Impulstanz: Melissa is a bitch – Ann Liv Young

July 28th, 2005 § 1

The prize for the most fun show so far at Impulstanz 2005 has to go to Melissa is a bitch from Ann Liv Young. Succinct as well as only about forty-five minutes.

Melissa is a bitch - girls on swings

Melissa is a bitch – girls on swings

An absolutely bare stage – black brick wall at the back. A floorstanding loudspeaker on the left of the stage with a mixer and an ibook perched on top.

Six women and a man come striding out. Those who are dressed are in green. A lot of bare flesh. Women eating green ice cream.

A very curvaceous blonde with a munificent chest crammed into a tiny green bikini walks to the back wall of the stage. She stares and waits.

Loud and blaring music, Lionel Ritchie’s hit from the eighties “Running with the night”

You were looking so good girl, heads were turning
You and me on the town ooh, we let it all hang out
The fire was in us, we were burning
We were gonna go all the way and we never had a doubt

Energetic go-go dancing all the way through the song. You had to believe the bikini was made of sailcloth to hold up all the way through the song. She’s done.

Two other girls go to the middle of the stage and eat green ice cream. On command they dump their ice cream on the ground. On another command they take their clothes off. On command again, they mount upside down on two swings. Result two naked girls upside down on swings with two green ice cream cones cone down melting into the floor.


Their names are Liv and Renée and they are in love and sing together about a life of strapons and yeast infections. More lyrics:

I wish I were dead,
I want to fuck everybody I see.
If the world were fair P. Diddy wouldn’t get
the prettiest woman in the world, J-Lo.

I had never thought about Jennifer Lopez in such pragmatic terms, or more particularly, her relationship with Puff Daddy, but it is amusing.

Another girl in green plastic occupies the stage in turn and talks about turtles.

Melissa is a bitch

Melissa is a bitch – monologue

Two more girls in little green strings with green t-shirts follow an elaborate set of commands issued by Ann Live Young and arrive in the middle of the stage where they reveal fresh white tampons in their right hand. They pull open the strings and drop the tampons in, they grind the tampons into their crotches with their left hand, pulling the string up through the labia. They pull the tampons out and plop the tampons into their mouths, where just the white string is left hanging out between their teeth.

Finally another woman in a short-dress pulls her skirt up to reveal her bald eagle – she pulls two live turtles out of an acquarium and uses them as masturbating implements on both front and back orifices while singing about her love for tortoises.

Smut? No. This is what happened. All surprisingly unsexual despite the nudity and explicit acts. Something like pornography leaves many indifferent (there is no sensual or emotional context to give meaning or eros to the body manipulation), so does Ann Liv Young’s bawdiness just passes eroticism by and becomes a series of provoking tableaux.

It’s an interesting sensation. It is taboo-breaking.

Pornographic da-da. Always wondered what it would be like to see something amusing that made no particular sense.

What Ann Liv Young is trying to do in terms of liberation of women is not entirely clear to me. It must fall into the same category as The Vagina Monologues which were a runaway hit in cities across North America with many different casts. I couldn’t see why one would want to see three woman, each talk about her vagina onstage for half an hour. (Here is an explanation from author Eve Ensler which helps somewhat including a darkly amusing take on the Snow White fairytale.) No more than I would care for the same kind of performance from men talking about their penises (I have read but found dull Portnoy’s Complaint).

In the middle of all this music and action, there is a long speech in the middle of the play (which is more what it is than a dance piece), talking about pigs and people, bunnies hopping through the forest and being popped in the head of some symbolic significance.

Unlike a static piece like The Vagina Monologues, Melissa is a bitch takes place at a very high energy level with lots of action and visual invention. The whole cast seems very well-rehearsed. There is a certain precision to Ann Liv Young’s work which helps it to rise above a certain look at me aspect that these shock shows often have. Her work is not long winded either – Melissa is a bitch ends abruptly at about forty-five minutes. A worse director might easily drag the material out to double its length – a lot of the shows strength is in its brevity.

I am not sure this kind of work is as important in many European countries as female body-image issues are not as much of an issue as in North America. I.e. the women like their bodies and their men do too. But it is entertaining to look through Ann Liv Young’s fun-house looking glass at a world filled with plump women in too tight bikinis, Jennifer Lopez and P. Diddy.

