror. Every evening she would ask the mirror who is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Every evening the mirror would answer, “You, you, my queen.”

Petra-Fornayova-Paces
Petra-Fornayova-Paces

Throughout the piece we have heard the beating of a human heart, louder and louder.

Finally in a musical crescendo Fornayová ascends to some kind of other world, arms outstretched – contemporary womanhood reaches apocalyptic creamed and perfumed perfection.

Petra-Fornayova-Ascension
Petra-Fornayova-Ascension

The music was the work of Peter Machajdík and Peter Groll.

A tour-de-force performance in a brilliantly conceived piece, Hlbinné Prousenie Epidermy made sense of what had been a rather dire evening.

Her piece is more theatre than dance, but the opening section made her composition cross-genre rather experimental theatre masquerading under the name of contemporary dance.

Curiously Fornayová is also director of the Nu Dance Fest. Primarily she is an actress and not a dancer. Some of the people who’ve been following theatre here say Fornayová is the greatest contemporary Slovak actress. I’m not in a position to make such a judgement at this point, but at any rate she is very, very good.

In terms of dance schools here, there are two schools. The Conservatory (Konzervatorium) for ballet and the Academy of Music and Performing Arts (Vysoka skola muzickych umeni). The contemporary dance crowd all come from the High School for Drama and Music. There is no interaction with the Conservatory world at all. Yet at least one girl came here from Prague on account of the quality of teaching. The scene is small and absolutely everyone knows everyone else.

According to the people I met, there is little funding in Bratislava for experimental and contemporary dance or theatre. Bratislava prefers to support the classic theatre, dance and musical tradition. Given the size of the city and the presence of a full scale academic dramatic theatre, an opera and a ballet company as well as a philharmonic orchestra, it is no wonder resources are stretched tight. At least the contemporary theatre and dance creators do have a central space to call their own – the A4 theatre where the Nu Dance Fest is taking place on Namestie SNP beside Orange.

But overall it’s a good thing that many of the Slovak contemporary dancers are getting out and getting some fresh air, at ImPulsTanz (i.e. from tonight’s show Zdenka Sviterková, danceweb 2005) and elsewhere.

All Photographs – Alec Kinnear.

Night Out in Bratislava – Danish Furniture in the Design Factory

December 1st, 2006 § 0

Last Thursday George Miklas and I decided to catch the Danish Design Evening at the Design Factory in Bratislava.

First official Foliovision night out. Eva met Zuzana Zacharová the very charming architect and one of the directors of the Design Factory.

Eva Stachurova and George Miklas at Design Factory
Eva Stachurova and George Miklas at Design Factory

Later on George and I dropped by Malecon, the very popular Cuban bar across from the Casino and the Danube River and near the Carlton Hotel in the center of Bratislava.

There we met some friends of George, Lubos and Ivetta.

Lubos
Lubos

Ivetta’s makeup was unbelievable. As a guy who used to produce shampoo commercials, her work was as good as anything I’ve seen on set.

Ivetta and Lubos
Ivetta and Lubos

I can’t stand Malecon for long – something about the smoking, superficiality and eager money vibe there – so I soon persuaded George to drop in on the Budha Bar with me where we met Illa Maria and Taina Sikkola, a Dutch photographer and a Finnish actress both living in Bratislava.

Both of them are hard at work on their Slovak and doing quite well. Particularly Taina who speaks more or less fluently in a matter of months. I joked that Finns have an unfair advantage with languages. If one can learn to speak Finnish natively, anything other language is child’s play.

The strangest people turn up in this town. Sometimes I have a feeling I’ve stumbled into the Hotel California: You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

Illah shot some close ups of Taina with my camera which are quite beautiful:

Taina-Silkkola
Taina Silkkola. Photograph – Illah Maria
Taina-Silkkola
Finnish actress Taina Silkkola

You can find more of Illah’s photos at Document Central Europe: a photographers eye.