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Placebo – Ein Stuck von Andrea Stotter


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

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

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

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

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

Placebo - Natalie Trs

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

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

Placebo - Andrea Stoddard

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Steinbrunner - Placebo

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

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

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

Stoddard's Placebo - Couples

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

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

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


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

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

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

Radek Hewelt- Natalie Trs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Placebo is a Tanztheater Homunculus Production.
All photographs Alec Kinnear

One Comment

  1. Eva Mueller Eva Mueller

    he alec!
    :) beautyfull Eva

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