The woman sitting beside me said it was like being transported back to the 1970’s, the look and the feel and the issues with sexuality. “But I am curious what she will say when we get home,” she added, indicating her eighteen year old and shell shocked daughter.

Ann Liv Young has a DVD with four or five of her productions on it, all of which involve nudity and absurdity. One includes two girls performing dance routines and singing with their heads and in and out of two toilets in the middle of the stage. If you get the chance (schedule of performances here), you owe it to yourself to see at least one of her shows. It is fun. Ann Live Young’s strong control of the theatre environment makes me very curious to see where her work goes ten years from now.

Impulstanz: bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS – Marie Chouinard

July 27th, 2005 § 0

Companie Marie Chouinard‘s bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS is one of the main event shows at Impulstanz this year. One of the two main posters is based on the publicity materials from bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS. It is a brand new show, the premiere took place just a month ago on 18 June 2005 at Venice Dance Biennale.

Marie Chouinard bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS Impulstanz poster
Marie Chouinard
Impulstanz poster

Expectations were high. Befitting its first rank status, Companie Marie Chouinard was on the main stage in the glamourous Burgtheater where the Opéra de Paris performed. There wasn’t an available ticket in the city.

From the moment you enter the auditorium, you are aware that this is perhaps not exactly the surroundings that the work call for as the curtains are open. On stage stand two gymnasts bars laid perpendicular to the audience.

The show starts with a fizzle. The house lights stay up. A single man comes on to the dark stage with poles in his hands. He mounts the first exercise bar and walks along it, using the poles for balance. He leaps to the next exercise bar and finishes his walk.

He disappears and the bars are taken away by stage hands. The stage is still dark and the house still light and we are moving towards 21:15. Plenty of opportunity to observe one’s neighbour. The audience doesn’t know whether to speak or be silent.

Finally some very dim light comes up on stage and the houselights are dimmed. We still must strain our eyes to see events on stage.

Naked women start to wander covered only by some white bandages. Each one is hobbled in some way. The first one is rolling along on a kind of dolly. The next one wanders with one foot on pointe the other in a flat shoe.

Another rolls on naked on a strange kind of single-legged metal tripod/seat. Two women cross the stage with their inside legs tied together, as a three legged beast.

At one point, Chi Long crosses the stage on mini-crutches on her arms, somehow managing to move and dance with her legs almost horizontal behind her. Her technical demonstrations established her in my mind as the most accomplished of all the Marie Chouinard dancers. I believe she is the one in the poster image as well.

Somewhere else we have dancers on trapezes walking over other dancers. The trapezes are done up some sort of futuristic S& M rig.

For the most part, the dancers are naked except for the thin bandages wrapped around their torsos and groin (they do wear skin tight flesh toned shorts which for the first act were almost invisible although more perceptible in the second act).

The dressiest part of the costumes are the tight chignonnes that all the dancers wear with a central hard spike going almost vertically up, a cross between Princess Leia and a military hemlet.

The music for all this is either Bach’s Goldberg Variations or some sort of atmospheric drone with what sounds like sampled and heavily distorted Glenn Gould intoning "I would never argue in favor of an inflexible musical policy". The Bach portion is definitely Glenn Gould’s performance. The remix is the work of Louis Dufort. By the end of the show, I wasn’t sure how much Mr. Dufort had managed to add to the original.

A little later in the first act, the whole troupe comes on (there are only ten dancers) and cross the stage with their peculiar crutches and walkers, each taking sharply resolved and slow steps with arms and legs, a kind of ant walk. The overall alien effect reminded me of the bugs in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers.


There is a costume change and much of the same is done in very beautiful grey costumes (as opposed to the near nudity earlier). Some of the dancers wander across the stage with steel poles stuck in their mouths, a fellatio-like mutilation sort of provocation. Other poles stick out of their stomachs and hands, as if half-human, half-metal.

One of the most beautiful moments happens here where two of the naked dancers move ingeniously across the stage both attached to a kind of rolling coat rack (Carla Maruca and another).

At the end of the first act two dancers (Carol Prieur and Kirsten Andersen) wander high across the stage in black trapeze like jumping black butterflies from the sky. Very dramatic.

I wrote a question to myself in the middle of the first act that I’m still trying to answer: How could something involving such elaborate costumes and naked dancers be boring? The Marie Chouinard troupe as a group are very beautiful young women so this should be highly engaging for both women and men alike.

