Tanzquartier Wien: Dresscode

September 25th, 2005 § 0

The first real show of the Tanzquartier season. The week before saw solo performances by Dutch creator Robert Steijn and Lebanese choreographer. There was also an outdoor performance where four tents stood in a row under the Leopold museum. There were people inside the tents having before bedtime conversations. If you went to different points in the Museumsquartier space you could hear the action from any single tent. The conversations were not scintillating in German or in the democratically provided English sample either. The whole action was cute.

But a solo performance is no way to open a Tanzquartier season. A season opener calls for a big exciting show which invigorates the public for the ten month season.

So let’s call Dresscodethe real debut of the season.

Dresscode is a coproduction of Tanzquartier Wien with Austrian Fashion Week, bringing together dance and fashion.

In the words of Martina , director of research at Tanzquartier – These are two totally incompatible disciplines.

I wouldn’t totally agree with this statement but it certainly applies to dance as practiced by the Tanzquartier Wien. Dance in Vienna has become an internalised process far more about the inner life than the performance itself. The work of Philip Gehmacher and Ingrid Reisetenberg are two clear examples of this. Fashion is all about the performance and the appearance and cares naught for internal questions. The intellectual process is short. One is all internal, the other is all surfaces.

I like what I can see, so I have more patience for the fashion outlook (although I don’t see appearances in conflict with internal tension and psychological depth- i.e. Shakespeare).

What happened at Dresscode? Lots. Three huge white walls on stage. On each wall we see projected a very well dressed business person in ultrasharp, ultra-crisp video. Two women around twenty seven and one man. They look around and up and down and smile and smirk and generally make engaging and annoying faces. They look like an advertising or a marketing team caught in lifts. At the same time, a crowd of performers came on stage from the audience side dressed in hoodies.

Throughout this section there is gorgeous airy guitar music playing.

The performers eventually line up in a row on stage and remove their hoodies. There are about fifteen of them. Each one of them is distributed a sign which he or she later flips up to reveal announcements like “I’m not with him.” It is unclear if the signs are assigned or random. Marc Rees of the BBC is the last one in the line and he designs fashion for us: Fashion is the way we look.

Thanks Marc.

This is followed by a strange group of women in varied garb, bright blues and yellows and oranges that looks more like flashdance than anything else who come out and dance to the orders of blonde bombshell in high heels and a black dress. The dancers eventually retire and the blonde takes off first her shoes, then her dress, revealing some fine lingerie. Which she also takes off. She stands there splendidly naked and beautifully formed for a pair of minutes and then retires herself.

I think this was the Superamas. I will try to find the name of the blonde in time.

Didn’t make any sense to me – apart from showing the superficiality of fashion in comparison to the naked form. But it didn’t hurt to watch.

The same thing cannot be said of the Philip Gehmacher video which followed.

Before the video, the white walls on stage were rearranged into a new order with a large video screen on the right and a small video screen on the left.

On the left we see a figure in what looks like a white beekeeper’s outfit striking various poses on the floor. On the right we see Philip Gehmacher himself just standing there. Alright he does come and go a couple of times and make a couple of costume changes but mainly he just stands there for twenty minutes in video.

Not content with having bored us in the flesh with his incubator he is now more than prepared to provide us with prerecorded boredom. Fortunately this skit was only twenty minutes instead of an hour and twenty minutes.

His facial expression was amusing. He looked like he was sucking lemons throughout the performance. I have yet to see anything like animation or enthusiasm on his face in all the times I’ve seen him.

Gehmacher’s sleepy little video was followed by more wall rotations which turned the walls into a tight cube, which then opened up to reveal silver walls and women in identical silver dresses, about twelve of them. Fashion show music. The women subsequently begin to prance around in different catwalk poses. The women are not tall enough or good looking enough as a group to be models. Their fifteen minutes of prancing went nowhere, except as a reminder of the pointlessness of catwalk (which with identical clothes is a good point – fortunately most catwalks present varied clothing) and its sexist tendency to turn women into objects of consumption.

So far, we may as well have stayed home for all the worthwhile dance or performance we’ve seen. It hasn’t been terrible but it hasn’t been wonderful. The fashion people next to me have booed after several skits, judging them for what they probably are, nose-thumbings at fashion from dance people.

We are an hour into what is an eight minute evening.

The cube rotates again and reopens. Two women come out fully dressed in well-ironed clothes. They bring several piles of clothes. They stack the clothes deliberately and carefully. All the clothes are immaculately ironed and folded.

The women begin to change and try their different clothes. They turn coats inside out, they wear men’s shirts like nun’s habits, they turn trousers into skirts. Everything you can imagine with clothing they do.

When necessary they go naked to change their outfits. They apply themselves to their task (changing and reusing clothing) with intense concentration and are unrelenting in constantly changing the clothes.

The nudity is absolutely reserved and perfunctory, part of the necessary functionality of being, another state of being clothed. The nudity is very important to help us remember that all of these clothes are coverings just coverings. Anything can be clothing, all is fashion.

Of the two, Swede Krõõt Juurak was the more inventive. Her most astonishing invention was putting on a man’s shirt on one arm and on one leg. She then did the same thing on the other side, ending up in some fancy jumpsuit created from the two men’s shirts. In all Juurak took us through centuries of different fashions from nuns, to Dutch 17th century peasants, to Roman senators.

Her height and her splendid proportions were very appropriate to a fashion show.

This performance alone was worth coming out to see.

Anne Juren’s program note is interesting enough to reproduce. Juren is French, but like Krõõt is a long terms resident of Vienna.

