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Choreo.lab 06: Nikolaus Adler

Nikolaus Adler is the only Austrian among the Choreo.lab dancemakers.

He is also the only one of the lot to work regularly with modern dancers. He has put on several mainstage shows for the Vienna modern dance company Homonculus, as well as working X.ida, Tiroler Landestheater and many others. He was already awarded promising young choreographer of the year in 2003.

As with most modern dance choreographers, Mr. Adler has second employment. Nikolaus Adler’s day job happens to be as a dancer at the Vienna Staatsoper. To his and the Vienna dance world’s astonishment, the new director forbid Mr. Adler from doing any choreography outside the Staatsoper this season.

This resulted in the cancelling of a fall show again with the dance company Homunculus and got Gyula Harangozó a reputation for petty tyranny before his first season even began.

All this introduction by way of saying with Nikolaus Adler we are entering another world. We are no longer in the neoclassical, nor in story ballet but in post-modern very deconstructed and self-aware creation.

Torte für Alle – Nikolaus Adler

Torte für Alle (Cake for Everyone) is the third part of a trilogy, the second part of which I have seen called Die Nacht des Jägers (Night of the Hunters). It was presented as part of Choreo.lab 04 and included much of the same cast, notably in the two leads Alena Vaskova and Wolfgang Grascher.

Night of the Hunters involved a great deal of speaking. Alena Vaskova spoke at length in German and Wolfgang Grascher spoke in English as if he were a preacher in the far west of the United States. I didn’t quite follow the American references, but we were in some kind of strange exploration of the Far West Mentality.

Torte für Alle plunges us into a different world. A world of clowns in black T-shirts which read Bernard Henri Levy, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Luc Godard, Jennifer Jolly, Bill Gates, Hilmar Kabas.

Torte für Alle - Mutually Assured Pie in the face
Torte für Alle – Mutually Assured Pie in the face

They trade a funny red nose among themselves, they dance they strut, they throw pies in one another’s faces. Torte für Alle is an extremely fast moving show, slowing down only for the occasional sad moment when Alena Vaskova (sporting a Marguerite Duras t-shirt) stands at the graveside of her dead comrade and weeps, only a bright blue statuette of the Virgin Mary to keep her company.

Alena Vaskova and the Madonna
Alena Vaskova and the Madonna

At the end of all the fun and games and tart-throwing, a single little girl – also wearing a Marguerite Duras t-shirt – comes out and sings an Eric Satie melody quite beautifully.

And the audience is left to wonder what it all means. What Bill Gates has to do with Jean Luc-Godard.

Alena Vaskova as Marguerite Duras

Apparently as well as being 20th century icons of one sort or another each has all fallen victim to the entartistes at one time or another. Fox reporter Jennifer Jolly only made the cut, as there are very few female victims of pieing (who wants to get caught throwing pie in a woman’s face – not many men).

One of the things which is different about Torte für Alle is the music. It is challenging and very funny. It is mainly a series of lewd Tiger Lillies songs from the album Circus Songs. Here is a sample:

Albino dwarfs & dancing bears & midgets with full body hair
A girl who has a fishes tail, a boy the body of a snail
A man with the head of a bird, a girl who shits bricks as turds
Siamese twins joined at the head, a girl who though alive is dead
A man who bleeds through hands and eyes, a girl who has a donkeys thighs

This Freakshow is the best in town this Freakshow is the worst around.

A man who has no head or arms, a girl a dog sexually charms
They’re animal eroticists, the sailors leer at them half pissed
A fire eater burns his throat, a jealous lover at him gloats
A contortionist tells a joke while a Gorilla him does poke
A girl who bites off chickens heads, they run around till they are dead

At first the dance goes with the music and against the grain of the words – funny and absurd. But then the dance shifts and follows the words. Caustic and brutal.

Wolfgang Grascher as the Enigmatic Preacher
Wolfgang Grascher as the Enigmatic Cowboy

There was loud applause for Torte für Alle from the very conservative Choreo.lab audience (tickets: 40 euros). The choreographer is convinced it’s because the audience didn’t understand a thing. Particularly the Tiger Lilies lyrics.

I understood the lyrics, but let’s leave it at that.

There’s something in Torte für Alle even for Jerome Bel fans. Perhaps particularly for Jerome Bel fans. Torte für Alle is aesthetically consistent, steadily surprising and challenging fare. Uniquely this evening, in Torte für Alle music was used in an original way.

What is particularly rewarding about Nikolaus Adler’s work is that he doesn’t sink into the static as a means of self-defence. While questioning dance, his dancers keep moving. That puts him miles ahead of his fellows.

A strange end to a bizarre but wonderful evening. That’s what Choreo.lab is like.

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