I think the mystery lies in the absence of emotional content. In bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS, Marie Chouinard is merging women and metal. They become a sort of machine. Like Bach, Chouinard plays on their technical possibilities, creating a movement register and exploiting it fully, a visual piano scales exercise.

So while the eye is fully engaged, there is nothing for the soul to latch on to.

In the second act, the lighting is somewhat more elaborate with notably three pools of green light. There is the addition of a microphone and a host of simulated sex sounds. There is a special platform which looks metallic but is in fact made up of the shiny silk ribbons from pointe shoes.

There is a walk around by the ubiquitous Chi Long on sticks with her tongue stuck out in the nastiest possible way, looking like some devil child.

A dancer finally jams the microphone right into her mouth and hobbles around on short crutches, making helpless sounds into the microphone in her mouth.

The Cuban dancer Julio Cesar Hong crosses the stage with a huge metal strap on banging it onto the clothes rack bar. He returns to cross the stage behind a suspended female dancer with whom he simulates sex as she gyrates in an exaggerated way at his every thrust at each step.

A blonde sings a sexy song on the ballet ribbon platform.

The thought crosses my mind, if Marie Chouinard is going to go this far, why not go all the way with live sex acts? She is walking the same line. If the sex were not simulated, but genuine, the show would impress as a dark revelation. Such overt titillation in this day and age are condemned to leave us indifferent, given what we see in the cinema and on television.

If it were not for stage conventions and dancers contracts, I think Marie Chouinard might want to. One way in which her show impresses me is that it takes its aesthetic line right out to the end.

Verdict from some of the unimpressed core Austrian dance audience – Oberflächlichkeit – superficial. Apparently the structure of movement and coldness were very similar in last year’s show. A non-dance audience would find the show visually exciting and it would encourage them to see more dance.

As a Canadian, I have different feelings about the Companie Marie Chouinard. Canada is a country with a very uptight attitude towards the body and sexuality. Even more remarkable is the core PC (politically correct) line. It is almost impossible to do or say anything (particularly as a man) controversial without being criticised or even banned. Women with steel poles and microphones in their mouths, hosts of beautiful young naked dancers on stage in provocative poses, are high on the list of the things which in principle are impossible to do, say or show.

Marie Chouinard in breaking down these taboos and these PC barriers with her art is actually changing our artistic/social landscape for the better. For that I’m grateful. So while I’m not convinced her art is important in any way other than technical, it is very important to Canada.

Moreover, Canada has never been particularly known for breaking technical barriers in art. One thinks of the French (not the Quebecois) as the great experimenters in form. It is good to see a Canadian artist boldly base their work on experimentation and development of form without being overwrought by issues of relevance and statement.

Aestheticism has always been frowned upon and to see it in its pure form flowering on native soil is somehow a great relief.

After the show, Marie Chouinard gave a quite moving speech about continuity of support in the arts thanking Karl Regensburger and Impulstanz for their continual support from her days as an innovative solo dancer. It is exactly that kind of solid support which allows an artist to really develop. Despite my reservations about this particular show, this continuous support has borne impressive fruit. It was very moving to see the warm relationship between the two artistic directors, of the company and the festival.

Another post-show revelation was that none of the dancers in the Marie Chouinard Company had extensive formal ballet training. As at least a third of bODY_rEMIX/gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS is danced in pointe, there were three months of special training to render them capable of all the pointe work. The absence of ballet background was invisible in the show. This level of dedication and perfection is impressive.

Despite the image of the crippled dancer, the show itself is about enabling movement rather than limiting it. At no point in rehearsals were the dancers told to emulate the differently abled, but rather to find their best way of movement with the new tools given to them.

Impulstanz: Hommage à Rosalia Chladek

July 26th, 2005 § 1

This was a curious evening in Akademietheater. The public was very well dressed and exceptionally Austrian.

We were there for an hommage to Austrian dance pioneer Rosalia Chladek. I had heard the name before but had never seen either photos or archival film of her dancing.

Rosalia Chladek

Rosalia Chladek © Internationale
Gesellschaft Rosalie Chladek

The evening began with a half hour film from ORF created by commissioning editor Karin Veitl.

