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Tanzquartier Wien: Dresscode

The first real show of the Tanzquartier season. The week before saw solo performances by Dutch creator Robert Steijn and Lebanese choreographer. There was also an outdoor performance where four tents stood in a row under the Leopold museum. There were people inside the tents having before bedtime conversations. If you went to different points in the Museumsquartier space you could hear the action from any single tent. The conversations were not scintillating in German or in the democratically provided English sample either. The whole action was cute.

But a solo performance is no way to open a Tanzquartier season. A season opener calls for a big exciting show which invigorates the public for the ten month season.

So let’s call Dresscodethe real debut of the season.

Dresscode is a coproduction of Tanzquartier Wien with Austrian Fashion Week, bringing together dance and fashion.

In the words of Martina , director of research at Tanzquartier – These are two totally incompatible disciplines.

I wouldn’t totally agree with this statement but it certainly applies to dance as practiced by the Tanzquartier Wien. Dance in Vienna has become an internalised process far more about the inner life than the performance itself. The work of Philip Gehmacher and Ingrid Reisetenberg are two clear examples of this. Fashion is all about the performance and the appearance and cares naught for internal questions. The intellectual process is short. One is all internal, the other is all surfaces.

I like what I can see, so I have more patience for the fashion outlook (although I don’t see appearances in conflict with internal tension and psychological depth- i.e. Shakespeare).

What happened at Dresscode? Lots. Three huge white walls on stage. On each wall we see projected a very well dressed business person in ultrasharp, ultra-crisp video. Two women around twenty seven and one man. They look around and up and down and smile and smirk and generally make engaging and annoying faces. They look like an advertising or a marketing team caught in lifts. At the same time, a crowd of performers came on stage from the audience side dressed in hoodies.

Throughout this section there is gorgeous airy guitar music playing.

The performers eventually line up in a row on stage and remove their hoodies. There are about fifteen of them. Each one of them is distributed a sign which he or she later flips up to reveal announcements like “I’m not with him.” It is unclear if the signs are assigned or random. Marc Rees of the BBC is the last one in the line and he designs fashion for us: Fashion is the way we look.

Thanks Marc.

This is followed by a strange group of women in varied garb, bright blues and yellows and oranges that looks more like flashdance than anything else who come out and dance to the orders of blonde bombshell in high heels and a black dress. The dancers eventually retire and the blonde takes off first her shoes, then her dress, revealing some fine lingerie. Which she also takes off. She stands there splendidly naked and beautifully formed for a pair of minutes and then retires herself.

I think this was the Superamas. I will try to find the name of the blonde in time.

Didn’t make any sense to me – apart from showing the superficiality of fashion in comparison to the naked form. But it didn’t hurt to watch.

The same thing cannot be said of the Philip Gehmacher video which followed.

Before the video, the white walls on stage were rearranged into a new order with a large video screen on the right and a small video screen on the left.

On the left we see a figure in what looks like a white beekeeper’s outfit striking various poses on the floor. On the right we see Philip Gehmacher himself just standing there. Alright he does come and go a couple of times and make a couple of costume changes but mainly he just stands there for twenty minutes in video.

Not content with having bored us in the flesh with his incubator he is now more than prepared to provide us with prerecorded boredom. Fortunately this skit was only twenty minutes instead of an hour and twenty minutes.

His facial expression was amusing. He looked like he was sucking lemons throughout the performance. I have yet to see anything like animation or enthusiasm on his face in all the times I’ve seen him.

Gehmacher’s sleepy little video was followed by more wall rotations which turned the walls into a tight cube, which then opened up to reveal silver walls and women in identical silver dresses, about twelve of them. Fashion show music. The women subsequently begin to prance around in different catwalk poses. The women are not tall enough or good looking enough as a group to be models. Their fifteen minutes of prancing went nowhere, except as a reminder of the pointlessness of catwalk (which with identical clothes is a good point – fortunately most catwalks present varied clothing) and its sexist tendency to turn women into objects of consumption.

So far, we may as well have stayed home for all the worthwhile dance or performance we’ve seen. It hasn’t been terrible but it hasn’t been wonderful. The fashion people next to me have booed after several skits, judging them for what they probably are, nose-thumbings at fashion from dance people.

We are an hour into what is an eight minute evening.

The cube rotates again and reopens. Two women come out fully dressed in well-ironed clothes. They bring several piles of clothes. They stack the clothes deliberately and carefully. All the clothes are immaculately ironed and folded.

The women begin to change and try their different clothes. They turn coats inside out, they wear men’s shirts like nun’s habits, they turn trousers into skirts. Everything you can imagine with clothing they do.

When necessary they go naked to change their outfits. They apply themselves to their task (changing and reusing clothing) with intense concentration and are unrelenting in constantly changing the clothes.

The nudity is absolutely reserved and perfunctory, part of the necessary functionality of being, another state of being clothed. The nudity is very important to help us remember that all of these clothes are coverings just coverings. Anything can be clothing, all is fashion.

Of the two, Swede Krõõt Juurak was the more inventive. Her most astonishing invention was putting on a man’s shirt on one arm and on one leg. She then did the same thing on the other side, ending up in some fancy jumpsuit created from the two men’s shirts. In all Juurak took us through centuries of different fashions from nuns, to Dutch 17th century peasants, to Roman senators.

Her height and her splendid proportions were very appropriate to a fashion show.

This performance alone was worth coming out to see.

Anne Juren’s program note is interesting enough to reproduce. Juren is French, but like Krõõt is a long terms resident of Vienna.

The show might have been on a failure (there were many worried conversations after the show between performers and choreographers) as a work of art but it was a bold and varied failure. And that’s enough for me.

Tanzquartier Wien 2005 -2006 season is open.

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