The show might have been on a failure (there were many worried conversations after the show between performers and choreographers) as a work of art but it was a bold and varied failure. And that’s enough for me.

Tanzquartier Wien 2005 -2006 season is open.

ImPulsTanz: Alternative Dream Asylum – Frank Poelstra & Robert Steijn

August 14th, 2005 § 0

One of the great curiousities of the ImPulsTanz festival was the Choreographer’s Venture of Frans Poelstra and Robert Stein. Their four week journey began with travel to Salzbourg and sequestring in the mountains for a week.

They had taken their venture participants afield to seek inspiration, away from the madness of the city, an antique tradition revived by Wordsworth and Coleridge for the romantics.

The final result of their artistic investigation were three twelve hour shows in Vienna’s Kasino am Schwarzenbergplatz, the same venue used by the Bürgtheater for their monthly experimental one-off productions and site of many of the after performance parties for shows in Akademietheater. The shows were appropriately named Alternative Dream Asylum. I was there the night of 11 August.

My first direct contact with this project was at one of the aftershow parties. One table over there was a very large table of Austrians I hadn’t seen before behaving strangely. One of the women kept looking at me with glazed and slow eyes. She seemed to be trying to attract my attention, but there was no way I wanted to get into a conversation with somebody as far gone on drugs as she was.

She wasn’t on drugs as I found out two days later in my night excursion into the Alternative Dream Asylum. A trip as it turned out, into total darkness.

At the top of the stairs, venture participant Lieve de Pourq was sprawled out in a sleeping bag in front of experimental films made in their time in the mountains. But beyond her all was black.

There was no artificial light used. There were three Apple powerbooks set up on desks along with an elaborate sound system. The entire lighting for the 500 m2 Kasino was what came off of those notebook screens or slipped in via the huge windows.

Wien Casino during Alternative Dream Asylum

Really dark – that’s an F 1.4 lens wide open

Somewhere in the pitch black, I found that same young woman, but this night her eyes were normal.

“We were being cows,” she explained.

In the hills and dales of Western Austria our young artists found not the Valkyries of Wagner but cows. So the cow became an emblem of their inspiration. Her stolidity and solidity. Her peace with the earth.

Outside of small conversations like this, there was very little happening. Venture participants wandering aimlessly. Many people slumped up in corners resting.

I had gone to the Alternative Dream Asylum in the company of choreographer Mala Kline who sat down at one of the computer stations and commenced a wonderful impromptu reading from the screen of the free verse concocted by the Choreographer’ Venture participants. Her sense of meter in English was quite wonderful as the poetry was made better for her rendering than when read coldly on the screen.

After a time, I joined her and we shared the microphone and the reading. As it was two thirty in the morning, we couldn’t blame the venture participants for flagging and falling to pieces.

Alternative Dream Asylum costumes

Alternative Dream Asylum with Flash

But a process had been set in motion and the venture participants (there were twelve of them not including leaders Robert Steijn and Franc Poelstra) and they huddled together and called out to one another “karoake”. Our soft and lyrical reading was at an end. Foreigner or some other 80’s rock was played at full volume, Cold as ice, you gotta make the sacrifice. I’d been sitting around in theatres for days, or at my desk writing so I welcomed the occasion to move.

And so they danced around the room like banshees and I joined them. Ultima Vez dancer Raul Maia slow danced even through the fastest music with his girlfriend. In the general anachronistic delirium, venture participant Brigitte Wilfing span with me as fast and long as anybody had in the festival .

What is Foreigner or Pat Benatar or any of this doing in the Kasino am Schwarzenberplatz in Vienna in the year 2005?

Finally the music was turned off and it was pancake hour. Frank Poelstra sat cross legged on the floor before two hot plates and made an entire enormous vat of pancake batter into hot pancakes which were whisked away faster than he could make them.

The pancakes inexplicably were very good, better than many crepes I have had in Paris.

Mala and I ate the pancakes and talked awhile.

Finally we were getting tired and thinking of leaving. But first we quarreled over her show Campo de Fiori. I wanted to know why she was so interested in Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno. She said something about an affinity with his religious and philosophical thought. I asked her what his beliefs were and what were hers.

It was a bit late for debating philosophy and theology (four in the morning at this point) in anything but one’s native language, so Mala wasn’t inclined to tell me. I joked that I would find out, just as surely as the Inquisitors ripped the beliefs from Giordano Bruno. Did she want to perish for her beliefs twice in one night?

We began a dance of interrogation which went on for some time. I won’t tell you. No you must, back and forth. We wrestled with one another as I asked her persistently if she believes in god.

The workshop participants gathered in the great hall of the Kasino to watch this desperate struggle which had started as just a lark but had taken on an intensity of its own. Much as I feigned to restrain my partner, she feigned to kick me. She didn’t end up with fingermarks and I didn’t end up with bootmarks. But to the external observer this ten minute wrestle must have looked very real.

But no one lifted a hand to stop it, instead they rather enjoyed the show.

Mala and I were like bad children, fighting pointlessly and on principle. In daylight or in a bar, she and I would never go down such a road together. Our discourse is always most civil, no matter how strongly we may disagree.

But in the Alternative Dream Asylum, no. The conventional rules of society no longer applied.

One woman shouted at me in German while I was inside sitting in front a computer screen reading. Later when I was unlocking my bike outside, she shouted at me again ever more ferociously. Project members observed us cooly from the windows. While I found her acting too agressive, I thought she was part of the project. So I was calm and relatively indifferent to her admonishments. It was only two days later that I found out that she was actually a passerby – totally mad – and had terrorised the entire project that evening.

So that was my subjective experience of the Alternative Dream Asylum.

It was very intense and strange.