Some wonderful archival materials of Rosalia Chladek, some detailed ten year old interview material (Frau Chladek passed away in 1995) and lots of interviews with contemporary Viennese choreographers and dance historians. The usual Vienna dance suspects. Critic Andrea Amort from the Vienna Conservatory, Nicolaus Selimov and Manfredd Aichinger from Homunculus Dance Company, Saska Höbling and Susi Wisiak from the younger generation.

The thesis of the film is that the Tanztheater Homunculus is the direct heir of Rosalia Chladek. While I have much admiration for the work created by Tanztheater Homunculus since their inception twenty years ago, I don’t see much link between Rosalia Chladek’s work and their own. Tanztheater Homunculus’s work is robust, boisterous and often funny shows with many different dancers on stage. Rosalia Chladek’s work was very aesthetic, very serious work either in solo or in a minimalist structure.

When the narrator drew a parallel between Rosalia Chladek’s work and that of Saska Höbling, he lost me altogether. Apart from gender and the link to Vienna, I don’t see anything in common between the two. Rosalia Chladek’s work was very dance and movement based, while Saskia Hölbling‘s work is very conceptual and pushes to a minimum of movement.

After the film we were treated to live performances.

The danger with these live reconstructions is that the contemporary dancers replacing the dance legend have to be extremely talented and charismatic or the work as shown comes across as a poor quality photocopy, more blur and grey dust than clear image.

How many times has one seen The Dying Swan poorly danced by otherwise adequate ballerinas who are totally shamed in attempting Anna Pavlova’s role. In her prime, Maia Plissetskaya could manage it. Not many others.

And so it was with the Hommage to Rosalia Chladek.

Apart from Martina Haager who took on Chladek’s signature piece Tanz mit dem Stab (Dance with a baton) and triumphed.

A large excerpt of the original had been in the film we had just seen. If anything Haager’s performance was fuller and more breathtaking than the original.

If only the other pieces had come close to this level, it would have been a fabulous evening and a wonderful hommage. But Martina Haager’s dancing in the far too brief Tanz mit dem Stab alone was worth coming out to the theatre.

Unfortunately we only saw Martina Haager once.

A short mention should me made of a valiant attempt by Susi Wisiak on Chladek’s much longer and darker Jeanne d’Arc (1934). It didn’t quite take off but was a worthy reconstruction of a complicated piece of work involving many changes of costume.

I am delighted to have had the chance to become acquainted with the archival materials and the oeuvre of Rosalia Chladek. Her work is as fresh and original today as anything in Vienna today.

Impulstanz: Desh (the second part of the night) – Anne Terese De Keersmaeker & Salva Sanchis

July 22nd, 2005 § 0

We sit in a warm glow, facing an open stage. The warm glow from the red used in the decoration of the house and the great glass chandelier in the centre of the ceiling. The Akademietheater is small and intimate, with a half circle balcony which surrounds the stage. There is no orchestra pit, the stage comes directly out to the audience.

That stage is entirely bare, without a trace of curtains or conventional set. Stagehands sit off to the left with some ropes. There are wooden chairs and small tables arranged haphazardly in both wings, as if a sidewalk café were just winding down.

Six clear lightbulbs hung in two rows over the stage burn dimly .

On the floor of the stage there is a row of rough wooden boards about one and a half metres wide. Behind that is some kind of a yellow mat about six metres wide and then another row of wooden boards. Some kind of white ruffled cotton fabric lies on top of the back wooden boards.

Sometime after nine, the three white cotton curtains are hoisted by the visible stage hand to slowly cover the bare black brick wall.

In English, a voice with a rich Indian accent tells us, Raga’s name is desh.

From the right side of the stage arrive two European dancers in very simple thigh length dresses, a fair headed woman in yellow (Marion Ballester) and a darker haired woman in orange (Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker).

Lights come up from the side, bathing them in soft and reflected light from the white cotton backdrop. They are almost skipping with light movements and gentle poses. The two seem to be having fun. The poses they take recall those of Indian mythology and illustration.

Desh - Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker and Marion Ballester
Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker and Marion Ballester

Throughout the two women’s dance we hear beautiful singing in Indian nearly a capella. It is Raga Desh sung by Ustad Sayeeduddin Dagar and Raga Desh. It is a long musical movement, taking us for a half an hour reflective journey to the same light dancing.

