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Impulstanz: incubator – Philipp Gehmacher

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

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