Everyone’s voyage into the darkness and the night must be unique.

Was there any artistic value in such a Choreographer’s Venture?

Quite a bit, I would think. The participants were compelled to return to basics. It was extended voyage into a childlike state of wonder and emotion. A voyage into liberty. It meets its own description as opening new horizons for its participants.

As the Alternative Dream Asylum production was participatory and open-ended, they were able to bring that sense of liberty and play to visitors they had learned to their visitors. There was none of the foppish pretence that existed in some of the other so-called natural shows.

What was the difference? Unlike others of these shows (Jan Ritsema’s Blindspot, Philipp Gehmacher’s incubator, Paz Rojo’s Basic Dance), the audience was free to come and go as they please. Instead of talking endlessly about freedom, Poelstra and Steijn offered it in almost absolute terms.

I hope some of Choreographers’ Venture participants will share their voyage, as they travelled for four weeks while my own fragment was just part of one night.

We invite you to the moon side of the festival. We do not use any theatre lighting and we avoid the glamourous glitter of legendary stage personalities, no, we celebrate the night with being who have learned or want to learn to dance, dream, destroy, develop, dramaturgize desires, detach and dine into the do-not…, relaxing beyond expectation.

The story of the dragonfly who chases the mouse (or vice verse) and other stories appearing in darkness.

We want to be different so please do not project your phantasies on us.

Other participants include Stau Herrala, Sarah Manya, Andrea Salzmann, Kyung-Sun Beck Satu Herrala, Valerie Primost, Martin Tomann, Ariel Uziga, Sarah Manya, Andrea Salzmann, Gloria Dürnberger, Christina Medina, Paul Neuninger.

Dance Writing: Critical thoughts

August 12th, 2005 § 2

SURPRISE AND ART

Yesterday one of the choreographers about whose piece I had written expressed surprise at the style of my reviews. She felt that there was not as much analysis of the idea behind the show as she would like. She also felt that my reviews give too much information to the audience.

My goal with my dance writing is to provide a clear description of what actually took place on stage.

Art totally dependent on surprise is the weakest form of art. Surprise and suspense are the frame on which cheap novels and second-rate films are hung. The Greeks when they went to theatre knew exactly what is going to take place. They already knew the story. Much as when a modern audience goes to Romeo and Juliet or to Hamlet or to King Lear. The pleasure and the catharsis is in the how and not the what.

Thus a quality piece will lose nothing and perhaps gain through the participation of an informed audience.

THEORETICAL WORK AND A WIDER AUDIENCE

There is far too much analytical work being written. The theatre, the show gets lost in the ideas and the words of the critic.

I would like to help people to see what they cannot, due to time and distance and opportunity. If somebody is going to travel to another city and to pay high prices for tickets, I believe that spectator has the right to know exactly why it is they are setting out on this expensive adventure. To encourage them when possible and save them disappointment when inevitable.

Some modern dance shows have reason to fear a too-thorough unveiling. There is nothing except the idea or the concept. There is no worthwhile concession made to the spectator. Often, there is little preparation of either theatre or artist. In passing, I should say the piece of the choreographer who posed me question had nothing to fear in this respect.

For those who are trafficking in the Emperor’s new clothes, I have no hesitancy to expose the vacant nakedness of their creations. Let them work to prove otherwise. Let them argue at length about the rigour of their proposition, the severity of their work. Spokesmen and women they have aplenty. I will not be one.

I will always take the part of the audience, before that of the critic, and certainly that of the theorist. Theatre is not theoretical. Theatre is tactile. Anybody who says otherwise would like to see theaters empty. In the last thirty years, sadly this faction has made great strides.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND VIDEO

I would like someone to be able to return to my reviews historically in fifty, one hundred or more years and say, a-ha, that was what it was like to be in a theatre in 2005 and see Ultima Vez or Rosas through eyes of the time. To offer an informed perception of that work. In many ways, the ubiquity of video makes written impressions less important. But for the moment, video is still a very transient medium. How much of it will be preserved or successfully preserved is an open question. Particularly stage documentation.

Nor will video be able to replicate the point-of-view of the contemporary audience.

THE WIDER AUDIENCE, EXPANDING HORIZONS

By rejecting the theoretical, there are many that would argue that I preclude myself from being a part of the informed audience.

The tiny coterie for whom much of this modern dance is made, cannot sustain any vital art form. We must as a group work harder to make our work more relevant and accessible to a wider audience.

That includes forceful and appealing advertising campaigns. In many ways, Impulstanz itself is the ideal proselytising effort. There were full motion ads projected on both Museumsquartier and Burgtheater (both central historical buildings with enormous summer pedestrian circulation). There were special pull-out sections in both Der Standard and Falter. There are a number of high-profile shows from the Opera de Paris, through Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker and Wim Wandekeybus. Tickets are carefully kept in short supply (exactly as many shows as Vienna can handle, never more).

A genuine feeling of excitement for the art of dance is generated at Impulstanz. Like nothing else I have ever seen before in the Western world (the Russians’ passion for grand ballet is tremendous).

In the same spirit, I offer these dance reviews – as a doorway into a new art for the uninitiated. And also a chance to warn the innocent of what lately calls itself dance but has no more relation to dance than to astronomy.

STYLE IN DANCE WRITING

My first entrance to art was poetry. The poetry of words, of language. Theatre followed. Only much later did I discover dance. For me, dance was a grand revelation. Poetry of the body, of movement.

In the best of my dance writing, I aspire to find a parallel language to mirror the action on the stage. This is very difficult – each piece seen requires a separate vocabulary and style.