At some point the two women begin to kick up some dust from the yellow mat which has been very cunningly sprinkled with a kind of sandy dust which floats atmospherically in the sidelights, taking us out of the Western theatre. The dancers control the amount of dust in the air by how hard they scrape their feet while they dance.

Finally after about a half an hour, Marion Ballester collapses. De Keersmaeker now squats, then lies flat. Then a cartwheel and some loose pirouettes.

The music is more vigorous and the dancing correspondingly so. Ballester sings to herself as she dance. She and De Keersmaeker look at one another and De Keersmaeker leaves.

The lights brighten and a stagehand becomes visible. The six bare lightbulbs over the stage come on again, the stagehand lowers the white curtains to the ground. Silence. Soft glow along the edge of the wooden panels at the front.

A woman in a black cape throws herself to the ground, rises and stands with her back to us. She makes some very painful contortions. She wanders to the front left of the stage and drops the black cloak. It is Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker again, she is now wearing a yellow dress which looks entirely of rags and is paper thin. She squats on the stage, powerful and bare.

She moves into a long solo which seem to be about lightness and the small joys of life. Certainly her persona in the rag dress is not enjoying any material wealth which could motivate such animation. The dancing is a combination of Indian twists and European extensions. The extensions and the tiny dress, exaggerate De Keersmaeker’s slender and graceful legs.

Until now I’ve just seen Thierry de May’s wonderful dance film collaborations with Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker, but never the Rosas company live. I’ve never understood why almost all the former and present Rosas dancers I’ve seen in other productions have a similar appearance – chestnut hair, long limbs, fine legs, attractive regular features. They resemble De Keersmaeker herself.

Her energetic solo culminates after almost twenty minutes with stronger music and hard pliés and then she is gone.

The six bare bulbs light up.

A man (Salva Sanchis) and a woman come onto the stage and start to clean up the curtains at the back of the stage, move the cloak away from the front of the stage. First they dance together in silence and then to a pulsating percussion. De Keersmaeker is tired already from her long solo, but the man moves slowly and deliberately. They are joined by Ballester.

Ballester and De Keersmaeker dance together or in sync for a time. It is difficult to ascertain the relationships. Sanchis’s character seems to have a preference for the darker woman.

At ten after eleven, the white curtains are lifted up and out of sight to leave the stage entirely bare. Sanchis changes into a white shirt on stage and begins a solo in silence.

Salva Sanchis - Desh/India
Salva Sanchis improvises to John Coltrane’s India

Some jazz music starts up. It is a piece of John Coltrane from his famous India concert in 1961.

The chandelier now fills most of the house with a warm glow – a nice device to create minimal separation between performer and audience. Sanchis’s movements to the sophisticated jazz score are smooth and light and supple. He deliberately kicks up a dust storm at one point as black curtains come down.

The music is very difficult and complex but Sanchis quickly finds an appropriate physical phrase for every musical one in what looks like tightly organised improvisation. The audience is rapt.

At the end of the Coltrane music, the white curtains come back down, while the black curtains return to the rafters. The stage is now very bright. The two women come out now in white. They lie on their backs with one leg raised in a sort of equilibrium.

A backwards somersault to land on feet and they begin to dance again to very dreamy music from Hariprasad Chaurasia. For very unclear reasons, De Keersmaeker fetches a strange white and black shirt. This shirt with its elaborate patterns distracts terribly from the clean lines of the performance. Both dancers seem to be seeking something.

The two women are joined at then end by Sanchis in grey trousers and a white shirt. The stage is very bright and the atmosphere is light. Sanchis’s character seems to prefer the fair headed Ballester now.

Finally the three white curtains are dropped down at the end of the piece leaving the stage exactly as it was when we arrived. Six small lightbulbs burn dimly.

We have done a kind of circle returning to where we began.

Marion Ballester and Anna Teresa De Keeersmaeker in Desh/Dhun
Marion Ballester and Anna Teresa De Keeersmaeker


A question that arose in my mind during the show is whether we need Westernised versions of this dancing. Wouldn’t this be better staged with Indian dancers and authentic movements? This is what I came up with:

First, there is the issue of repertoire. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has her own company. Next, it would take a long time to get the same insouciant lightness from dancers trained in another tradition than from Rosas company dancers. Finally, is there any reason that Western artists should not be free to make meditations on Eastern art on their own terms?

