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Dance Films of Babette Mangolte at Tanzquartier Wien

Tonight at Tanzquartier Wien, three films of Babette Mangolte were presented in the presence of the filmmaker as a coproduction with MUMOK.

The films were Water Motor (1978, 7 minutes), Glass Puzzle (1973, 17 minutes) and Four Pieces by Morris (1993, 94 minutes.

Water Motor was shot on 16mm and is easily the most interesting (and briefest) of the three works. Choreographer Trisha Brown executes a beautifully self-involved solo. It is only two minutes long. Immediately afterwards we see the same solo but in slow motion. Very high quality slow motion. The trick was that Mangolte shot the piece at 48 frames per second, so the first half at real speed was actually accelerated.

Unfortunately beyond the change of speed there is absolutely nothing engaging or original about the camerawork. We are at a middle distance from Trisha Brown who is on a very drab stage. All her limbs are fully visible all the time. In praise of the work, we have a clear view of the choreography and dancing. As documentation this is excellent. As filmmaking, it is dull as dishwater. A work of art it simply is not. But I was happy to see Trisha Brown’s own dancing after having seen some of her work at OpĂ©ra de Paris and again at Impulstanz.

The next Glass Puzzle was very experimental with enormous closeups of dancer’s faces with pendulums swinging in front of their eyes. Originally shot on video in the dark ages of the format (early 70’s), the image doesn’t have much texture.

Imagistic shots of pelvises, superimpositions, Glass Puzzle is totally different from Water Motor and Four Pieces by Morris. The answer to the mystery is that Babette Mangolte was charged only with camera and direction was in the hands of one of choreographer and dancer Joan Jonas. She and Lois Lane give enigmatic performances in this elliptical work.

Four Pieces by Morris is exactly that. Four pieces by sculptor Morris. I had somehow thought that the four pieces would be by Mark Morris so I was attending more. Robert Morris is an extremely ascetic creator whose structural compositions have less to do with the theatre and more to do with installation. We have a workman moving white boards back and forth across a stage finally revealing a female nude reclining on a couch behind the last one. The woman does not move, the workman does not notice her. Nothing happens. The sonic backdrop is an intense recording of street sounds and construction which was distracting and irritating to my ear but was supposed to serve to “heighten the presence of the performer”.

Each one was more tedious than the next, with perhaps the exception of the lecture on perception in the third piece.

There were some closeups inserted – the workman playing with his gloves, the lecturer taking his enormous spectacles on and off – but more or less Four Pieces is in the same style as Glass Puzzle. That is to say, the camera observer. We just watch these stage pieces happen. The camera tracks back and forth the considerable horizontal movement of props in the first and fourth piece.

Again as documentation this is perfectly adequate. If one is a Robert Morris fan or were making a study of conceptual stage art of the period one would be very pleased with the work. But as a dance filmmaker, I find this kind it quite depressing. Engage movement, engage the camera.

In dance terms, Robert Morris’s own preoccupations according to Babette Mangolte were “casual movement and untrained bodies” which she quite correctly notes are subjects of considerable interest to some of today’s choreographers. A recurring vice among choreographers who are unwilling to face the unlimited challenge of trained, able and talented dancers.

This sort of work fits in well with the Vienna non-event school of dance on the ascendent now.

Babette Mangolte’s dedication in recreating these mid-sixties stageworks to make a dance film of them in the nineties is astonishing.

ANECDOTAL

For some reason some guy in a long leather coat chose to intervene three or four times during the screening. He stood in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and made small hand gestures and struck strange poses to the bemusement of all. Finally Babette Mangolte rose from the auditorium and accosted him – “I can’t allow you to do that, it is not respectful of Bob Morris’s work” – before he was led away by Sigrid Gareis, artistic director of the Tanzquartier.

In something that could happen only in Austria, this same gentleman in his Cheka overcoat was lounging at the Tanzquartier bar enjoying a glass of red wine and an animated conversation with an attractive patron of the arts.

Is this laid-back attitude a good thing or a bad thing? Probably a good thing. I’m still wonder about his movtivation. I wish I’d asked him.

The conditions of projection were excellent with a very bright and large screen setup within the main dance studio with audio running out to a well setup sound system.

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