GOOD WORK AND LONG REVIEWS

On the intense daily schedule of Impulstanz, I have learned that it is much easier to write about a piece that one does not particularly like. Serious review of work that has touched one strongly requires an intense concentration of thought and energy.

Thus to date there is an unrepresentative concentration of negative reviews here. Impulstanz has been great. There are many absolutely fabulous shows for which I have notes but have not finished the reviews including Les Porteuses de Mauvaises Nouvelle, Raga for the Rainy Season, Isabelle’s Room and La Vision du Lapin.

It would be easier to just give an opinion. Perhaps my choreographer friend is right.

Impulstanz: We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR – Erna Ómarsdottir/Emil Hrvatin

August 11th, 2005 § 0

Madness before the show. Akademietheater is packed to the rooftops. The lobby a mob-scene of the Vienna and Impulstanz dance worlds. It seems the Icelandic Dance Company‘s We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR is the most waited for show.

Cast-We-Are-Marlene-Dietrich
We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR chorus

The curtain is wide open and the action underway when the doors open. The theatre had been stripped to the bare walls.

A drum set in the middle back of the stage. A couple wrestling on the back right corner of the stage. A woman walking upside down on her hands at the left of the stage. Two provocatively dressed women pace back and forth at the front of the stage examining spectators with penetrating eyes.

A man crosses the stage in woman’s shoe. He climbs a ladder to the balcony.

A rousing dance and singing number. The two front women urge the whole audience to follow suit. Double clap. Push both arms over your head twice. A hip thrust. Repeat. Over ninety percent of the audience participate.

A light-skinned black chap (Peter Anderson) with a British accent starts to talk about the posting of American soldiers to Iceland. The Icelanders didn’t like their daughters mixing or exchanging gifts with the American soldiers. He explained how the daughter of one of them – named Cynthia Wood – appeared in Apocalypse Now as a Bunny Girl.

Her own daughter now appears before us, introduces herself as Rala (co-choreographer Erna Ómarsdóttir):

I like soldier and they like me.

I like uniforms but I don’t like fighting

and I don’t like violence.

Out strides a guy in his late twenties with a mop of pale blond hair and enormous white fur jacket (Flemish dancer Diederik Peeters).

Imagine that there is no heaven.

Imagine that there are no deadlines, no more time pressure, no more aging.

Timeless existence, all the people living for today.

Just imagine.

While he speaks the others dance pressed up against the back wall.

Now Erna Ómarsdóttir sits in the middle of the stage and begins to kiss herself vociferously with obscene mouth. She begins to perform head on her own hand, moving on to fist fuck her own face and then rolls all over the stage kissing it all. Ómarsdóttir and another dancer start to move around the stage in full splits bouncing up and down. It looks all the world like they are having sex with the floor.

A guitarist and a bassist join the drummer on stage and begin to play a hard rock song. The powerful musical score comes from Belgian musical phenomenon PONI. Former Rosas star Alix Eynaudi in a white chiffon skirt and a shiny top brings out three microphones, behind which she, French dancer Alexandra Gilbert and Ómarsdóttir line up.

Alexandra-Gilbert-Dietrich
Alexandra Gilbert (foreground), Erna Ómarsdóttir

Alexandra Gilbert is particularly striking with her long black hair and pale white skin in black clothes. She looks like a sexy vampire straight from the coffin.

After the song, Gilbert and Peeters in his white fur coat begin a dialogue on the cost of sexual services. It gets explicit. He wants to know the prices in heels, in boots, with two, with three girls, with head and without, and Gilbert is happy to oblige with details. In a Comme des Garcons dress an extra 300 euros plus the cost of the dress. Legs behind the head are an extra 129 euros.

Why so much?, he asks.

It took me seven years to learn how to do it, Gilbert ripostes.

Alix Eynaudi sings a song with the chorus “I am laughing” while the Ten Rules for Conduct for Blue Helmets roll slowly up the back wall of the theater.

  1. Dress, think, talk, act and behave in a manner befitting the dignity of a disciplined, caring, considerate, mature, respected and trusted soldier, displaying the highest integrity and impartiality. Have pride in your position as a peace-keeper and do not abuse or misuse your authority.
  2. Respect the law of the land of the host country, their local culture, traditions, customs and practices.
  3. Treat the inhabitants of the host country with respect, courtesy and consideration. You are there as a guest to help them and in so doing will be welcomed with admiration. Neither solicit or accept any material reward, honor or gift.
  4. Do not indulge in immoral acts of sexual, physical or psychological abuse or exploitation of the local population or United Nations staff, especially women and children.
  5. Respect and regard the human rights of all. Support and aid the infirm, sick and weak. Do not act in revenge or with malice, in particular when dealing with prisoners, detainees or people in your custody.
  6. Properly care for and account for all United Nations money, vehicles, equipment and property assigned to you and do not trade or barter with them to seek personal benefits.
  7. Show military courtesy and pay appropriate compliments to all members of the mission, including other United Nations contingents regardless of their creed, gender, rank or origin.
  8. Show respect for and promote the environment, including the flora and fauna, of the host country.
  9. Do not engage in excessive consumption of alcohol or traffic in drugs.
  10. Exercise the utmost discretion in handling confidential information and matters of official business which can put lives into danger or soil the image of the United Nations.

While this is going on one of the men sits down in front of a television and begins to play a very violent first person shooter video game. Ironically, the character blowing up cars, houses and other soldiers is wearing a blue helmet. The soundtrack of explosions and shooting is played very loud.

This is perhaps the clearest indictment of modern civilisation in We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR.

Another revue dance number featuring all the women and a couple of the men. “Thank you Vienna. You are the best audience we’ve ever had.” A very strange and banal phrase in the context of all this death and destruction.