The passion for authenticity and the insistence peoples speak in their own voice is a recent phenomenon arising from issues of political correctness in North America. In Bollywood, Indian film makers and producers appropriate whatever ideas and techniques they wish from American and European cinema without apology. De Keersmaeker is helping Indian dance and music, giving a taste of her experience of it to a new public.

Having seen Desh, my own appetite is whetted to go and see more Indian dancing and performance.

On the other hand, I was disappointed that the music was from phonogram. There couldn’t be more than a couple of voices and a few instruments used in the entire soundtrack apart from the John Coltrane section. Dance is always better with live accompaniment – the performance breathes better for some reason, takes on a life of its own. So as minimalist a piece as Desh would certainly be better for with live musical performance.

Among the audience, there were complaints that there wasn’t enough of an idea, that there was just dancing. They didn’t see the point of it.

I have to disagree completely. The choreography was attractive, the dancing light and full of charm. The apposition of a great jazz number with Indian music brought out the specificity of both. The performances were very good.

Not a show to change the history of choreography nor to propose an alternative metaphysics but rather an airy adventure into another sound and space. It would be wonderful to be able to see such dancing every day.

alle Fotos © Herman Sorgeloos

Impulstanz: incubator – Philipp Gehmacher

July 21st, 2005 § 0

incubator is not performed at one of the traditional central theatres of Vienna, but out at the old Arsenal in a space that looks more like an aircraft hanger than a theatre. There is a large bleacher stand built for the audience to sit on.

A huge white empty space. Seventy metres wide and perhaps as deep. Just a few speakers on the floor and hung on the walls 50 metres apart. The sound system is on stage in the far right corner.

Dance highlights incubator from Philipp Gehmacher

We wait. Finally a woman in a purple top and black pants (Sabina Holzer) walks in from left.

David Subal walks in from the right and crosses the stage. He is in grey trousers and a beige top.

The other two dancers appear eventually – Clara Cornil in grey blue top and black trousers, Philipp Gehmacher in grey trousers and dark beige top.

Everything is somber. There is no style, cut or colour to any of the clothes or the stage.

The four dancers are scattered at different points. David Subal is pasting himself up against the left wall. Sabina Holzer is somewhere near the back wall. Clara Cornil is middle of the stage towards the left wall, David Subal stands vigil near the front right stage.

Now they ware walking, searching. Almost expressionless, one detects a slight puzzlement or bewilderment in their vacant eyes.

In the back right of the stage a powerful cluster of stage lights brightens the surroundings now.

Sabina Holzer in her purple top turns on the CD. The a man humming/rumble of traffic fills the hall. Then a classical piano piece, very restrained. Dancers still walking around sporadically.

Atmosphere very 1970’s. Minimalist movement, some kind of natural self, hideous clothes and colours.

Subal presses his arm up and right. Some time later he lowers it. Somebody else lowers or raises his own.

Philipp makes small movements with his fingers.

Philipp leads David Subal away to the back wall of the stage a bit brutally, almost like a police officer.

Twenty-five minutes have gone by and this is the first human interaction.

The CD player offers hoarse whispering voices:

“Very good.”
“Are you leaving?”

Shrug of sholders.

Snarfling noise. Car noises. Motorbike noisess. Man walking.

For nearly twenty minutes the dancers have been standing still now.

Piano music.

Forty five minutes into the piece David Subal still walks around with a pained look on his face while Philipp Gehmacher wanders with a blank expression. We start to understand why. Both knows nothing is going to happen. The audience’s own hopes are fading fast.

The house lights are turned on. They are a nasty flourescent yellow. The ugly environment becomes even more unpleasant.

All of our performers are anti-beautiful: awkward, uncomfortable, people who are not well with their lives. Hunched shoulders.

The infamous Vienna modern choreography moment comes: the introduction of some second-rate pop song in the hopes that it will carry the show and make up for the total absence of content/choreography.

eyes are falling
hips are falling

No contact between performers. Still moving from one end of the hall to the other every five minutes or so. Lifting an arm. Dropping an arm.

If this seems too boring to read, it is an exact transcription of what happened at the performance. Except the performance took one hour and fifteen minutes and reading this takes just two minutes.

We are now at 19:50 and the performers have bunched together in the center of the stage.

