Speaking for the Dead | Tom Tomorrow

August 22nd, 2005 § 0


Tom Tomorrow’s cartoon this week is not to be missed. If you’re not already acquainted with his work, Tom Tomorrow is the most delightful skewer of right wing hypocrisy, this side of Billmon who has a more serious take on Republican hypocrisy regarding the fallen dead and the Cindy Sheehan situation.

If this delightful and frank woman succeeds in toppling Nero’s regime, there may be less shame in being American. At least one person has really stood up and said, I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore.

Body Image | American Bodies

August 21st, 2005 § 1

Salon has run a two page series of poems from readers on the theme We sing the body electric…. Here is one of them:

It finally happened at 30
my body left its confines
after years of spinning turbines
the cigarettes and wine glasses
of twentysomething dating classes.

The butt that never gained a thing
a lure for men, a giggling thing
that danced all night in gowns once worn
by tiny 20s movie stars.

But now a meal lasts a great deal longer
than lingering eyes over wine and pasta
and goes to my thighs like white on rice.
Hey Mom – I’ve discovered cellulite!

How now begins this epic battle?
Will esteem drop with hips that waddle?
I’ve heard the elders mutter bitter
of tits that sag, how men must gag
and that one day I’ll understand.

But this precious territory
is sadly, only temporary
And it’s the only one I’ve got
for life’s in motion, life is not
the perfect frozen laundry list
the measure of the men you’ve kissed,
so let me die an onanist!

As a group the poems tend to describe dissatisfaction with one’s body, generally on grounds of excess – being overweight. What’s interesting about the poems written or at least the ones chosen is that they tend express resignation at one’s rotundness and sometimes even celebration of it.

Rather than a diet and exercise – habits not beyond the reach of most healthy adults. But beyond most Americans. America seems to be a nation of extremes – 100% gym bunnies, male and female, typified by Jennifer Lopez – with bodies hard as rock. Or your pudgy everyday American, who is wearing two or three sizes above what he or she should be wearing at a given age.

Leadership of the free world indeed.

Curiously the frontman for all the attacks on civilians and the destruction of the constitution (yes, George Bush) does actually lead a close to ideal way of life with a daily two hours of exercise. Is exercise is an essential component in the life of a reformed alcoholic? Instead of the bottle, the bike. There is a chemical release (endorphins) very similar to the gentle delirium of an extra drink too, but more focused, more concentrated.

While the poetry is amusing, it is quite saddening to think that these limerick chimerae were the best effort that an educated public (readers of Salon) could muster in 2005. Eighty years ago the poetry would have been much better.

Waistlines too.

The Americans truly live in decadent times. They regress politically (presumption of innocence, the New Deal, the social contract, wars of aggression), aesthetically and in terms of both diet and lifestyle.

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.

Impulstanz: PONI – Closing Party

August 12th, 2005 § 0

For the PONI performance, I have some authentic pictures of the event. PONI is a Brussels based international performance band.

We saw PONI the night before as part of the We are all Marlene Dietrich FOR show at Akademietheater. I preferred their performance in the context of the larger show.

Left to their own devices, PONI has no shortage of entertaining tricks. Many different kinds of masks, body painting, bondage with electric cords, hysteria.

As a group they have tremendous energy.

But musically it felt too much like a direct assault on our sensibilities rather than a complex voyage. Their roots are deep in punk. If you are missing punk from the eighties dressed up in a modern sensibility PONI is not to be missed.

Here are the pictures:

Main PONI front man Rodolphe Coster, Belgium

PONI – Erna Ómarsdóttir, Iceland
Julie Andrée T, Montréal
Kate McIntosh, New Zealand
Kate McIntosh in bondage
Applause in Casino am Schwarzenbergplatz

The concert and the closing concert took place in the Casino on Schwarzenbergplatz. Many of the parties have been here and it has been a good location with its baroque elegeance, high ceilings but a certain casual energy. The Casino is also one of the second stages for the Bürgtheater. Every last Friday during the theatre season, the Bürgtheater actors put on a small show on this stage as part of an internal program of artistic development.

The party itself didn’t have quite energy of the opening party as at the end of a month of festival and workshops, people are a little bit tired. There are another five days of performances to go and three days of workshop. I was warned at the start of Impulstanz to take it slowly. It was good advice. I will follow it next year.

If you get the chance to come to Vienna and participate in Impulstanz it is not to be missed. It is the best organised and most enjoyable festival in the world with the possible exception of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) which is many times the size. Great dance, great parties, great staff, great city.

Photos – Alec Kinnear

Dance Writing: Critical thoughts

August 12th, 2005 § 2


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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 (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 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.


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…

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.


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.

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.

Johnny Schoofs

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

“Not really”

“Could be nice:




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

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.”

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.

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.