A white curtain is pulled across the front of the stage and we have our visit from the platinum blonde man in the fur coat. He proposes us a world with “no countries, no Christians, no Muslims, no Jews, no more military camps, no more Americans, no more, Full Metal Jacket, no more Platoon, no more Hiroshima, no more Cold War, no more Hot War.”

There are problems here. First Peeters is heckled by another of the men who mocks him from the darkness at the edge of the stage. Second, his character also manages to come across as delusional and off-balance.

The curtain parts. An incredible loud music set animates three sets of fighting pairs, rolling on the ground and tearing away at one another’s eyes. The fighting groups break up and the male performer pastes money onto all the women’s forehead as Erna Ómarsdóttir begins to do the blow-job on her hand routine again, followed by the poking of her own eyes out. Soldiers are projected on the back screen marching. Now all three women are doing blow-jobs on their own index and second finger stuck together. They are hopping across the stage in the splits in a gruesome emulation of violent sex.

Erna-Omarsdottir
Erna Ómarsdóttir

Another powerful live music set. Combat belts made up high heels. Peter Anderson and Alex Eynaudi in a vicious combat. Katrín Ingvadóttir rolls out a huge roll of paper towel from the back of the right side of the stage. She then comes back and drops ten huge hunks of raw meat onto the roll evenly spaced.

Alexandra Gilbert returns in her gothic black and high heels. She pours dark red jam down her leg which looks all the world like blood. She starts to lick it off. When she is done, she slowly puts both legs behind her head, as suggested by the earlier conversation about prostitution.

Erna Ómarsdóttir returns with her mouth full of huge metal screws, at least thirty of them which she slowly spits out. A vivid and horrible image.

At the same time Alex Eynaudi sings some kind of love ballad “he had one of those faces…”

At this point, one feels in the middle of a David Lynch film. Very Blue Velvet. I wonder if this is self-conscious or accidental for a moment.

The gentleman in the fur coat returns. “Why did you come here?,” he demands.

“Imagine,” he asks us again, “a world without fear, no more movies, no more David Lynch, no more dogma movies, no more modern dance, contemporary dance, dance theatre, physical theatre, Mozart, no more imagination, soap operas, breaking news, soccer hooligans.”

The piece ends with a rousing rock version of “Life is life”. Erna Ómarsdóttir wanders the stage with a huge knife sticking out of her bare chest, bleeding to death while we are treated to projections of a Polish marching band and girl revolutionary.

Lights down. The house goes wild.


Strangely, in his final speech the man of peace’s propositions are made to seem overtly unattractive. Without the inherent human aggression which sees its most pure manifestation in war, the suggestion is that both the creative and sexual urges would be gone too.

Would we rather live in a world with lots of sex and entertainment and have to put up with a little bit of war or would we rather live in a harmless world devoid of conflict – but bland, dull and passionless.

Initially I felt that this was a strong and imagistic anti-war revue. But now I am not so sure. It seems more to make war inevitable and a necessary part of human nature to be celebrated and appreciated. Certainly a world with Erna Ómarsdóttir and Katrín Ingvadóttir and Alexandra Gilbert in high heels and lust and greed in their eyes, is inevitably more appealing than sitting in darkened huts with a raving albino man in a fur coat for company.

Such a choice is very disturbing. Especially in an explicitly propagandistic piece. It becomes a justification for the roadmap for perpetual war through which we are living.

The overall impression We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR leaves is very adolescent. Blood, soldiers, marching, prostitutes, vampire girls, high heels, heavy rock. On the other hand the issues are real.

Some dramatic concerns. We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR might benefit from a few more low-key moments to appreciate the crescendos. It is a bit like the conversation of a coke-head. It never stops to take a breath. Even Diederik Peeters’s just imagine moments are loud and over the top. One is never given enough peace to fully feel the peaks.

The dramaturgy is somewhat fragmented. Who cares about the American soldiers billeted on Iceland in times of peace and this bunny daughter?

As a show, though, We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR, is fantastic.

Live music, crazy sexy girls, shocking images, thematic grandeur.

A huge and welcome change from all the minimalist work on show since the beginning of the festival. It’s good to see ambitious if slightly off-balance work.

PRODUCTION NOTES

We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR is a Europe funded initiative part of the Cultural 2000 Programme of the European Commission, with the main partners being Slovenia and Iceland. Dancers from France and Belgium complete the multinational cast.

Photos by Marc Andrea. Many more photos.

Impulstanz: Hey dude…i have talent…i’m just waiting for god – Vera Mantero & Robyn Orlin

August 9th, 2005 § 0

As we enter the theatre, we see a woman sprawled up against the wall, looking miserable. There are some wires around her so we think she might be one of the artists. She is looking at all the spectators as they come in, not shying away from eye contact.

The theatre at Schauspielhause is yet again a black box.

No dancer comes at the appointed time. Instead we face a tripartite image. From left to right: a panel written over English, the image of the artist pressed up against the wall, a panel written over in German:

The initial message is this:

hey dude i have

talent, i’m just here

waiting for god

The artist bends over to each panel to change the writing gradually. Finally the message is that she wishes Robyn would finish her costume so she could start the show.

After about seven minutes, she finally rises and comes into the darkened theatre via the spectator entrance. The centre screen is a projection of her face and carnations she is carrying from the camera in her own hands. The left and right screens show one feet as she walks, there is a technician carrying each little web camera on both sides of her. Mantero is lit by a yellow projector from the wings. The music is some kind of rising electronic fugue.

