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.
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.
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 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.
- 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.
- Respect the law of the land of the host country, their local culture, traditions, customs and practices.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Show respect for and promote the environment, including the flora and fauna, of the host country.
- Do not engage in excessive consumption of alcohol or traffic in drugs.
- 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.
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.