At 19:55 David Subal and the woman in the green shirt (Clara Cornil) actually touch. Her hand on his. His hand on her belly and she leaves. She crumples over near the black wall.

First the sounds of a TV playing. Now a child’s voice:

Hi Bernard, I love you.
I love you mom.

Sabina Holzer lies on her back on the floor.

Philip leads away David Subal for unknown punishment.

Of an audience of 120, thirty-five left during the show.

Accidentally about fifteen of them got caught halfway out at the end of the show (there was no hint that the end was near) when the applause was to take place. They did not

Philipp Gehmacher portrait
Portrait Philipp Gehmacher

At the age of thirty, Philipp Gehmacher has the perfect dance pedigree for Vienna. Born in Salzburg, he finished a BA at London Contemporary Dance School followed by an M.A. at the Laban Centre in London. In London he put together three pieces. On his return to Austria in 2001, he immediately created a duet with Raimund Hoghe. In 2003 he lounged his way through festivals in Berlin, Gent, Brussels, Utrech, London, Nottingham, Utrecht, Salzburg, Luzern, Prague and Rennes with a piece called mountains are mountains. He has won two new choreographers awards, etc.

Austria has no young male choreographer of record. As far as I can tell the best male choreographer working in Vienna right now is Elio Gervasi and he is an older man of Italian origin. So Philipp Gehmacher is in the right place at the right time.

incubator, is something which he developed over the course of a year. And it just isn’t good enough. There is no excuse for putting audiences through such vacant workshop exercises. What was five minutes of choreographic/theatrical content was dragged out to seventy-five minutes.

Shows like incubator are what have destroyed dance audiences all over the world. People attend one dance show like incubator and they never attend dance again.

Fortunately, shows like incubator are a tiny minority as far as I can tell at Impulstanz which tends to favour well-thought out and cleverly staged productions with powerful performances and a certain flair to them. Consequently Impulstanz sells out most of the shows it brings to Vienna. Three or four more shows like incubator in the festival program would seriously jeopardise future audiences at Impulstanz. Universally sold out shows would become the exception rather than the rule.

Perhaps Philipp Gehmacher slipped onto this program as a representative of local choreography. Mistakes can happen. I and all of the five people I spoke with after incubator were all very angry at having our evening wasted by Philipp Gehmacher.

I make no comment on the performances as his collaborators had literally nothing to do.


Apparently the version of incubator shown at Tanzquartier this year was much better than version seen at the Arsenal in Impulstanz.

I have found two people who did find something worthwhile in the Arsenal incubator. They appreciated the lack of activity and the patience required of the audience. They found it original, as opposed to all the running around usual in dance shows.

For me, it’s the emperor’s new clothes. But like Saskia Hölbling’s work was much better in an installation context – the real performance came from the projections and the singer in Labyrinth, I could imagine appreciating incubator much better as an installation where one wanders in and around the dancers and stays for fifteen or twenty minutes, talks with one’s friends and waits for the next non-event.

Other opinions:

Gerhmacher’s incubator in der Standard.
Gehmacher’s incubator in English. At bottom of page. Good write-up of dire changes at the Vienna Staatsoper and Volksoper at top of page.

fotos © Manuel Vason and Philipp Gehmacher

Impulstanz 8:tension: Campo de Fiori – Mala Kline

July 19th, 2005 § 1

The theatre is nearly dark as we enter. On the stage is an old man deep in a chair almost asleep. He is dressed in some kind of strange monastic robes. On the black wall at the back of the stage, hangs an enormous golden picture frame. The frame is empty.

Mala Kline - Campo de Fioro

Mala Kline as Giordano Bruno

We wait for what seems like an eternity. Sounds like jets or the wind start to fill the auditorium.

The old man speaks. Come my love, he says, in a rasping voice. So sad, so rotten.

He rises from his chair. His chair is now surrounded by what looks like sunlight through an old wrought iron window.

He sings a renaissance Magnificat in a voice now clear and majestic. His voice rises and fills the entire theatre, penetrating us. It is hard to believe this wretched old man capable of such song.

At the bottom the picture frame, typed words appear, by ones and by twos, each disappearing before the next appears.

I dare
dare to
give in
let me
not be a
pyre of your fears
a heart full of
leave it
the uncovered
subtle art of slavery

The picture frame now shows dark mysterious images one after another. Dark and bleak paintings.