At this point, our prospects for the evening look good. Multimedia projection, live performance. Funny cryptic scrawlings. A suggestion of playful irony…

Manteroportrait
New stand-up comedian Vera Mantero

Halfway down the stairs, Vera Mantero breaks character and shouts out, “Put the houselights up.” The houselights finally come up. And there she is in some strange black wool dress with an enormous collar. There are still knitting needles at the bottom to indicate its unfinished status.

She continues, I can’t do this really I can’t do this. It’s no good. I’m really sorry I don’t understand what I’m doing, I’m having a lot of trouble with my body. When I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t really do it.

Fine. Apparently Vera Mantero wanted to do something political about homeless people and Robyn Orlin wanted to do something about Portugal. But for Vera Mantero this doesn’t work:

I’m not into nationality, I’m into people.

At this point we are lost. The dance show is over. A comic monologue has begun.

She takes her carnations and sticks them in the mouths of three spectatators in the front row. Each specator’s image is projected by one of the webcams. She makes the carnations line up in their mouths. Apparently this was part of the Portugal theme.

Very long carnations, very short revolution.

Vera Mantero has mixed feelings about flowers. In Portugal there are all these Indian guys wandering around at night. They target couples, usually men. Why do people need flowers as an affirmation of affection?

The flowers are put away. Vera Mantero asks for cigarettes and receives them from the balcony. She leaves the theatre for ten minutes at a time and we can only hear her monologue.

Mantero’s constant stream-of-consciousness rambling in her New York accent comes across as a female Woody Allen persona. This happens two or three times. The whole performance becomes a blur of words, stand-up comedy for Vera Mantero junkies.

The dress somehow manages to become green and yellow before being shed altogether. There is a very short dance sequence at the end as Mantero dances her way out of the dress with a pink lit reindeer hat on her head.

The topless Mantero leaves the theatre.

End of the show.

This wasn’t dance. Not even sure it was theatre. It was stand-up comedy built-up on personality. If Vera Mantero was not a very strong performer, the piece would have been a total and utter failure. Painlful.

Thanks to her rather skillful delivery, it more or less works for what it is. But it has absolutely nothing to do with dance.

My companion for the show – an excellent modern dancer in her own right and a generous spirit – felt that Vera Mantero’s ramblings and her difficulty in some direct way touched the homeless issue. Homeless people are confused and talk non-stop, she suggested, as Vera Mantero’s character does.

Maybe.

But for the moment homeless people don’t do a lot with webcams.

Meta-theatre in all its tedium. Next time Vera Mantero has trouble pulling her show together I hope she and her creative partners find a more original trope than a monologue on the impossibility of creating the show. Or they could just cancel the show until inspiration comes.

Impulstanz: Liquid Loft – Chris Haring

August 9th, 2005 § 0

A huge empty workshop at the Arsenal. An enormous set of windows letting natural light stream in from overhead. One hundred foot ceilings.

A crowd of one hundred and fifty spectators gathered around the dance floor. Most sitting on the ground. Some on chairs. More standing.

Liquid-Loft-Ulrika-Svennson
Ulrika Kinn Svennson

From the back left corner a pretty girl with striking red hair in a white dress wanders in.

Very tall, with striking facial features, Ulrika Kinn Svennson, is an alluring and mysterious stage presence. A native of Sweden she works in Le Ballets C de la B.

She reaches centre stage and pulls up her dress to reveal that she is in fact in diapers. She finds a ball microphone.

“I had it all…” she intones into her microphone, the tones of her voice being modulated through a very sophisticated soundbank of mixing boards, keyboard and three computers behind the spectators. Behind the boards is a very intense Andreas Berger.

“You can never understand me.” Her voice begins in the female register before being dropped into the male register. Somewhere near the province of transvestite acts with a confusion of gender.

Svennson is followed by a young man who walks out with a very awkward droid like step. He introduces himself as Johnny. Johnny Schoofs is a Dutch-based dancer, graduate of the Rotterdam Danceacademy.

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Johnny Schoofs

Schoofs does an “I am/I am not” dance to the sounds of his own voice.

“Not really”

“Could be nice:

“Nope”

“No”

“Ye.e.s”

are some of the interjections coming in quicker and faster and higher and lower tonalities from the sound system as Schoofs jerks around.

The technology of dance and voice is complicated and interesting but the skit carries on about twice as long as necessary. A nice touch is Schoofs’s exit through the crowd mingling with them on his way.

The third dancer to come out of the back corner is a long-legged young woma in skirt and t-shirt with a short pony tail pulled back. She delivers a long speech about celebrity and beauty and money. Nothing profound. The zeitgeist of contemporary North American culture.

Stephanie-Cumming-Beauty
Stephanie Cumming

Dancer Stephanie Cumming is a British Columbia native who studied dance at the University of Calgary in Canada. Since 2001, she has been dancing in Vienna with Chris Haring and others.

Cumming’s dance is an elaborate strip game. There are three layers of cotton under skirt and shirt which she pulls up and down. At one point she has all the tops up and we see both her stomach and a bra which she appears poised to pull off before she instead pulls her panties down around her ankles.

No worries. She has another two pairs of panties hidden. This is not to be a naked show.

The accompanying movement track of soundbites is one of conceit and insecurity. “I am so beautiful. You want to see me, don’t you.”

There isn’t much warmth in Cumming’s strip performance – it is strangely cold. The absence of charm may be intentional but the piece would be more engaging with some element of sensuality in the movement.

The final chapter of this experimental movement and sound piece is a trio with Cumming’s character controlling Johnny and Ulrike with commands like “Smell Johnny’s breath. But don’t come too close.”

