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.
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.