Mala Kline - Campo de Fiori as woman

Mala Kline as the dancer in Campo de Fiori

Suddenly the old man discards his long flowing robe and cowl to reveal himself as a young and lithe woman. The theatre rocks with the sound of an organ and of white noise released simultaneously.

She wanders the stage and throws what looks like shiny oversized confetti everywhere. And then she begins to dance.

At this point we are entranced and enraptured with no idea of what might happen next.

The young woman casts herself to the floor and brings herself back up again. And again. And again.

She crawls across the floor and begins to laugh and sob at the same time, throwing her head into the chair. The painting shows words again:

we are
no other
a path
out of dust
still witheld

Unfortunately the action of throwing her head into the chair where she was sitting some minutes before just didn’t work. The raging laughters/tears with her back in three quarter position to the audience communicated nothing. Mala Kline gave her effort to the chair and not to us. The dreamscape she had brought us into so carefully fell into shards of the ordinary.

A Tangerine Dream-like soundscape rises and pulses.

we crave to leave
to come back
to dust
to love

Dark clouds gather and fly across the painting. Mysterious. Beautiful. Mystic.

The theatre fades to black.


Campo de Fiori is Mala Kline’s artistic reflection on the life of Giordano Bruno, a renaissance magician and philosopher and alchemist. Bruno was put to death for his outspoken political beliefs.

What is wonderful about Campo de Fiori is the extreme economy of means for powerful effect. The sunlight through wrought iron effect was created with a single stage light. The picture frame serves three or four different purposes throughout the show (sometimes a beautiful renaissance tableau, sometimes mysterious drawings, sometimes a text board of the mind, finally the dark running cloud)s. Most of the sound effects are performer generated. There are no extra or unnecessary stage props or business. In spite of the sophistication of the staging, the purity of exposition is extreme

Unfortunately the choreography and/or dancing was not as coherent as the staging. In itself it didn’t seem to say very much and some of it just didn’t work, like repeated throwing her head into the seat of the armchair in a frenzy of tears or laughter.

But for about ten or fifteen minutes Mala Kline takes us very far away to a hidden and mysterious place that most of us can only approach in books and poems and that not very often.

Making the ineffable visible and palpable is a great gift.

This was Mala Kline’s first solo work after a career which included stings in Ultima Vez and En Knap Dance Company as a performer. I look forward with great anticipation to future creations of Mala Kline.

Mala Kline’s collaborators in the creation of Campo de Fiori include Irena Taomazin for the staging, Alan Hranitelj for the costume, Saso Kalan for the sound and music, Jaka Simenc for the light.


An interesting interview with Mala Kline:

Contemporary dance is very hermetic. You watch dancers or listen to people and you don’t understand a text completely… This leaves you indifferent. It is as if you would need a translation. Performances should be made for people too, a performer should communicate with his/her public.

Words to live by.

Pictures © Miha Fras and Mateja Princic

Impulsztanz: Chris Haring and Klaus Obermaier D.A.V.E

July 18th, 2005 § 0

For the grand opening night party at Arena, Impulstanz began with an impressive multimedia show at eleven o’clock. It was the 100th representation of a 1998 collaboration from Chris Haring (choreography and dancer) and Klaus Obermaier (music and video).

Dave Klausobermaier

Impulsztanz: Chris Haring and Klaus Obermaier D.A.V.E Continues »

Impulstanz: Ballet de l’Opera de Paris à Vienne – Baroque, Bel, Balanchine, Brown

July 17th, 2005 § 1

After a week of rain and flooding, the sun broke out on Thursday at last to coincide with the opening of the Impulstanz festival. The Opéra de Paris were the opening guest company and brought an extremely diverse programme to the Burgtheater.


O zlotony / O composite – Legris, Dupont, Le Riche

I had seen some of these pieces in Paris when I was there and even reviewed them. But to see them in the Burgtheater was very different. While the Burgtheater is a substantial traditional theater, it is about half the size of the Palais Garnier, the principal residence of the Opéra de Paris. For some of the pieces, they worked much better in the closer quarters. For other pieces the smaller venue didn’t work as well.

Impulstanz: Ballet de l'Opera de Paris à Vienne - Baroque, Bel, Balanchine, Brown Continues »