Ulrika-Kinn-Svennson-Chris-Haring-1
Schoofs & Cumming dance | Svennson sings

Ulrike takes a pose on top of a box. Her hidden white skirts go all the way down to the ground making her seem like an impossibly tall monster, something out of the 5th element. Ulrike lipsyncs a song, which Cumming sings made up of very strange sounds strongly manipulated, as if a lizard could sing”.

Cumming follows this strange song with a virtuouso performance in three characters. A conversation between Ulrike, Johnny and herself. She switches quickly between voices and personalities without the slightest hesitation.

Much live manipulation of the sounds as we go. Impressive.

One phrase stood out: The space is so vast and generous.

Liquid Loft was perhaps overlong. As is often the case with artistic director Chris Haring’s work, the innovation often risked seeming technology for technology’s sake.

Andreas-Berger-Sound-Arsenal
Sound wizard Andreas Berger at his flight deck

But in the case of Liquid Loft it didn’t matter. The manipulation of sound by Andreas Berger was virtuoso-level. Ulrike Svennson’s movement performance was perfect. Cumming’s voicework was wonderful. Schoof had a goofy sort of charm.

A lot of work and thought went into the creation of this new organism of sound and movement. All involved deserved the very warm and extended applause to which the audience treated them. New roads were opened to us.

Additional creative credits: Story, Thomas Jelinek. Text, Katherina Zakravsky.

All photographs by Alec Kinnear. Do not reuse without permission.

Impulstanz: Blindspot – Jan Ritsema and Sandy Williams

August 8th, 2005 § 0

A darkened room. Illuminated in the middle. Raw wooden tables in a a grand oval. The audience seated in two rows, around the ring, the second row on a raised platform. Silence. Waiting.

As if in a court. As in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. As in a forum. As around a gladiator pit.

Many powerful associations with this ready circle for drama.

Gathered around this pool of light were almost entirely choreographers, curators and dancers. An exclusive audience of the highest professional calibre.

We were waiting for Sandy Williams and Jan Ritsema to present Blindspot at the Arsenal, home to most of the Impulstanz workshops.

This was perhaps the most heightened moment of anticipation of the festival. Simplicity and elegance in staging. Great concept.

Finally the two men arrived, taking out a leaf of the round table to enter into the closed arena they had prepared themselves.

Both were dressed down. Williams was in Addidas Stan Smith white tennis shoes, grey Levis jeans, a Benetton sweatshirt and Calvin Klein underwear. Ritsema wore dirty jeans, a pale blue t–shirt with a pair of eyeglasses stenciled into the front of the t-shirt.

I mention the brands as Williams was covered in brands down to the underwear and none were apparent on Ritsema. Williams is a young man around thirty with a full head of hair and in the prime of a man’s life. Ritsema is a neat-looking man in his fifties with a smooth bald pate and a ring of white hair around the sides. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and looks something like a university professor. While in reasonably trim shape for his age, there is nothing in his form or figure to give away a dance background.

Ritsema and Williams began with a somewhat incoherent dialectic where Ritsema mainly spoke about politics and Williams about an imagined love life which owed much to Leonard Cohen’s novel The Favorite Game.

Here is a taste of their discourse from the opening:

Jan: Dear Leonard Should we fill the space with politics and counter it with dance?
The greatest dancer to democracy will come from an angry army of the unemployed led by millionaires, preaching the sermon on the mount. George W.

Orwell.

George W. Bush.
11/9 I need some wine
11/8 I need some weight
11/7 I need some heaven
11/6 show some pics
11/5 I need a wife
11/4 will do a whore?
11/3 it is only me
11/2 and you
11/1

First lesson: A system is complex if a great many independent agents are interacting with one another in a great many ways…..

Sandy: I had hopes for all this. I used to be thin. I though I might live in one place and know one woman. I walked through….this morning. I made my way through…to… I had on my red apron and I had the woman I loved…..I am not talking about politics. I am talking about your bodies. the ones stretched out on the beach, the ones you’ve just smeared with sun-tan oil. Some of you are overweight and some are too thin, and some are very proud. You all know your bodies. You know your tits, your dick. You know what they look like. You have looked at them in mirrors, you have waited to hear them complimented, or touched with love.

This oblique conversation went on for about twenty minutes, more or less without dance. They do occasionally move and take poses. They do not look at one another but sometimes look at the audience, particularly Williams.

Of the two men, Williams was much the better speaker. His voice is clear and strong. While his stage persona was not particularly likeable, he projects a personality through his voice: a personality both insecure and conceited at the same time. Enchanted with his own prowess, dismayed at his inability to hang onto the object of his affections.

On the other hand, Ritsema has a weak voice and an unclear diction. It was very difficult to engage with his abstruse reasoning. Spoken abstract reasoning requires an absolutely clear idea of what one is saying at all times. As an English-speaking actor, one learns how to work with abstract thought through the direly complicated and imagistic monologues of Shakespeare’s plays. The audience must follow the thought process or it just becomes disconnected bombastic words – which go on for a long time. For the audience to follow the words, the actor must be perfectly clear in both his mind and his diction. It can take days to work successfully through one of these monologues, comma by comma. Ritsema did not manage this at all.

One does not expect dancers to be capable of this kind of rhetorical delivery – but then why ask them to attempt it? I have seen more shows fall down this year by expecting an actor’s verbal performance from a dancer than I can count. Tanz, Graz’s Metamorphosen springs to mind as the most striking example where Beate Arndt had to carry an entire evening work on a voice ready for short dramatic interjections but wholly unprepared for extended narration in English. A steady and convincing actor’s voice in this role would added infinitely to Metamorphosen.

Ritsema and Williams seem to have taken what is worst in Leonard Cohen’s poetry – incoherent politics and prose ramblings on quotidien breakdowns of relationships – but to have lost the exultant compact lyricism of his best poems.

At first hearing, one might think the dialogue more improvised than it is. Blindspot the performance is accompanied by a booklet called Blindspot: Text and Commentary. In this booklet one finds the full extant text of the dialogue, an informal essay from Sandy Williams “A Dress Rehearsal for an Even Darker Future or He Who Falls Becomes”, “A Possible Introduction” from Jan Ritsema and some extensive extracts from Brian Massumi’s seminal book The Politics of Everyday Fear. There is even a bibliography of Works not Cited, including (of course) Michel Foucault and (unsurprisingly) Martin Heidegger. The bibliography proper includes Leonard Cohen, Brian Massumi, Jacques Rancière and Cary Wolfe.

I mention in the booklet in detail as it is far more engaging than the performance itself. It ought to be required reading for coming to the performance. Which sets up an interesting dance model. Dance as lecture with required reading for the show. Not sure it will gain much traction with audiences but it does have its merit if the choreographer/creator would like the audience to see the abstract ideas which are being reflected physically.

Very abruptly the dialogue comes to an end when Ritsema pushes the button on an adroitly hidden CD player lodged under one of the tables. Johann Sebastian Bach. Partitas and Sonats, recording of Izthak Perlman. Very loud. This seems a tendency in modern dance. For the performers to control the music themselves. We also saw it in Philipp Gehmacher’s incubator.

The dance itself began with much walking around. Williams was the first to do some prancing, which degenerated into a stiff one-legged walk. Williams hands are large and very expressive and he knows how to use them like a magician.

Both seemed moved at the sort of half-speed one sees in workshops, teaching exercises, early rehearsals. Ritsema in particular seemed to be showing us the steps rather than taking them.

Watching Ritsema dance besides Williams, one becomes aware of how manifestly silly older people look when they dance. An older person lacks the suppleness and speed of youth. Perhaps a profound visual commentary on time here.

The relationship between the two dances was not clear. On the other hand, the relationship between the two monologues was not clear either.

Williams was self-conscious, jerky, sexual, grandiose, absolute and contorted. Ritsema was intellectual, abstract, hesitant and nuanced.

Gradually the elite audience fell to sleep. I counted at least six people fast asleep. Bach can do this to you, if the dance is not transfixing.

Towards the end, Williams worked through an energetic frenzy of I am/I am not movement with hard floor drops and rolls and painful twists which brought the audience out of their drowsing. Ritsema answered with some half-hearted jétés around the space.

Choreographically, the two men did not have enough material to cover the fifty-two minutes of music they had chosen.

Contemporary dance is at a nasty crossroads where it dreams of addressing issues of justice and peace and war and ecology. Abstract and political ideas. But such is not the natural province of dance. Feeling is dance’s own domain. Especially love. One feels that these creators are trying to use a hammer to do a wrench’s job. Simply not the right tool. So all of this adding of talk and video just takes us away from our natural strengths.

It can sometimes work – Isabella’s Room from Jan Lauwers is a brilliant tour-de-force of dance and theatre. But Lauwers begins with a core of theatre and adds the dance in as an accent (as classical opera often does). Moreover, Isabella’s Room is strung on a very strong chronological narrative line, just like a novel. In Isabella’s Room, the principal speaker is a brilliant actress Viviane De Muynck.

Ritsema is not able to perform a similar role for Blindspot. He has neither the natural gifts nor the training of the grand actor.

One could argue that a creator must always be free to fail. Fail they did.

Starting with the brightest, whitest piece of paper with which one could start and the best dance audience in the world.

If Blindspot prompts the audience of professionals at Impulstanz to take heed of the dangers of polluting dance with an excess of abstract ideas, it will have been a salutary exercise. If Blindspot only inspires more of the same, Williams and Ritsema’s bold experment will only have been a siren for further dance shipwreck.

Unfortunately no photos are available for this show.

Dance Publicity Photographs: Promotion of Dance in the Press

August 8th, 2005 § 4

I am often disappointed with the dance photos which I am able to present with the pieces at Impulstanz. Unfortunately modern dance companies believe that the audience has no right to see what the show actually looks like. They provide their own publicity stills and do not allow newspapers or anyone else to take photographs of the actual performances.

While some of the companies have provided excellent pictures which correspond to the show at hand – Opéra de Paris, Etienne Guilloteau, Jan Lauwers to name a few – others have offered pictures which have little or nothing to do with the stage performance. Particularly regrettable in this respect are the Marie Chouinard Company’s publicity stills which are purely iconic poster images which have little to do with what we actually see on stage.

In the case of Tanz Company Gervasi, I am obliged to present photographs from a previous revision of Fuga-Ce in other costumes. In the case of Sebastian Prantl’s Land Bodyscapes, the photographs offered are from an entirely different piece (I will try and get some pictures which I saw taken at the performance).

While I understand these dance companies would like to protect their image, at the very least there should be an official Impulstanz photographer shooting every show in rehearsal and offering the company director or manager to approve or disapprove shots from the rehearsal photo session. The technology exists.

Reviews of the work would be more vivid and useful for all concerned with accurate photo materials which correspond to what is actually on stage. Newspapers would probably be happier to run newsworthy photographs rather than somebody’s contrived poster piece.

Strangely enough, Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker and Wim Wandekeybus – whose pieces along with Jan Lawers have been far and away the best of the festival – offered some of the most accurate photos.

More and better dance pictures! Let us see what we are missing or see why we are coming to the theater.